No one knows quite where they stand in Vauxhall — literally. Despite being one of London’s major transport hubs the area remains almost impossible to navigate, thanks largely to the groaning chaos of a multi-lane gyratory system.
Quite apart from the infrastructure, many other factors contribute to the district’s distinctly disorientating feel.
Yet despite the traffic, the daunting network of run-down back alleys and unkempt public spaces, average prices here hover around the £850,000 mark for a two-bedroom flat, according to research by Estates Gazette.
This is, after all, a Zone 1 location and those back alleys are a stone’s throw from some of the capital’s highest-profile housing schemes, including around the new US Embassy; in Vauxhall Tower at St George Wharf, and the £9 billion Battersea Power Station regeneration. The fact that the latter will become home to Apple’s new European HQ — a colossal 500,000sq ft space set to bring an influx of fresh tech blood to the area when it opens in 2021 — only adds noughts to local property values.
In 2019, Transport for London plans to start work on doing away with the hated gyratory system in favour of two-way roads, with more cycle and pedestrian crossings and the removal of the existing bus depot.
Whatever the future holds for the area, nicknamed “VoHo”, there can be no denying it has had some major challenges to overcome.
The first, as basic as it is problematic, is its shape. Long and thin, snaking along the Thames from the eastern edge of Battersea Park up to Lambeth Palace Gardens, there is barely more than one road going in and out once you get past New Covent Garden Market. And that road is a humdinger. With more lanes than an Olympic swimming pool and the aforementioned gyratory to contend with in the middle, it is little wonder that despite being a prime riverside district, Vauxhall has always struggled to find its heart.
There’s a smattering of Victorian terrace properties set back from the Thames, but this district has no real centre.
A HEART TRANSPLANT
It may be hard to believe, but Vauxhall was a picturesque London village as recently as the 19th century. Now, with the radical plans for its improvement, the current chaos could soon become a thing of the past.
Lambeth council has set out plans to create “a recognisable heart of Vauxhall” with new shop-lined walkways, the restoration of a high street and a civic town square.
This is where the ambitious proposals for the district tie in with TfL’s strategy to overhaul the gyratory. The removal of the one-way system, major public space upgrades and, eventually, a fresh design for a new bus station should free up enough space to create a centre from scratch, stemming from a new station square.
THE NINE ELMS RIPPLE
Another big hurdle has stemmed from the complexities around the ownership of the wider Nine Elms area. Across this sprawling 561-acre regeneration site, half a dozen landowners have had to work together in a borough split between two councils of different political persuasions.
“In a perfect world it wouldn’t have been so complicated but when you look at what has been achieved with so many parties involved, actually everyone has worked very well together,” says Matt Bell, head of external affairs at the Berkeley Group, whose St James development arm is overseeing the delivery of four new residential schemes in the area — Merano Residences, The Corniche, Riverlight and The Dumont.
Prices at the latter start at £655,000 for a one-bedroom flat. A reflection of the area’s high average, it is actually quite the bargain when compared to Middle Eastern developer Damac’s AYKON London One tower nearby in Nine Elms. Here, one of the Versace-designed apartments in the 50-storey block will set you back a cool £2.8 million for a two-bedroom home.
Are these high prices justified? The £850,000 average is about 65 per cent above the London average. But there is mounting evidence that the Battersea effect has begun to kick-start significant upgrades in and around Vauxhall. Thanks, not least, to the expectations of a new breed of buyer.
James Lindsay, chief executive of iconic entertainment venue The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, explains: “When it was announced that the American Embassy was moving to this area, a certain amount of clean-up was required. There used to be a lot of drug use in the area, which was a heavy burden. The occupiers moving into this area wouldn’t want that on their doorstep.”
You have only to look at the new retail, leisure and commercial tenants taking space in SW8 to get an idea of the direction the area is heading. It was announced in May that The Office Group — British rival to WeWork, the American-based provider of shared workspace for entrepreneurs, freelancers, start-ups and small businesses — has been granted planning permission to develop a 92,000sq ft flagship serviced office space at Tintagel House on Albert Embankment.
Meanwhile, Network Rail, which has redeveloped six of the railway arches on the embankment so far, has signed a fresh wave of tenants who are set to move in towards the end of summer. These include a new bar from the Antic Collective, the team behind London venues including Brixton’s Dogstar and Effra Social; a second branch of Bethnal Green-based taproom brewery Mother Kelly’s, and fringe theatre company Above The Stag.
Ultimately, with such widespread and major regeneration redefining the surrounding area, and with fresh tenants starting to bolster Vauxhall’s new and improved reputation, chances are that the property values are a fair reflection of a prime Zone 1 riverfront location that’s set for a rapid transformation over the next three years.
Many Londoners have already been priced out. However, there are other options. It is worth looking at more affordable alternatives in nearby areas likely to be close enough to benefit from the Nine Elms regeneration boost. For example, average prices in Oval are £521,499, according to Rightmove, and hover at about £550,000 in Stockwell. As for Vauxhall itself, it is a neighbourhood to watch. Once a network of nightclubs and back alleys, there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel for this district.
Hopefully, before too long, people will start to know where they stand — multi-lane gyratory system notwithstanding.
- Emily Wright is features and global editor of Estates Gazette