In bear territory, fish live uncomfortably at best, and Paddington Basin in London has been no exception. When this section of the Grand Union Canal was drained in 1999 to allow repairs to the basin walls, more than 24,000 fish were safely retrieved and comfortably rehoused. The next large-scale removal project will involve people.
The four-acre canal basin will be the centrepiece of a vast mix of residential development, with offices, retail outlets and health and leisure facilities. Before, this watery cul-de-sac was mostly inaccessible and inhospitable, a moribund contrast to flourishing Little Venice barely a quarter of a mile away. West End Quay is providing 470 apartments, and St George a further 211 flats in the 11-acre Paddington Central. The Peabody Trust is sponsoring 200 residential units at Hermitage Street.
In addition to offices, shops and leisure facilities, Paddington Station is being refurbished, and new and improved hotels and hospitals are also part of the scheme. And the forlorn Canal House is being saved from dereliction. Monsoon plc is leasing the celebrated listed art deco structure whose Grade II rotunda is along the north side of the A40.
"Any new development on the scale of Paddington has an impact which spills over to the surrounding areas, but is most dramatic on the immediate patch," says Dawn Carritt of Jackson-Stops & Staff. "It is like dropping a pebble into a pond. The major impact is at the point where it is dropped and it dissipates as it spreads."
The drop point will consist of eight million square feet of built environment equivalent to the size of Canary Wharf, and several developers have already nabbed attractive sites in the immediate patch. St George is building homes on Conduit Mews down from Praed Street near the mainline station, and Persimmon is building flats on Edgware Road.
"We are already experiencing the impact of the Paddington regeneration; demand for smaller units in and around the development area has become insatiable," says Anita Mehra, managing director of Benham & Reeves Residential Lettings. "Considering the obvious benefits of the new development at West End Quay, we can only assume the area will attract many more top-paying corporate tenants."
The Paddington Regeneration pebble is a boulder, and ripples have already reached Lisson Grove, the obscure downmarket area sandwiched between St John's Wood and Marylebone Road that is so convenient for people who work in the West End and the City.
Ms Mehra says the presence of the local authority blocks hardly dents overall demand, but they do moderate rental levels.
Heathrow Express now carries five million passengers a year, 14,000 each day, between Paddington Station and the airport. The station also has 27 airline check-in desks. The A40 adjoins the area, and the Edgware Road provides quick access to the M1 and the North Circular. Paddington, Marylebone and Edgware Road stations are in Zone 1 and serve the District, Circle, Bakerloo, and Hammersmith & City Tube Lines.
Prices at WestCity start from approximately £215,000 for a 388-square foot studio to £1.65m for an 1,800 sq ft three-bed duplex (020 7706 1222). At St George's Paddington Central in the basin, the average two-bed 950sq ft flat costs £629,950; the 3,500sq ft four-bed penthouse occupies the entire 12th floor; £3.5 million. (020-7706 7137).
Georgian terraces, warehouse conversions and postwar and newbuild flats along with ex-council units are available in Marylebone and Lisson Grove. For £250,000, estate agents Kubie Gold are selling a two-bed flat in a period terrace on Balcombe Street, NW1, and a three-bed three-bath flat on the eighth storey of Belvedere Terrace, Lisson Grove. An internet search reveals many flats which let daily. These properties require hotel licences.
Four of the 19 one-to-three-bed flats, some with balconies, are still available in Persimmon's eight-storey 121 Edgware Road, which offers underground parking; from £440,000 for a two-bed flat on the first floor. (Hampton's International, 020 7824 8822; Blenheim Bishop, 020 7290 2800).
The Peabody Trust's Hermitage Street site north of Paddington Basin will consist of 80 two- and three-bed flats for rent, and 20 for shared ownership. The developers also plan to include space for some childcare, healthcare and educational facilities.
Benham Reeves Residential Lettings, which reports a distinct shortage of good-quality one- and two-bed units, notes that one-bed flats renting for between £300 and £325 per week a year ago now let for £375 to £400. Rents for two- bed apartments start at around £425 in Belvedere Heights and £550 in the Wallis Building.
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Several of the Paddington Basin developments are complex joint ventures. For example, West End Quay includes ING Real Estate, Rialto Homes and WestCity Properties. Members of the Paddington Regeneration Partnership include British Waterways, Hilton Hotels, several NHS Trusts, and Paddington Station. Details appear on www.p-r-p.co.uk.
Health and fitness
On a macro level, the National Health Service, Imperial College, St Mary's Hospital and others are anticipating improved medical and research facilities. Clubs in the Paddington Basin area will include Holmes Place and, in the Hilton London Metropole, the LivingWell Health and Fitness Centre. Nearby are Paddington Sports Club in Maida Vale, and the Porchester Centre on Queensway.
Benham Reeves Residential Lettings, 020-7402 9866; Kubie Gold, 020-7483 3322.