Sunday, 4 July 2010

Wembley Arena at the end of the ‘rainbow’

Wembley Stadium has become one of the most recognisable of London’s landmarks – or rather its arch has, stretching like a monochrome rainbow over the city’s northern suburbs. But up close, as many football fans know, the urban mish mash that surrounds it is less memorable. The walk from Wembley Central station along the high road is one where pound shops battle for business, moneylenders and pawnbrokers ply their trades and where on match days the pubs, curry houses and betting shops are packed full.
Francis Henry, managing director of Wembley based estate agent Daniels, says: “My office is on the high road and what I look is a run down area, poor people, high unemployment and sub standard living. There is a lot of social housing. There used to be stores here such as C&A and Marks and Spencer. Forty years ago, before the (shopping) centre at Brent Cross was built, it was like the West End. Rates were higher than Oxford Street.”
The new stadium, which opened after much delay in March 2007, was the catalyst for a transformation of the area, with 87 acres nearby being developed into a complex of hotels, flats, shops and restaurants. The entire enterprise has been branded Wembley City.
The local council, Brent, is behind the regeneration plans, along with Quintain Estates, which bought the land in 2003 when work on the stadium was beset by cash-flow problems, and consequently provided most of the financial muscle.
Quintain’s chief executive, Nick Shattock, says: “In 2002, the Greater London Authority’s London Plan, which outlines the strategy for building in the capital, anticipated there should be 146 new homes in the entire 1,000-acre Wembley area. We persuaded the GLA to create 5,000 houses.”
Planning permission was granted in 2003, the year the stadium was originally meant to open, and already the Wembley Arena concert venue has been refurbished at a cost of more than £35m. Another 40 buildings, including a boulevard of bars and restaurants, a 656 room Hilton hotel and a nine screen cinema complex, are on the way, as well as a designer outlet centre that will complement “anchor stores” such as Marks and Spencer. Work has started on a 600-unit block for student accommodation and twin 21-storey towers will stand along Empire Way.
James Saunders, managing director of commercial ventures at Quintain, says: “The old Wembley plc attracted 3.5m people to the stadium a year with 12m coming to the Arena. By broadening its appeal we anticipate 30m visitors a year with 1,000 living here by end of this summer.”
Quintain hold weekly meetings with Brent Council to ensure their aspirations dovetail. Prafula Shah, Brent’s marketing manager, says: “In Wembley City we have apartments in private gated developments which are ideal for young people and families and right on the doorstep of what is set to become a brand new buzzing London destination. In all, the council plans 6,500 new homes within the next 10 years. Wembley has also seen an £85m investment in public transport upgrades at its three train and Tube stations, making it the most connected urban area to central London.”
In a flurry of activity, the council has decided to build a new civic centre opposite the Arena with a community hall for up to 1,000 people, a library and a learning centre; it has approved the development of a shopping and residential block by Wembley Central station with 259 residential flats – 174 private and 85 affordable homes for key workers; a school on the high road is to be torn down and replaced with a 28 storey block with 448 flats, offices and a new school and sports centre.
Low-carbon specialists Zed Homes are to build a 17-storey hotel with 120 beds and 108 timeshares and both the Intercontinental hotel chain and Millennium Hotels have permission to build.
Quintain is undoubtedly in pole position in terms of residential development. Two blocks of flats have been completed. Forum House has 145 private homes with another 160 that are a mix of social and shared cost. Prices range from £217,500 for a one bedroom flat to £499,000 for two-bed duplexes of 1,071 sq ft. Next door, Quadrant Court, with 235 units of which 90 are private, has prices ranging from £175,000 for a 324 sq ft studio to £355,000 for a two-bed, two-bath flat of 753 sq ft.
An appearance by Take That at Wembley Arena in July 2009 was enough to persuade 33 year old management consultant Zoe Guilford to take the plunge. “There were about 80,000 fans trying to get home after the concert,” she says. “As I was stuck in traffic, I passed the new apartments near the stadium and thought how great it would be if I could just walk home right now and not have to drive. When I told my father he suggested looking into buying one as a sort of ‘social base’ – somewhere we could use after concerts and sports events.”
In the event Guilford decided to move to the Isle of Man but bought an apartment in Wembley’s Forum House as a buy-to-let, and reckons she is making a six per cent return on her investment.
Francis Henry of Daniels points to Wembley’s lively property scene, and the rental market in particular. “I was initially concerned that the slump would put an end to further development and there would just be the two new blocks of flats but now the funding has been agreed the place is a hive of activity.
“We thought that Quintain prices would provide a knock-on effect for us. If you are looking at a flat for £300,000 you might consider buying a freehold property for the same price. The new flats are already looking a bit tired so, although there might be a bit more work and maintenance with a house, you can earn a better rent out of it.”
Properties on Daniels’ books at the £300,000 mark include a three-bed, two-reception room town house with off-road parking for up to six cars which “would suit either a DIY enthusiast, builder/investor looking for a refurbishment project or as a buy-to-let.”
Henry echoes the universal lament of the estate agent: “We have buyers lining up but because the banks are reluctant to open the flood gates we have been doing a lot of renting. Prices of properties have dropped so much there is a bigger margin of profit to be made here with buy-to-let.”