Catch of the day

As Chris Arnot reports, Hull is finally attaining redemption through regeneration, and investors are queueing up to buy while prices are still relatively affordable
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The Independent Online
Addresses don't come more whimsical than 2nd Star on the Right and Straight on 'til Morning, Land of Green Ginger, HU1 2EA. You'll find it in the middle of Hull, where there has been a Land of Green Ginger for as long as anyone can remember.

Explanations for the name's origins are too many and too varied to go into here. Suffice it to say that the LoGG is made up of a cluster of mainly commercial buildings fronting on to the characterful cobbled streets of the city's Old Town.

The address in question is a handsome Victorian structure, currently being converted for residential use. Eight one and two-bedroom apartments, ranging in price from pounds 124,000 to pounds 240,000, will open here towards the end of the year in what was once the headquarters of a design and marketing company. The owner, Peter Hadfield, can now add "developer" to his CV. And the 2nd Star on the Right, etc? The name apparently came to him after watching a video of Peter Pan with his children.

"One American woman was so taken with it that she's bought an apartment off-plan for the address alone," says Paul Green, director of an agency called Riverside Property. "She told me she might come and see it one day."

It seems unlikely she will lose money. Prices in Hull rose by 51.5 per cent over the past year, faster than anywhere else in the country. But then they started from a low base. Even now, the average house price in the city is only pounds 91,716 - add more than pounds 100,000 to reach the national average.

"Hull has lagged behind for so long that its growth is inevitable," says Paul Staniford, who has offices in two of the East Riding of Yorkshire's more prosperous areas: Beverley and Swanland.

"A lot of my competitors thought I was committing commercial suicide two years ago when we opened another branch in central Hull," he goes on. "There weren't enough properties of any quality. But something like 1,200 planning permissions have been granted in the past 18 months and it won't be long before the city has its first apartment priced at half a million. There's a lot of regeneration going on, and much effort has gone into changing the image of the city. We're laying to bed the bogey that we're 45 minutes from anywhere and, if the train doesn't stop here, there'll be an almighty splash."

Hull used to be a place apart, looking out towards the North Sea rather than inward towards the rest of the UK. Unfortunately, the fishing industry here died 20 years ago, along with the city's best known resident, the poet Philip Larkin. But the "ships up streets" which so intrigued him are still there. Every time you turn a corner, a stretch of water appears like a mirage.

Former docks have been put to new uses. One houses a marina full of expensive yachts. Another forms an ornamental lake, above which a shopping centre stands on stilts. Some docks are still used for their original purpose. After all, the Humber houses the largest UK complex of ports. Here on the northern shore of the estuary, there are also outposts of companies better known by their initials: BP, BAe and PA (the Press Association). Not to mention the BBC, which has taken the first two floors of a stylish apartment block, Queen's Court, on the site of the old customs building.

Until the completion of the keenly-awaited Oldharbour Quays development on the River Hull, these are the most expensive apartments in the city. A top-floor penthouse with three bedrooms would set you back around pounds 300,000.

Not surprisingly, interest in Hull's burgeoning city living developments are coming from London-based investers. The two cities are now just two and a half hours apart by train and there are five services a day in and out of King's Cross. As for links with the rest of the country, the spectacular Humber Bridge is 25 years old next year, linking as it does the East Riding with that spot where, as Larkin put it, "sky and water and Lincolnshire meet".

Martin Legge is a former Leeds-based developer who recently converted a 1920s laboratory in the Hull's Old Town into 11 one and two-bedroom apartments ranging from pounds 80,000 to pounds 160,000. "The one we're standing in now has just been sold for pounds 110,000," he says. "For two bedrooms in the middle of Leeds you'd be talking pounds 200,000-plus. When it comes to nightlife, Hull hasn't got the same buzz yet, but it's coming."

The Old Town boasts Venn, the city's first Michelin-starred resturant. A mile or so out of the centre, meanwhile, a former chef from the Ritz in London has opened a restaurant called The Boar's Nest with the drummer from the Beautiful South. It stands on an elegant boulevard called Prince's Avenue. Running off it are other avenues lined with substantial Victorian villas ranging in price from pounds 180,000 to pounds 300,000.

The area is called The Avenues and is popular with university lecturers. So, too, is Cottingham, one of the former villages which ring the western boundaries of Hull.

Two years ago, Paul Staniford sold a house off the Cottingham Road -1950s, four-bedroomed detached - for pounds 155,000. "Today, it would fetch twice that amount." Which would have come as a surprise to the university librarian who left it to his housekeeper 20 years ago. Chap called Larkin. Contact: www.2ndstarontheright.co.uk; www.stanifords.com.

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