Good news in Blair country

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The Independent Online
Under the massed ranks of cameras last weekend, Islington enjoyed its finest hour. All over the world, people were given pictures of New Labour's spiritual heartland basking in glorious sunshine. No wonder that estate agents were counting the landslide in pounds rather than votes. They are hoping that the Prime Minister will do for Islington what Margaret Thatcher did for Chelsea.

"The election really put Islington on the map," says Jeremy Campbell- Harris of Winkworth. "Prices have already gone up by up to 48 per cent in the last year. In Richmond Crescent, the Blairs' street, a house that sold for about pounds 400,000 12 months ago, is now selling for anything from half a million to pounds 700,000."

There has, indeed, been an enormous swell of interest in the area, yet perhaps this has rather more to do with its proximity to the City and the West End than its political celebrities. Restaurants and bars are full in the evening and the Bohemian atmosphere is drawing people away from areas such as Notting Hill, where prices have moved into the premier league. Angel, Barnsbury and Canonbury are becoming known as the new W11.

Yolande Barnes of Savills Research has for some time predicted that Islington will fall into the prime central London category, although she cautions against regarding it all in the same light: "It has pockets of Georgian stock that have arrived in terms of prices, but it doesn't yet have the cachet of the traditional prime areas."

North London has always been a combination of prime and borderline areas with changing fortunes. Hampstead, St Johns Wood and Belsize Park are surrounded by patches that have fast been getting smarter. Camden, for instance, has the pull of Camden Lock which has brought about a dramatic improvement of shops and restaurants over the past 10 years. Rather like Islington, its trendy status is reflected in the prices.

Marc Goldberg of Hamptons International has suddenly seen some pretty roads on the Chalk Farm patch become more prestigious, while Primrose Hill he describes as a "diamond patch". In Chalcott Square, between Camden Town and Regent's Park, a house that was not worth more than pounds 900,000 at the peak of the market in the Eighties is currently being sold for almost pounds 2m.

As an alternative to Hampstead, Mr Goldberg points to Highgate - a real London village that hasn't yet been commercialised. A Georgian family house would be less than pounds 800,000 rather than over pounds 1m in Hampstead. Ben Stagg of Goldschmidt & Howland reports that the market here has been fairly quiet. "If a house is not exactly right, buyers will walk away."

In his area - from Regent's Park to Hampstead - the greatest pressure is for houses between pounds 450,000 and pounds 1m. "There's a squeeze from all fronts - from people trading down, families trading up and even young buyers on very good salaries. We have plenty of couples selling two-bed flats in Hampstead for pounds 250,000 and going straight for properties in the pounds 600,000 plus region."

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