Property Hot Spot - St John's Wood, North London: The Lord's prairie

The streets of one part of London are paved with gold.

For a brownfield site this one is always green, and not much happens there even when much is happening - but Lord's Cricket Ground is not for sale. More amenable to serious offers were the owners of the large automobile showroom and garage directly opposite Lord's on St John's Wood Road. Pavilion Apartments, a large luxury apartment block, is rapidly rising on that site.

"The presence of so many mansion blocks in this area indicated high demand for flats, and nothing of this size, stature and quality had been built in St John's Wood for many years," explains Ira Rapp, the chief executive of Westcity Properties, the Pavilion developer.

All but two of the 122 flats rapidly sold off plan, and Rapp credits the quality of the building in addition to location: "Our buyers have been a general mix of investors, owner occupiers, members of the international set buying a second or third home and people with large houses trading down but only to quality space. Pavilion will lift the area, it will actually put St John's Wood on the map in terms of residential housing for the next millennium."

Three times as many flats will replace redundant railroad sidings adjacent to Marylebone Station at Rossmore and Park Roads. Barratt's pounds 100m Prince Regent's Gate development comprises four curved and attached apartment buildings containing 385 units, most with balconies or terraces. Each building is stepped, with penthouses on five levels enjoying unobstructed double or even treble aspects.

Inner London's first suburban residential area, St John's Wood was built up in the 1820s and 1830s on land of which much had been owned by the Eyre family since the middle ages. Harrow School was another large landowner. Despite its parochial name, St John's Wood is home to one major and several smaller synagogues and the Central Mosque - one of London's largest. Another ingredient in this melting pot is the student body at the American School, in Loudoun Road.

Estate agent JAC Strattons specialises in "the lower end of St John's Wood, which means flats and houses up to pounds 750,000", says Sajjad Hoque, the joint branch manager. "Prices have risen hugely since the beginning of this year. A one-bed flat selling for pounds 120,000 in January is now asking pounds 138,000. That flat would have sold for pounds 105,000 last year, and pounds 60,000 two years ago."

Belinda Lyster-Binns, of Cluttons Daniel Smith, confirms this trend, "especially since March, with rises at about 15 per cent for the year. People are selling up and moving within this area, and the buyers are a mix of City executives, property professionals and media and entertainment people".

Properties requiring updating are no longer at the bottom of the pile. "Unmodernised premises are selling very well, with buyers much keener to put their own stamp on property," says Ms Lyster-Binns. "One unmodernised house recently had 14 sealed bids and sold for more than the asking price."

The Low-Down

Transport: For much of St John's Wood, Baker Street and Marylebone Stations are more convenient than the eponymous Jubilee Line station which is on the northern edge of the area.

Prices: Prince Regent's Gate prices range from pounds 235,000 to pounds 1m plus (a few months ago, the price range was pounds 210,000-pounds 895,000). A seven-figure penthouse is one of 80 sold in the first phase. The development, which has a fitness suite and swimming pool exclusively for residents, will be ready for occupation next spring. Completion will be in 2002. Pavilion Apartments has a large three-bedroom flat with balcony for pounds 605,000, and a duplex penthouse for pounds 1.8m. The tradesman's entrance into St John's Wood is via ex-council or housing association flats, which can shave 25 per cent off the price of equivalent private stock.

Council tax: Band D in low-tax Westminster is pounds 350 for 1999/2000, up from pounds 325.

Breaking the leasehold stranglehold: Recent changes in the law mean that many St John's Wood houses are now sold as freeholds or enfranchiseable leaseholds. Knight Frank is currently selling two 62-year leasehold houses. 23 Norfolk Road is a 2,916 sq ft villa with an 80ft-by-31ft garden and a pounds 1.75m price tag. Much grander is the grade II listed Cavendish Close, covering nearly half an acre, with astroturf tennis court, six bedrooms, gym with sauna, separate one-bedroom flat on the lower ground floor, separate double garage and enfranchiseable Eyre estate lease. Price on application.

Preserving the best: The St John's Wood conservation area meanders along St John's Wood Road, Hamilton Terrace, Boundary Road and Avenue Road, squiggling to include an area to the south and east and exclude one or two to the west. The area boasts more than 450 listed buildings, including many of grade II* calibre.

Anyone for real tennis? In 1866, pounds 18,333, 6s, 8d was a tidy sum, but the peripatetic Marylebone Cricket Club was eager to settle down. Its latest home was in Regent's Park, but "the new Regent's Canal was to be cut right through the playing area", notes the MCC's curator, Stephen Green. A freehold property became available, and MCC emissary Thomas Lord signed on the dotted line. In the 1830s, "real or royal tennis was introduced to Lord's and has been played there ever since," says Mr Green.

Contacts: Cluttons Daniel Smith: 0171-586 5863; JAC Strattons: 0171- 724 4499; Pavilion: 0171-286 8080; Prince Regent's Gate: 0171-723 2742; Knight Frank: 0171 431 8686.

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