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Where are the next up-and-coming property goldmines? William Raynor tips Stepney, Banbury and Leeds city centre
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The Independent Online
When newspapers carry articles about areas that are "up and coming", it is usually too late to indulge your yearning to explore terra incognita: and buy cheaply a place that will be worth a fortune in a few years and command the interest of estate agents otherwise twiddling their thumbs with boredom.

So, to spare you some of the drudgery, we've identified three bits of what you - if not the local population - may still regard as uncharted territory. One is close to the heart of London. One is on the London commuter fringe, in the rural Midlands. One, in the North of England, is a city centre in the throes of regeneration.

From the three you should not only get some idea of what's available at what price but, more to the point, of what sort of criteria need to be met for an area to qualify as up and coming - and, by extension, to arrive or get "gentrified". Perhaps the essentials can be summed up as: good roads and public transport; proximity to areas already deemed exclusive, fashionable, chic, or whatever, and therefore to schools, shops and social amenities; a good supply of properties for sale that are more affordable than nearby areas; and buildings of architectural merit for "pioneers" to re-discover and restore.

The rules are not cast iron, though. In small inner city pockets, previously commercial or industrialised, a few pioneers can act as the catalyst, but bigger, more traditional residential areas may need far more new people and take much longer to change character. In London, areas of lesser architectural merit, such as Fulham, upped-and-came because they satisfied more of the other criteria. Places like Hackney, with fine terrace houses, have shown promise for decades but have failed to arrive because negative factors - poor public transport and perceived risk of crime - have not been ameliorated.

Before you venture forth in house-hunting kit and 4WD with bull bars, a word of advice: don't expect fantastic bargains. This is the UK in the price-aware late 1990s. We've all got the wireless and telephone now, and everything's relative.

STEPNEY

Next big thing in East End chic

It's taken a couple of centuries, but only in the last few years have some once-smart pockets of the East End of London started "up-and- coming" again. In parts close to the City, houses of the grander kind were no longer built when the chimneys of the Industrial Revolution began to rain soot, and inhabitants who were rich enough moved to fresher fields well upwind. Many houses were therefore spared the Victorian mania for "improvement" and, surprisingly, also survived the Blitz.

The result is a legacy of fine examples of Georgian architecture and - presumably because the Victorians who continued to live in the area could not afford to go mad on embellishment - some later houses in similar style.

This is classic "pioneer" territory, bounded by the river and Wapping to the south and the Whitechapel and Mile End Roads which act as a cordon sanitaire to the wilds of Essex. But parts have long been "settled" by merchant bankers and the like.

So there is, inevitably, some debate about which bits are up and coming still. On balance - and she's not alone - Sarah Shelley, of agents Knight Frank, picks Stepney, E1. It has some good small shops, a new Sainsbury's, a big non-NHS hospital as well as the London nearby, a local tube station, easy access to the Limehouse Link, M11 and M25, and several very handsome but still discounted enclaves.

On Stepney Green are four-bed, two-reception early 18th-century houses with their original panelling which - if they ever came on the market - could fetch up to pounds 500,000. In Louisa Street, there are two- and three- bed cottages - pretty, flat-fronted - which go for pounds 150,000 to pounds 170,000. In other streets, Georgian and late Victorian, there are what could be called "proper houses" - three or four bedrooms - which you might get for less than pounds 180,000.

LEEDS

Yorkshire's new frontier

Listening to Mac MacLean, you might think he's talking about Manhattan or Chicago in their first booms. But no, his "new frontier" is the once- dark satanic mills of the centre of Leeds, the Yorkshire city that claims to be the financial, commercial and legal capital of the North of England.

"Every city has its day," says Mr MacLean, managing director of local agents, Headingley Estates, "and today it's Leeds. As it reinvents itself, it has gone crazy, with residential developers bidding and on sites throughout the centre. Four years ago, only about 1,000 people lived in it. A year ago, it was predicted that 10,000 more would move in by 2010, but 2,000 more have come already." To cater for them, restaurants, bars, pubs and nightclubs are opening by the week.

Having attracted a lot of new businesses - from direct-line insurance companies to the ultimate seal of shopping approval, Harvey Nichols - Leeds has an acute shortage of accommodation for the relocating staff. But a go-ahead and imaginative local authority is providing the necessary transport and infrastructure and leading inner-urban regeneration, and the problem is being rapidly addressed.

One-bed flats in converted industrial premises in The Calls and areas beside the River Aire are being rented for pounds 400 to pounds 700 a month and sold for pounds 60,000 to pounds 75,000, well up on pounds 30,000 to pounds 45,000 in 1995. At the top end, one of Mr MacLean's clients has permission for a 6,000 sq ft penthouse that will go on sale next year for pounds 1m. "You get a lot for that in Leeds," he says. But not for long, maybe.

BANBURY

The cock-horse town gallops on

HAVING had their town centre widely advertised for some time as a prime destination for riders of cock-horses, the inhabitants of Banbury in Oxfordshire may well feel miffed about seeing it described as "up and coming". At the same time, though, if they own property they may not feel entirely displeased. Prices have risen nicely, but compared with surrounding areas, still have some catching up to do.

Banbury is a geographical hub. Between Birmingham, 35 miles to the north, and Oxford 25 miles to the south, it is less than 20 miles from Stratford- upon-Avon and within easy distance of Warwick, Leamington, Northampton and Rugby, which has the most famous of many good schools and trains that take an hour to get to London.

But what really seems to have put Banbury on the map is the extension of the M40, which has brought it within the capital's two-hour commuting radius by car, making it more attractive for people working anywhere closer, and changing it from a market town into a magnet for distributive and hi-tech firms.

As a result it too has its resurgent "East End", the Grimsbury area, a mix of Victorian terraces and newer, where a three-storey turn-of-the- century town house needing some work can still be yours for pounds 55,000. Otherwise, as its Georgian heart has largely been converted into offices and ringed by Brookside-style estates, Banbury's main attraction for up-and-comers lies in the traditional stone villages of its near countryside. At around pounds 150,000, three-bedroom cottages being sold through Lane Fox and Savills may not seem cheap, but prices are probably still 10 to 20 per cent lower than within 15 miles of Birmingham, and rather less than Oxford, or, for weekenders, the Cotswolds.

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