Restoring some soul to the heart of the City

Permission for luxury flats may signal a mood of compromise in the Square Mile. But it is likely to remain a quiet neighbourhood. Antonia Feuchtwanger reports standfirsty

FOR ONCE, the estate agents are guilty of understatement. The five luxury pounds 160,000 flats to be carved out of a narrow Victorian office building at 74 Cornhill are even closer to the City's heart than the "two minutes to Bank of England" that the brochure suggests. To the City's quarter of a million commuters, the thought of a one-and-a-half-minute walk home to the Jacuzzi and a cool drink on the roof terrace at the Powerhouse must be seductive.

Planning permission was given last week for the first residential development in recent times in the conservation area at the City's core. The decision could be seen as part of a vision of environmentally friendly, sustainable development, balancing needs of business and residents.

But the permission also reflects the reluctant realisation that banks and even professional firms' requirements for uninterrupted space and extensive wiring mean that cramped or listed sites on the City's partly medieval street plan have limited value for commercial use.

Such worries will be far away for the owners of the penthouse flat at 74 Cornhill, as they savour the sensation of stepping out on to a kind of magic carpet floating between Sir John Soane's Bank of England, the soaring NatWest tower and the outlandish tubes surrounding the Lloyd's building. Their neighbours will be banks, insurance companies, and the smart shops around the London International Financial Futures Exchange. It is a good place to live if you want to replace your Louis Vuitton tie case or reinsure your oil rig at 5.30pm on a Friday evening.

Returning inside (fifth floor - no lift but a fine staircase), they can prepare to entertain friends or clients in a compact but well-appointed reception room (16ft by 11ft) from the fitted kitchen (all machines included) with supplies from the bijou Victorian Leadenhall Market (turbot and samphire in season). Marks & Spencer in Moorgate is a short taxi ride away, and there will soon be a Tesco Metro at Bank.

"The City is a great place to live," says Graham Wallace, head of media relations at TSB. He has owned a flat in the Barbican, home of the late Labour leader John Smith, various media folk and an apparently increasing number of retired people, since 1981.

"Parking's pounds 800 a year, but after 7pm the traffic's gone and you can be in the West End in 15 minutes." Other residents say the anti-terrorist "ring of plastic" traffic control has made the City more pedestrian-friendly than much of London.

However, residents of the Powerhouse may find themselves retiring to the bedroom (14ft by 10ft) rather early. The inner City does not yet offer all the delights of inner urban living. The Chinese restaurant just up Cornhill shuts at 8.30pm and does not do takeaways. The Jamaica Inn stops serving food at 8pm. Stephen Bull's Bistro and pavement cafes over by Smithfield can get busy with Barbican theatregoers, but it is a bit of a walk from Bank. Dropping in on the neighbours, including the Bank Governor, Eddie George, is probably not welcomed.

But the mature single people who are the likely occupants may not mind, says Michael Collins, managing director of the developer, Goldcrest Homes. "More and more we and other firms are seeing the results of a very high divorce rate. The typical buyer sells the big family house in Gerrards Cross, buys the wife a cottage near the kids' schools and moves back into a flat near work like this."

Kevin Gray, who is selling similarly priced but larger flats at Dingley Place, on the City's Islington fringe, has a less sad-sounding clientele. "We have sold to an opera singer, a young guy in the money markets and a Frenchman wanting a place in London."

Mr Collins, who spends his weeks in Mayfair and weekends in Surrey, says: "Our target is also company and professional people, who work very long hours and need a pied-a-terre, because a one-hour commute just isn't on.'' The flats will also be marketed in Singapore to overseas executives and investors.

However, Michael Cassidy, chairman of the Corporation of London's policy and resources committee, expects the sale of 74 Cornhill for pounds 400,000, at an auction where Goldcrest was the only bidder, will prove to be a one-off.

Mr Cassidy, still celebrating last week's decision by Deutsche Morgan Grenfell to stay in the City rather than go to the Docklands, says: "Residential use has had a role in our planning for 12 years, but our main objective is still to build on the success of the City as a commercial centre."

Recent residential developments on the City's fringes and inside such mammoth new office sites as Alban Gate have increased the City's population slightly from its post-war plateau to about 6,000. But those residents are swamped by the 14,000 business representatives that the Corporation, unlike other local authorities, allows to vote.

"We are not like Westminster, where the council is dominated by residents and is gung-ho for more residential use. Residents want peace and quiet, not cranes," says Mr Cassidy, who lives in the Barbican but says he personally likes a few cranes on the skyline.

He feels there is much to be said for encouraging development on the City's fringes, where companies like Regalian and Metropolis have developments. "I'm trying to avoid the City being a superb centre of wealth and privilege surrounded by deprived inner London boroughs like Hackney and Tower Hamlets."

The City will not turn into an area of dwellings while any site with more than 1,000 sq ft per floor can earn more as offices than as flats. Five floors at pounds 20 a square foot, capitalised on a 10 per cent yield, prices the building at pounds 1m.

That would mean a developer would pay pounds 200,000 per flat before conversion costs, and according to Mr Collins, that is not worthwhile. Commercial rents would have to fall a lot further before residential use would look attractive.

Looking across the road from 74 Cornhill at the nearly 4,500 sq ft of lower ground-floor space available at between pounds 6.50 and pounds 10, however, it seems rents might indeed reach that point.

On the corner, National Westminster Bank's huge, partly listed "triangle" site has been empty for about three years since the staff was moved to less classy locations.

But even though the Corporation would like to see residents take up odd- shaped surplus space, few City types will want to live in basements and banking halls with only the security guards for company.

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
News
news
News
i100
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Business Analyst (Agile, SDLC, software)

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Finance Manager - Bank - Leeds - £300/day

£250 - £300 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Finance Manager - Accountant - Bank...

Compliance Officer - CF10, CF11, Compliance Oversight, AML, FX

£100000 - £120000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: A leading fi...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn