The rise of homes on high

A stunning 36-storey tower is just one of the new developments transforming the capital's skyline. Gwenda Brophy reports
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The Independent Online

Dynamic cities are defined by their ever-changing skylines, as soaring towers rise with the prevailing levels of confidence. That positive sentiment, like new-builds, may have been thin on the ground in the capital in recent years, but there would appear to be renewed self-belief in the swathe of new developments on the market or under construction.

This month sees The Heron – the City's first new residential building of its scale in over three decades – open its marketing suite. When completed, the 36-storey building complete with roof terraces will be home to 284 luxury studios, one, two and three-bedroom apartments as well as duplexes.

Unashamedly Manhattan in lifestyle, the building designed by David Walker and RHWL Architects will feature a concierge service, gym, private club and bar, as well as private dining room and conference facilities. Prices start at £415,000 heading skywards to six figures, with a target market from those looking to cut out their commute, to empty nesters looking for chic city-living.

"Confidence in the City is steadily returning and with this, confidence in the property market", says Carl Davenport, of estate agent Chesterton Humberts. His view finds broader support in research conducted by Liam Bailey at Knight Frank. "The revival in the London sales market in 2009 was felt across the market, but nowhere more dramatically than the new-build sector. Sales of new houses and flats in the final quarter of last year was 214 per cent higher than the same period in 2008, and compared with growth of 68 per cent in the whole London market."

But it appears there is also a qualitative change as well as a quantitative one at work, with a dramatic reversal of buy-to-let investor dominance with owner-occupiers accounting for 71 per cent of purchases – compared with 70 per cent investor buyers in 2007.

"Buyers looking for their own accommodation tend to be more interested in property layout and specification than investors. As a result, little consideration was given to the quality of internal spaces", says Bailey, and while "affordability still provides an effective brake on the aspiration of buyers, evidence from our new homes applicant data confirms subtle changes to buyer requirements, with a modest but noticeable rise in demand for larger units."

Davenport believes that many of the buyers now willing and able to buy "are looking for properties to provide them with something unique. City apartments such as those at Frobisher Crescent at the Barbican with their iconic view of St Paul's Cathedral have a unique selling point," he says. "They make an ideal crash pad for city workers, but interestingly they are also very much a community – an attribute popular with the more discerning buyers in today's market."

Glen Cook, director of City-based agent Hamilton Brooks, agrees. "Currently there is virtually no supply and huge pent-up demand, which is why the apartments at Frobisher Crescent are a rarity and therefore very popular".

The Frobisher Crescent apartments by United House Developments are based in the old home of City University Business School, now converted into 69 studio apartments and given a modern take on the 1960s architecture of the Barbican estate by TP Bennett Architects. Prices start at £375,000 up to £1.875m for a three-bedroom duplex.

It's not just the Square Mile that the diggers have been revving up. Across the river at in Elephant & Castle, Strata SE1 is a 43-storey tower built as part of regeneration efforts. The new tower, due for completion later this spring and developed by Brookfield, will provide 400 apartments. Most were pre-sold in the boom of 2007, but a further 98 are up for grabs under an affordable housing scheme with developer's partner Family Mosaic. Available on a part-buy, part-subsidised rent basis, a one-bedroom apartment in the tower starts from £52,500 for a 25 per cent share.

Meanwhile, in north-west London, the 85 acres of land surrounding Wembley Stadium is home to a massive project that will create new homes, as well as shopping and leisure facilities. At Wembley City, affordable housing is also on offer – some with views overlooking the stadium. Quadrant Court by Genesis homes is a contemporary apartment building with coloured glass balconies and a large landscaped courtyard. Two-bedroom apartments will be available from £43,125 for a 25 per cent share.

Down at the South Bank, The Shard in the London Bridge Quarter, is bringing true architectural swagger. Due for completion in 2012, at 1,017ft, the 72-floor building will take the title of tallest building in Britain. A mix of apartments, offices, eateries and hotel, as well as viewing platforms, architect Renzo Piano's angled panes will reflect the changing light. But such developments may also be reflecting a more fundamental change across the capital. Liam Bailey believes that "the successful schemes, especially in central London, in the next few years will be those that attract owner-occupiers by creating an environment where people really want to live."