Property: Hot Spot - The Barbican: London's high society

Here's an estate where the prices are as high as the concrete tower blocks. By Robert Liebman
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Are you hallucinating, or is the car on blocks on that council estate a Ferrari and not a Ford Cortina? My guess is that you are seeing things, unless the local authority is the Corporation of London, and the estate is the Barbican. Such is its cachet and convenience that "many of our clients ask for the Barbican and only the Barbican," says Adrian Bagnall, sales manager at Hurford Salvi & Carr.

Barbican aspirants need patience as well as flexible dosh. One estate agent, Frank Harris, says: "In 21 years, I have never had so few properties available. It is much worse than 1988-89. This is far more scary in terms of price rises than the 1980s boom. The Barbican has gone up 20 per cent since January alone."

Opened by the Queen in 1982, the Barbican's 35 acres comprise theatres, concert halls, galleries, a conference and exhibition centre, shops, a lake and more than 2,000 residential units in three massive towers, several low-level buildings, and a smattering of terraced houses. Many occupiers are, or were, high-fliers in finance, law, politics and the arts. As many are retirees, flats do become available periodically. In addition, the approximately 300 flats still council- owned are sold as they become vacant.

For the latter, the price range starts at pounds 70,000 to pounds 100,000 for a studio, and jumps to pounds 550,000 to pounds 800,000 for a seven-room penthouse. In between are two to six-room flats and town houses.

Golden Lane is another Corporation of London estate in EC2 which, says Simon Dew of Hamilton Brooks, "is largely overlooked. Recently we had a one-bed seventh-floor flat for pounds 110,000." On the Barbican's north border, Golden Lane has 557 flats and maisonettes and is Grade II listed; any resemblance to its illustrious neighbour is not coincidental. Both were designed by the architects Chamberlin, Powell & Bon.

Developer St George is building London House on Aldersgate Street, EC1, between Barbican and St Paul's Tube stations. "We felt that the City was underprovided for residential housing," says Tony Carey, St George's managing director. "And with more people working longer hours, we thought that there would be greater demand for one- and two-bedroom flats. Some purchasers are looking for a main residence, others for during the week and a third group are buying to let to the first two groups."

Frank Harris agrees: "We've been getting a different buyer in the last 18 months. Many are buying as their main residence, not a pied-a-terre. They work in the City or West End and have had enough of commuting."

This emphasis on primary residences should mean a bull market for the City's larger flats.