The booming London property market is full of good stories – usually about ridiculous prices paid for tiny plots or garages – so bargain basement tales are hard to come by. However, right now in the very smart Eaton Square, Belgravia, home to film stars, aristocracy and royalty, there is a fantastic five-bedroom apartment in one of the wonderful Regency terraces for just £500,000 (€678,000). The usual market price for a property like this would be in excess of £10 million (€13.5 million). So what’s the catch? Well, quite a big one actually – the asking price will give you a right to live in the apartment for just over three years! Under the UK’s bizarre leasehold laws, this property will revert to the freeholder, Grosvenor Estate, in early 2019. It is possible that the lease could be extended by negotiation – and no doubt further payment – otherwise, it would work out effectively as a rental agreement at around £12,000 (€16,250) per month – which astonishingly is quite cheap for a 315 square metre property in prime Belgravia!
Democracy – at a price!
The Palace of Westminster, home to both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, is crumbling. The Grade I listed property and World Heritage Site since 1987 was built in the 1840s and has not had any major overhaul since the end of the Second World War. It is probably the most iconic building in London, but the beautiful limestone exterior is suffering from good old English weather and the air pollution in London. The stone used is called Anston Limestone, named after the village in South Yorkshire from where it was quarried.
But the crumbling stone is only part of the problem. Inside very little has changed, many of the 3,000 windows in the astonishing 1,100 rooms within the complex don’t open or close properly and the building is riddled with asbestos and infested by moths, mice and rats.
The repair estimates are eye-watering at between £3 billion (€4.1 billion) and £4 billion (€5.4 billion)! Then there is the problem of how to operate the ‘home of democracy’ whilst the work is underway. There are 650 MPs, around 750 Lords (the number of Lords varies) plus around 2,000 staff. And if they try to work around the repairs, it is estimated that the cost will rocket to £7 billion (€9.5 billion) and take an incredible 32 years to complete! County Hall, just across the Thames, has been suggested as a temporary home as have a move to Birmingham or Manchester. At this point no firm decision has been made but London’s crown, as the most visited city in the world with some of the most iconic buildings, does not come cheap.
Planes, trains and automobiles
Fresh from his general election victory earlier this year, David Cameron has another major decision on his hands – what to do about the future of London’s airports. The Prime Minister has promised a decision by the end of the year but governments have already prevaricated about this for 50 years through fearing punishment at the ballot box if they get it wrong. The £25 million (€34 million) independent enquiry, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, came down heavily in favour of building another runway at Heathrow, citing clear economic benefits. But there are plenty of reasons why Mr Cameron may decide on expansion at Gatwick, not least that Heathrow expansion will mean closure and diversion of the London orbital M25 motorway and around 700 more flights a day over central and west London – not to mention a revolt from within his own party, led by MP and likely London Mayoral candidate, Zac Goldsmith. Watch this space.
Meanwhile, deep beneath the streets of London, ex-coal miners continue to burrow away digging the tunnels and infrastructure for Crossrail – the largest construction project in Europe. Crossrail’s latest report states they are on time and on budget to open the new West to East rail connection across the capital in phases from 2017 onwards.
The project is now 67% complete and includes the construction of 10 new stations. The myriad of tunnels, tube train lines and drainage underneath the capital, which obviously need to be avoided, make this project truly one of the engineering marvels of our age. 98% of the excavated material is being used on environmental projects, principally the Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project in Essex, which aims to build a range of coastal marshes and lagoons.
Sitting in seemingly endless traffic jams in the UK capital, it is easy to think that the car is most definitely not king. But this is not true in one small corner of Hayes, West London, home to the London Motor Museum. A recent discovery by your columnist, this fantastic museum houses one of the largest collections of classic and custom cars in Europe. A particularly fine section for vehicles from the movies includes the Batmobiles from the original 1966 and 1989 films. Well worth a visit – www.londonmotormuseum.co.uk
Snap, crackle and pop
A new type of eatery is popping up all over London. This summer, my sons were delighted to discover ‘The Cereal Bar’ in Kingston upon Thames. This is a cafe which specialises in offering an astonishing choice of 120 different ‘breakfast’ cereals and a huge variety of milk-types and toppings – at any time of day!
The idea originated with a couple of students at Arizona State University a few years ago and seems to be catching on fast in the capital. With rave Trip Advisor reviews and prices of around £5 (€6.80) for a large bowl of cereal, these new cafés are astonishingly popular.
How sad, therefore, to read last month of an anarchic ‘anti-gentrification’ attack on ‘The Cereal Killer’, a similar cafe in Brick Lane, East London. A rampaging mob with the aim of ‘Reclaiming East London from Developers and Hipsters’ attacked the cafe with ‘paint and fire’ before being dispersed by riot police. These ‘demonstrators’ may or may not have a point, depending on your perspective, but to carry out a random, criminal damage attack on a small, independent, business employing local people is an affront to anyone who really loves this great city and its people.
By RICHARD LAMBERTH