Crystal Palace, London

On top of the world
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The Independent Online

A sure-fire way of ensuring that you can look down on your neighbours, it appears, would be to buy a property on a hill. But it ain't necessarily so.Although Crystal Palace reaches further into the sky than anywhere else in south London, relatively few properties exploit the fantastic views that are available. The top of Sydenham Hill overlooks St Paul's Cathedral and the City of London, the BT Tower and the West End. There are also vast, amorphous panoramas to the east and west.

A sure-fire way of ensuring that you can look down on your neighbours, it appears, would be to buy a property on a hill. But it ain't necessarily so.Although Crystal Palace reaches further into the sky than anywhere else in south London, relatively few properties exploit the fantastic views that are available. The top of Sydenham Hill overlooks St Paul's Cathedral and the City of London, the BT Tower and the West End. There are also vast, amorphous panoramas to the east and west.

However, trees and other buildings are common obstructions. Lee Davis, Halifax senior manager, cautions: "Some properties offer a great view if you stand on the toilet seat and crane your neck. But most of our buyers don't mind much, and a view adds only a few thousand £to the price anyway."

The wonderful community spirit in the area is what keeps people here after they initially move in, and "transportation and the restaurants are what draw them in the first place", says Mr Davis, who also lives locally. "Name a food, it's here. We have more than 30 restaurants. Westow Hill is a mini Rio de Janeiro in the evening, full of life in the restaurants and pubs."

Mr Davis notes that property prices have increased sharply in the past few years, and he expects this trend to continue. "Four years ago, the idea of a two-bedroom flat selling for £100,000 would have been laughable," he says. "Now, good two-bedroom flats in certain locations sell for £120,000 to £130,000. We are getting spin-off from nearby Brixton, Clapham and Streatham."

Sir Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace, originally built in Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition of 1851 and resurrected in Sydenham in 1854, brought new railway lines and grand houses to South Norwood at the top of Sydenham Hill. The palace burned down in 1936 - and the Luftwaffe did its bit to alter the area. "South Norwood was bombed heavily during the Second World War, so the area now contains many properties built in the 1950s," says Mr Davis. "During the Eighties boom, everyone wanted to live here. The developers bought large derelict houses cheap and converted them to flats, so not many houses are left."

Although area schools are good, the limited supply of unconverted houses deters families, much as the hills repel elderly buyers. "Crystal Palace attracts actors, artists and people who work in the City, the West End, Croydon or Gatwick," says Mr Davis. "They are mostly interested in beautiful properties, large rooms, and being near the park. The skyline is only one kind of view. Many of our buyers prefer overlooking the lake in Crystal Palace Park."

Brownfield sites are scarce to non-existent, but new large family or executive homes are occasionally built. Halifax is selling two new town houses on Cintra Park for £295,000 and £335,000 for three and four bedrooms respectively. Hamptons International is handling a Sunley development on Auckland Road. Sunley has refurbished a hotel and coach house and, on the same site, built six town houses, four of which remain at £380,000. These are spacious, four-storey homes with car parking (most have integral garages), ample closet space, pressurised boilers for constant hot water, and reflex-hinge windows for easy cleaning. Although below the hill's summit, the upper storeys rise above the trees and buildings. Some rooms offer panoramic views which, although partially obstructed, allow you to see out without having to enlist the help of your commode.

The Low-Down

Transport: Rail stations at Anerley and Crystal Palace serve London Bridge and Waterloo. Town-centre manager David Kerr says that the tram already operating in Croydon might be extended to Crystal Palace station. The area is also served by an extensive bus network operating out of what Mr Kerr claims is western Europe's busiest bus terminus. The area also has quick access to the M25.

Prices and properties: One-bed flats start at £60,000 (£55,000 for ex-council), and two-beds range from £70,000 to more than £1,250,000. Three-bed period houses sell for £115,000 to £200,000. Hampton's is selling a modern four-storey, five-bedroom house on Coxwell Road with integral garage for £289,950. High flats on short leases are available in 14- to 16-storey tower blocks owned by Dulwich College.

The numbers game: The hilltop properties tend to be in Upper Norwood, SE19, which is part of Lambeth Council, whereas Crystal Palace Park is in Bromley. Three other boroughs also stake claims in this territory. The five boroughs, with their respective council taxes for bands A, D and H, are: Bromley £447, £670, £1,340; Croydon £506, £758, £1,517; Lambeth £428, £642, £1,284; Lewisham, £485, £728, £1,456; Southwark, £539, £809, £1,617.

Here be monsters: Adjacent to the large lower lake in Crystal Palace Park are 29 massive brick and iron models of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals; when constructed last century, these were the last word in authenticity. The controversial 200-acre park contains the site of the original Crystal Palace (burnt to the ground in 1936), a BBC transmitter (currently transmitting digitised dinosaurs), the National Sports Centre, a concert bowl, museum and maze.

War on the websites: Filling vacant shops, renovating the park and granting planning permission for a multiplex cinema-restaurant-carpark complex are on Bromley Council's agenda. Residents are protesting against the cinema scheme. Read all about it on: www.bromley.gov.uk and www.crystal.dircon.co.uk

Estate agents: Halifax, 0181-761 5520; Sunley (Hamptons International), 0181-730 7622.

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