Our Postcode En Vogue series continues with a look at the latest London hotspot to take off
When I say I’m going to tell you all about London’s secret cultural hotspot what do you think I’m about to regale you with? Tales of pop up shops, trendy markets and asymmetrical haircuts in Shoreditch? Well that’s no secret. Farm Shops and rooftop gardens in Dalston? No, ‘fraid not. I’m going to talk about the edifying epicentre that is King’s Cross.
“So I went looking out today, for the one who got away, murder walking round the block, ending up in King’s Cross,” goes the eponymous Pet Shops Boys song dedicated to the area.
But the district’s associations with drug abuse – immortalised by the song – no longer sings true. Nowadays, if like the wealthy student in Pulp’s hit Common People, “you study sculpture at St Martin’s College”, you do so in King’s Cross, the new home to St Martin’s College.
For the past five years or so King’s Cross has morphed into a nascent postcode, simmering and bubbling away on the edge of greatness. When once the only reasons to go to the area was to score drugs, go nightclubbing or catch a train, now people are flocking to score a hot piece of investment.
King’s Cross station is the subject of a surprising amount of myth. Not only does Harry Potter jump onto the Hogwarts Express via platform nine and three quarters, but if you are an impressionable sort, you might also believe that great British warrior Boadicea is buried somewhere beneath platform nine and ten.
But the area’s infrastructure has more to offer than speculations and references to pop culture. Approximately £2bn has been invested in transport infrastructure over the past ten years. Alec Papasavva, associate sales director at estate agents Frank Harris and Company believes the area’s rebirth really gained momentum with the Eurostar.
“When I first started working here in 1998 the area had a reputation for being full of prostitutes and druggies,” explains Papasavva. “When we got word that St Pancras was going to become the new home of the Eurostar people started to consider the area as an option.
“The Regent Quarter development really put King’s Cross on the map again and started to attract a younger crowd”
“The day that the first train pulled in from Paris, a French gentleman walked past the window of the agents, walked in and bought a property here. It had a massive effect on the area.”
The area’s transport infrastructure is one of the best that you’ll find in London. No problem if you’re not heading to gay-Paris, a visit to St Pancras, King’s Cross Station and its underground station can see you propelled to any corner of the country or the city, even Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
St Pancras Hotel
One building that doesn’t look a million miles away from Mr Potter’s scholarly stomping ground is the majestic St Pancras Hotel. This redbrick gothic giant is enough to garner gasps from the most seasoned of travellers, its spires elegantly tickling the clouds.
The building was first opened in 1868 and following a narrow escape from demolition in the 60’s, the hotel was reopened in May of this year. The hotel had some good news earlier this month when it scooped the coveted Hotel of the Year award and the Refurbishment of the Year award at the 2011 European Hospitality Awards. With such an enviable landmark, King’s Cross has all the makings of a destination as well as a gateway.
Deluge of development
It’s not all down to trains and gothic architecture. The area has seen a number of key developments that have acted as catalysts of gentrification. The first is known as Regent Quarter.
Just to the east of St Pancras, an area once full of derelict nineteenth century warehouses was transformed in 2006. The old buildings were renovated, in keeping with their original charm, into offices, homes and hotels. It was the first step to utilising the lands around King’s Cross that had fallen into disrepair. “The development really put King’s Cross on the map again and started to attract a younger crowd,” recalls Papasavva.
Hot on the heels of the Regent Quarter development comes the King’s Cross Central; the megasaurus super project still being hammered, drilled and dug up as we speak. At 67 acres it is the largest site in single ownership to be master planned and developed in central London for over 150 years. It even has its own postcode – N1C.
The area is owned by King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership, and is a collaboration between Argent, London and Continental Railways and DHL Supply Chain. Planning permission for eight million sq ft of mixed use development has been granted and work is well underway.
The area is set to benefit from 3.4 million sq ft of office space; up to 2,000 homes and serviced apartments; 500,000 sq ft of retail space; 300 hotel bedrooms and 650 student units. It is big.
I spoke to Emma Crowe, a spokesperson for the development about the work to try and grasp some sort of understanding of what is being developed there.
“There was an incredible plot of land littered with old granary buildings, coal houses, railway arches and warehouses. These pieces of Victoriana are all being preserved and mixed in with the new builds,” explains Crowe.
“The end result will be a huge mix of boutique shops nestling under arches, old gas holders converted into luxury homes but also more affordable housing, student campuses and larger retail developments.”
I wonder if the new boulevards and parks will feel a little synthetic – a bit too pleasantville to be really cool? Crowe (unsurprisingly) disagrees: “The new development will knit itself into London, not to feel like a separate piece of town. I think the historical buildings will help it, it’s not all new.”
“Clearly people feel they are in a very dynamic, growing and changing place”
Argent, the main developer and point of contact for the N1C, is reluctant to give any indicators of rental or sale prices of the spaces. Given that a lot of the area won’t be complete until the end of 2014 and beyond, this makes some sense.
“At a time where London is trying to attract as much international investment as possible, whilst nurturing its local entrepreneurs, the King’s Cross regeneration site which comes with a brand new, super high tech 4.9 million square footage of new office space is invaluable,” says Ed Robinson, Camden sales manager at Foxton’s.
But despite all of the development, you might still wonder if you would actually want to live there. Keep reading and you might just change your mind.
The story of gentrification is a well-trodden one. The artists move in, the area becomes trendy and then all and sundry jump on the bandwagon.
The first tenants of King’s Cross Central have already arrived, and are fulfilling the artistic requirements with gusto. Indeed, two months ago the University Of The Arts (including Central Saint Martins) swept into their new home, The Granary Building, leaving a trail of paintbrushes, sewing needles and glitter in its wake that has brought the neighbourhood to life with a smattering of artistic flair.
“King’s Cross is now an area that people look for rather than shy away from”
the inaugural members of the new neighbourhood they couldn’t be more perfect. The artists and designers bring culture… and cash. Four thousand students now populate the campus providing a readymade audience for the plethora of restaurants and shops that will follow.
“Clearly people feel they are in a very dynamic, growing and changing place,” says Professor Vladimir Mirodan FRSA, director of development, Central Saint Martins. “There was an initial reaction from our students that the area might be less exciting but they have been pleasantly surprised.
“The negative view of the area is well gone. The young artists will make an enormous difference to the culture of the area; you can already feel the change. We will be here as the anchor to a new cultural hotspot in London.”
The arrival of Central Saint Martins and the rest of the University of the Arts may well be an important juncture in King’s Cross’ journey to becoming a magnate for culture but it certainly isn’t the start.
The London Canal Museum opened in 1992, and in 1997 a new home for the British Library opened next to St Pancras Station. The global artistic powerhouse Gagosian moved their main London gallery to the area in 2004 and they were joined by the Sartorial Contemporary Gallery in 2008.
The London Sinfonietta and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment are based in King’s Place, on Battlebridge Basin next to the Regent’s Canal and King’s Place is also the home of The Guardian and The Observer newspapers.
Drowned in the swells of erudition yet?
King’s Cross has never featured highly on the foodie list for London. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I have often struggled to think of somewhere to eat in the area. But things have started to change.
King’s Cross now plays host to a range of exciting dining opportunities such as the Spanish gastronomical hub of restaurant Camino and sister sherry bar Pepito. And then of course there’s Marcus Wareing’s The Gilbert Scott at St Pancras Hotel. But it’s not all traditional dining, foodies looking for an adventure will find an exciting spin on al fresco dining a stone’s throw from the station.
Eat.St. is a street food collective that until recently spent it’s time meandering around the UK to various events but thanks to the King’s Cross Central development – they now have a more permanent home.
“The people at King’s Cross Central saw what we were doing and got in touch,” explains Petra Barren, founder. “They have created a passage through the site called King’s Boulevard and that has become London’s first dedicated street food zone.
“There is something magical about food on wheels and we feel it can help to develop the food culture of Britain. People can come together and bond in a light hearted way.”
“King’s Cross is now an area that people look for rather than shy away from,” says Papasavva. “House prices peaked in 2007 and a few of the more desirable buildings have reached that peak again but the area is still deemed one of the cheaper areas for central London.
“We have more buyers than we have stock at the moment so I don’t anticipate that rents will go anywhere but up.”
Office space is renting at about £27 – £35 per sq ft – still very affordable when compared with other parts of central London.
According to Neil Dawson, letting manager at Frank Harris and Company, residential rents are still a good 20 per cent cheaper than areas such as Bloomsbury.
“A decent two bed flat in Bloomsbury will set you back around £500/600 per week. In King’s Cross it’s more around the £460 per week mark.
Dawson believes the area still has a little way to go until it catches up with Islington and Bloomsbury in terms of restaurants and wine bars: “It’s not quite there yet but I think after the Olympics you will really start to see a big difference.”
It looks like the time to act is now before eveyone else jumps on the N1 bus. King’s Cross has emerged from its chequered past and come up fighting. Boadicea would be proud.