Recently, central London's "parliamentary quarter" in Westminister – which has for so long remained a residential secret – has started moving on to the radar with homebuyers searching for a good-value address in the posh and pricey SW1 postcode.
Traditionally, Westminster has been a quiet, even dull, neighbourhood, with crowds of civil servants departing at the end of the working day and no evening scene of note. But in recent years it has become much more than a discreet "division bell" address for blue-blood politicians.
Creative companies are moving in, fashionable bars and restaurants are opening, and adding their own vitality, while swish apartment schemes are replacing former ministry buildings. The core patch lies between St James's Park and Millbank, where charming historic architecture mixes with Victorian social housing and well-kept council homes.
Number 35 Great Peter Street is a period gem. Built in 1928 as the headquarters of the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, it has a handsome stone and brick façade with leaded windows, behind which have been created nine contemporary-design apartments, including a duplex penthouse with a terrace offering Mary Poppins-like rooftop views towards the Palace of Westminster.
The interiors have thoroughly modern good taste. Glass "feature" walls, white Corian kitchens, oak floors and brushed-steel sections plus underfloor heating and air-conditioning. Apartments are generously sized, too – from 1,202 sq ft to 2,765 sq ft. One apartment is more like a house, with its own auspicious entrance at street level and a glazed inner courtyard. Prices from £1.75m to £5.25m. Call Montagu Evans on 020 7312 7412.
Launching soon is a redevelopment of Westminster magistrates' court, on Horseferry Road. Deemed a "Seventies eyesore" by the local council, it will be transformed into 144 apartments.
Barratt, the developer, is urging potential buyers to register now for The Courthouse if they want to hear about the launch first and get the pick of the plots. "People are so keen to buy in these prized pockets of central London that they are reading the planning register to see which buildings are coming up," says Gary Patrick, sales director. Call 020 8326 7100.
Berkeley Homes also has two projects in the pipeline – Abell House on John Islip Street and Cleland House on Page Street. Call 020 7720 2600.
Developers are pushing up values in line with the area's rising status, demanding up to £1,500 a sq ft for top new apartments. But the going rate remains about £1,000 to 1,200 a sq ft, which is cheaper than many central London buyers expect for the SW1 postcode.
Apartments with a view of the Palace
Wellington House, on Buckingham Gate, is a new-build scheme of 59 apartments, some with views of Buckingham Palace, due for completion in July 2012. Prices from £650,000 to £5m. Call Savills on 020 7409 8718.
The developer is property giant Land Securities, which is building more than 400 new homes as part of mixed-use schemes revitalising the area. These include Cardinal Place, the glass-and-steel shopping precinct on Victoria Street, and Kingsgate House, which will have 102 homes alongside 232,000 sq ft of retail and office space. Coming soon, too, is a £1bn development on a six-acre site that will integrate with a new transport hub at Victoria station.
A buying opportunity
Westminster and Victoria are tipped as "buying opportunities" in a hot spot report by estate agent Knight Frank. "Prices will not catch up with those in neighbouring Belgravia but they could see a significant bounce in the next five years," it predicts.
Resales start at about £400,000 for one-bedroom flats in newish developments such as Westminster Green, formerly Westminster Hospital, and New Palace Place, next to the new Home Office.
Westrovia, which sounds like a fictitious country from a Marx Brothers film, is a new apartment block alongside Cubitt-built terraces and listed St James the Less church on Moreton Street in Pimlico. No doubt the name is a marketeer's attempt to erase any lingering doubts about once-staid Westminster. Two-bedroom flats here are priced from £650,000. Call Hamptons International on 020 7834 4771.
Vincent Square is a sought-after address. Homes overlook 13 acres of private playing fields owned by Westminster School. Homes at a former police station cost from £500,000. Call estate agent Daniel Cobb on 020 7222 1000.
Just to the north is the area's most lively and down-to-earth patch – the hub around Wilton Road and Warwick Way. For years, this was held back by the close proximity of Victoria station but it is now smartening up. There is a street market and small independent shops are replacing chain stores.
Apartments have been built above a new Sainsbury's, collectively known as Pimlico Place (resales from about £400,000), while Tachbrook Triangle is a recently completed scheme of 39 flats and 12 houses.
Here, Westminster merges with Pimlico, which has lots of cream-coloured stucco Regency terraces. "Pimlico Grid" – a network of one-way streets and cul-de-sacs around St George's Drive – continues to pull in middle-class families priced out of Chelsea but still determined to be close to the central London action.
All eyes are on the nearby Art Deco bulk of Victoria Coach Station, which covers, in all, about three acres, and which could provide a rare large development site. Most locals consider the terminus to be little more than an eyesore. Stylish new homes may clean up what is a scruffy pocket, but its replacement would require the consent of Transport for London.