This article originally appeared on LondonLovesBusiness.com on 29/02/2012
BTL yields are some of the highest in London. New planning laws has brought a big demand for property
Search Brixton in Google news and you get some interesting results.
Mexican guitarists Rodrigo Y Gabriela are playing at the Brixton Academy, local boy Luol Deng is to join the Orlando All-Stars basketball team, and Leeds is to follow Brixton’s footsteps and release its own currency.
Scroll further down and you learn Van Gogh’s old house is up for sale, while the Financial Times reports that dubstep sensation Skrillex (ask your kids) just played at the Brixton Academy. Yes, that’s dubstep in the FT, all the proof you need that times have changed, dear reader – and so has Brixton.
With its trendy delis, food markets and impressive Victorian conversions, Brixton is no longer the poster boy of the anti-establishment. Just as unofficial Brixton poet laureate and proudly anti-establishment Linton Kwesi Johnson is now published in the Penguin Classics series, so too has Brixton been absorbed into the middle class mainstream.
And there’s more than fancy restaurants and dub poetry to prove it – there’s a 15 to 20 per cent rise in property prices over the last year. According to local property agents, house prices in the area are higher now than they were in 2007 and are forecasted to keep climbing.
Estate agent Shane Mercieca of Keating Estates says high-end, two-bedroom properties with a garden currently sell at £350,000 to £400,000. While at the end closer to neighbouring Clapham, similar properties on streets such as Abbeville Road can fetch in excess of £500,000.
Mercieca has been managing property in the area for the last 12 years. “Nobody ever wanted to be in Brixton before”, he admits. “They’d register for Clapham and we’d pop them in the car and swing them into Brixton.”
Rewind the clock over the last thirty years and it’s not hard to see why. Synonymous with unemployment, crime and drugs, for many the area was definite no go zone; a broken borough of Lambeth. A dump at the end of the Victoria Line.
That’s all changed. Don’t believe me? Take a look at Guardian food critic Jay Rayner’s recent review of Brixton Village, the covered market behind Brixton underground. “Brixton Village is home to the most vibrant restaurant scene in London,” states Rayner – himself a local resident.
Or just consider that property agents currently pitch average buy-to-let yields on Brixton properties at six to seven per cent – well above the five per cent London average.
So what’s driven this boom in prices? Mercieca cites numerous contributing factors. The first is geographic. Sandwiched between Clapham to the west, and East Dulwich to the east, Brixton benefits from an overflow of those not quite able to make it into Clapham or Dulwich’s affluent Herne Hill area, but wanting to live nearby nonetheless.
Its northerly neighbours are pulling their socks up too, with Peckham and Camberwell receiving fantastic press recently and cited as the newest bastions of gentrification.
But for now Brixton is still cheaper than Clapham. “The price divide between Brixton and Clapham is getting smaller, but it’s still five to 10 per cent cheaper in Brixton,” says Mercieca. “And more and more people are choosing to live there now. Housing stock is getting smaller, prices are going up.”
Families haven’t yet come round to Brixton though; the market is instead mostly young professionals and first time buyers, according to local agents. It’s partly the shades of Brixton’s past, which keeps the area edgy, that is attracting these young professionals, says Warren Blake of local estate agents Oliver Burn.
For Blake it’s a combination of regeneration, CCTV and policing on the street that has picked the area up. “It used to be that your first experience when you arrived in Brixton was loads of dealers at the tube entrance offering you everything. They’ve changed all that now; the dodgy element has been removed,” says Blake.
Like Mercieca, Blake has been managing lettings and sales in the area for the last 12 years. He agrees that Brixton’s property market has seen a complete transformation in the last 12 months and cites projects such as Windrush Square as being directly responsible.
Windrush Square opened on 27 February 2010. A collaboration between Lambeth Council and TfL, it cost £10m to complete and transformed a small common near to Brixton tube station and opposite the local library and Ritzy Cinema.
Before the regeneration, locals describe the area as a waste of space, colonised by youths. “Now it’s pedestrianized, more commuter-friendly and you don’t feel threatened there,” says Blake.
Regeneration isn’t the only big change Lambeth Council has brought to Brixton. In January last year, the Lambeth Local Development Framework (LDF) Core Strategy was introduced. This framework replaced a number of existing planning policies, including once relating to flat conversions.
Like the rest of the city, the demand for rented housing in Lambeth is growing fast. As a result, Brixton’s stock of large Victorian terraces has been persistently converted into flats by property developers.
The new planning development framework classifies certain areas in a “conversion stress” bracket, prohibiting property developers from converting family sized properties there. “The policy aims to ensure mixed and balanced communities with a choice of family sized housing,” says the framework.
This, some argue, has had the biggest impact on property prices to date. With no more development stock left, Brixton’s housing stock has become well and truly finite.
There is, however, some new development on the horizon – Somerleyton Road. If ever a street epitomised a no-go area, it’s Somerleyton Road. Built in the late 19th century, it once boasted the large Victorian buildings Brixton is famous for – and which the council are now so keen to protect – but those buildings have since been razed and replaced with a host of council estates.
Situated smack bang in the centre of Brixton, the street runs parallel with the Victoria Line train tracks and divides Brixton in two, with Loughborough Park to the north and Brixton Road to the west.
Somerleyton Road has been earmarked for redevelopment before – without success. In the 1970’s the Greater London Council (GLC) drew up a controversial plan to build a series of motorways called the London Ringways, these would circle London in a bid to alleviate congestion. The Westway and Notting Hill flyover are some of the fruits of this project. So too is the “Barrier Block”.
With the GLC planning a flyover in Brixton next to Somerleyton Road, Southwyck House was built to protect the street from noise and pollution. The project abandoned, Brixton’s flyover was never built, but Southwyck House remained.
The rather imposing, horse-shoe shape block of flats have since been dubbed the Barrier Block and have remained a thorn in Brixton’s side ever since.
But now Lambeth Council has big plans to demolish Southwyck House and regenerate Somerleyton Road.
What the council didn’t account for, though, is Brixton’s new Brixton-loving community. Headed up by Brad Carroll, Brixton Green is a community-led organisation that has successfully lobbied the council for access to their regeneration plans. With the MP Tessa Jowell as patron, the group has ambitious plans for the area and is determined to transform it.
“Most people view Brixton as finishing at the bridge of the junction of Railton Rd [parallel to Somerleyton Road] where the riots were. This is only 400 yards from Brixton tube – this shouldn’t be dead water. We want to put something special on it,” says Carroll.
Carroll and the group have plans for a TV studio, a theatre, a bi-lingual nursery, training schools – a far cry from the social housing and light industrial units that currently make up the space. Little is likely to materialise before 2013, admits Carroll, but if the group’s vision becomes reality, it could complete Brixton’s transformation.
One thing’s for certain, Brixton Green or no Brixton Green, the only way is up for Brixton and its property prices. Invest now before it’s too late.