26 September 2013, Evening Standard
A mystery Brunei billionaire is investing £500 million into transforming Queensway. The once grand Bayswater throughfare is set to become the Covent Garden of west London, with new apartments, refurbished luxury homes and a retail boulevard. By David Spittles
Bayswater is about to be born again on the back of a £500 million investment in Queensway. According to the mystery Brunei billionaire behind the scheme, this once grand Bayswater thoroughfare, now so shabby, is set to become the Covent Garden of west London.
In a dramatic property raid, the super-rich investor has taken control of 75 per cent of the street’s buildings, including listed Whiteleys shopping centre. The investor plans to create a smart urban estate by taking a leaf out of the book of historic landowners such as the Duke of Westminster.
Bayswater is already reclaiming the residential cachet it enjoyed in Victorian times, when garden squares and imposing stucco terraces were built to fill the acres between Hyde Park and Paddington station. Decline set in during the mid-20th century with the spread of bedsits, seedy B&Bs and tourist hotels, and by the Eighties it had the fastest population turnover in London, a place of “bewildering cosmopolitanism”, according to author Peter Ackroyd.
Even five years ago, Bayswater was definitely the wrong side of the park. Perceptions started to change when former prime minister Tony Blair bought a house in Connaught Square, and small developers bought up run-down property to turn into high-end apartments. Buyers could certainly get much more for their money than in neighbouring Notting Hill or Mayfair.
Bayswater’s new apartments
A new set of apartments, known as The Lancasters, was a game-changer. This redevelopment of a former Thistle Hotel fronting Hyde Park brought 76 sumptuously embellished apartments to the market, with equally grand multi-million pound price tags at up to £3,800 a square foot.
“Bayswater has seen fantastic price growth — more than 30 per cent over the last three years,” says Stephen Fairfax of estate agent Knight Frank. “And there’s more to come. The W2 postcode is a shrewd place to invest.”
Camilla Dell, managing director of Black Brick search agency, says: “I used to suggest Bayswater as a cheaper address for clients who wanted to be close to Notting Hill, but now it is popular in its own right.”
No more low rent
Shrewd hoteliers are selling low-rent backpacker hostels to rich bankers, who are converting them back into wow-factor homes.
Royal Opera House architect Dixon Jones has been hired to draw up a masterplan for unpolished Queensway. It is a challenge. Currently a sea of shabby souvenir shops, bureaux de change and fast-food takeaways, this patch is an architectural hotchpotch, lacking the uniformity of Bayswater’s back streets. The goal is to transform it into a prestige retail boulevard, with Whiteley’s, the jewel in the crown, becoming a rival to Harrods.
Bayswater stretches from Marble Arch to Westbourne Grove, taking in the genteel Hyde Park Estate and fast-changing Paddington, set to become a Crossrail hub.
Upcoming new developments in Bayswater
Ongoing regeneration around the station and canal basin has created a fashionable waterfront complex of designer homes and gleaming corporate offices. Launching in 2014 is a 42-storey skyscraper, part of the Merchant Square canalside scheme. The tower will have apartments above a deluxe hotel on the lower floors and be crowned by a glamorous sky bar, with 360-degree views.
New apartments are coming thick and fast. Former Queens cinema on Bishops Bridge Road is being redeveloped into 16 homes, set behind the splendid original Art Deco façade. New architectural elements include a “Bauhaus” exterior in glazed terracotta panels.
Shops at street level will improve an unloved corner, while a reconfigured traffic system will create a new public space at the junction with Westbourne Grove. Completion is scheduled for 2014.
The fate of the Comfort Inn budget hotel at Craven Hill Gardens is a telltale sign of the way the area is going. It and the adjacent Hempel, a trendy white stucco-fronted boutique hotel, have been acquired by developer Amazon Property for conversion into 12 lateral apartments and three townhouses, to be called The Hempel Collection.
Radiating out from Lancaster Gate, away from Hyde Park, is a web of streets with handsome squares and tucked-away mews. Big lateral flats such as those carved out of the old Football Association headquarters at 17 Lancaster Gate sell for more than £3 million. Here too is Spire House, an eye-catching scheme of modern apartments grafted on to the body and spire of a listed Victorian church.
A mansion-style townhouse on Bathurst Street has been split into six high-ceilinged apartments with marble-walled bathrooms. Prices from £1.7 million.
Blairs and graces
Since the arrival of the Blairs, the neighbourhood around Connaught Square has evolved into a villagey quarter of galleries, boutiques and restaurants with its own security cordon in the form of armed police guarding the ex-prime minister’s home and the connected mews house in Archery Close.
Here too is the Church Commissioner-owned Hyde Park Estate, which mixes post-war homes and affordable tower block flats with period townhouses. A prestige new address is 2 Hyde Park Square, which offers underground parking. Prices start at £2.4 million.
Nearby Connaught Place has seven apartments in a refurbished Georgian building — while British Land’s redevelopment of 64 Seymour Street has brought 10 smart contemporary-design flats from £1.7 million.
Despite its rising status, Bayswater is still significantly cheaper than neighbouring Marylebone, according to estate agent Kay & Co. Mews houses and mansion block flats are in high demand, costing about £1,200 a square foot and Bayswater is even first-time buyer territory: a one-bedroom flat in listed Westbourne Terrace is on the market for £550,000.