Property: Wild about the West

Welcome to a tale of three cities: Cardiff, Bristol and Bath.
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My first new motor car was a little Italian number, sleek and mysterious, and the greatest thing about it were the assorted screws and rivets I kept finding when I rummaged in the boot. If cities were created the way cars are manufactured, we would avoid places that were assembled first thing Monday morning and last thing Friday afternoon.

Bath is a Wednesday sort of place, and the designers and assembly-line workers were still happily humming along when they built Bristol, whose many architectural and natural gems would be more generally appreciated were the glories of Bath not a mere 10 miles away.

Finally, Cardiff. The Pierhead Building is a Welsh St Pancras Station. The town centre is green and inviting. It has a castle, a cathedral, and museums. Great city. Pity about the bay. Alas, being tidal, Cardiff Bay is more mud flat than harbour. When Cardiff itself was being assembled, this is where the workers, the weekend approaching and fatigued after their mighty labours on Bath and Bristol, ditched their screws and rivets in their haste to get to the boozer.

Enter modern technology and engineering: the Cardiff Bay Barrage will soon open for business, keeping out the sea water, taming the tides, and transforming a mud puddle into a full-time freshwater lake. Surrounding it, will be luxurious offices, restaurants, hotels and residences. In the Pierhead Building it already possesses a focal point, and the town centre is less than a mile away. The Welsh Assembly will be located in Cardiff.

Ground has already been broken for the massive mixed-use waterfront redevelopment. Adventurer's Quay is a 224-unit development of flats, three-storey townhouses and penthouses being built by BerkelBath, a Wednesday kind of city which is Berkeley's Welsh subsidiary, St David. Prices start as low as pounds 60,000 and rise to five times that amount. Half of the units have been sold off- plan.

One early buyer was car executive Charles Eveson: "I fell in love with penthouse living in London, and when my work brought me to Cardiff two years ago, I saw the plans and was immediately hooked." Mr Eveson sold his London penthouse for pounds 300,000 and, with that windfall, expected to buy an equivalent property in Cardiff and still have about pounds 100,000 in pocket money. In the event, he received no change at all. "The high price surprised me. But I'm pretty confident that it will be a good investment."

The harbour leisure facilities will be ultra-modern. The Atlantic Wharf Leisure Centre will host 12 cinemas. The Sports Cafe will incorporate 120 television screens and large windows in the residential and commercial building exploit the waterside setting.

Cranes are currently more dominant a feature at Cardiff Bay than at Bristol's waterfront, where the harbour transformation has been gradual. "Bristol's docklands never needed renovations on a London scale," says Michael Kendall, area director of Allen and Harris Estate Agents. "But overall, the development has been massive, with office developments near Temple Meads, flats near the SS Great Britain, and much else."

When corporate headquarters invade a city, as has occurred in Bristol, relocating employees need to be housed, fed and entertained. "Bristol Habourside covers a large area, with developments on both sides of the floating harbour from the SS Great Britain into the city centre," says Lawrence Clark, commercial director of Crest Nicholson.

"We are involved in a 15-acre habour site where between 350 and 400 new homes will be built in upmarket buildings of three to seven storeys. Next to the residential development will be 250,000 square feet of office headquarters, and next to that, another development of restaurants, entertainment, pubs, all in one building." Planning permission is expected in November, and building will start early next year. Construction will begin first on the leisure centre, and the residential units will open after 2000. "This is the final phase of Bristol's harbour regeneration, and it should make Bristol the leisure destination for the entire English south-west," Mr Clark believes.

Elsewhere on Bristol's waterside, Crest Homes is building Quayside View, a 48-unit block of luxury apartments, including duplex penthouses. The flats with waterside views have terraces, and are modern, with plenty of stainless steel and chrome ironmongery. Six have been sold, and early buyers should be able to select their interior finishes.

Assuming planning permission, Beaufort Homes will develop a different kind of waterside site: a courtyard development of five houses on Frenchay Flock Mill on the River Frome a few miles away outside Bristol. The original iron mill was demolished 30 years ago. The stone buildings will look like a barn conversion and will contain a terrace walkway running the length of the facade.

Bryant Homes is developing family homes in surburban Bristol, to the tune of 500 homes, including bungalows and houses containing two, three or four bedrooms on three sites in or near the city. Prices beginning around pounds 80,000 and rising to nearly pounds 300,000.

In Bath, a few hundred yards north of the Royal Crescent is Cavendish Lodge, a new pile that looks like a a stately home. Designed Palladian style by William Bertram, the mansion contains 20 apartments, of which eight are available from pounds 250,000 to pounds 320,000. Further north but still less than two miles from Bath centre at Lawndown Heights. Crest is building 38 Georgian townhouses. Buyers have two house styles to chose from, each house has four bedrooms, with prices from pounds 152,000 to pounds 185,000. Five are still available, ready for occupation.

Contacts: Adventurers Quay 01222 451085; Allen and Harris Estate Agents 0117 9731295; Bryant 01454 615218; Cavendish Lodge 01225 329079; Crest Nicholson 0117 9236600; Frenchay Flock (Andrews of Bristol) 0117 9570647.