Lessons from the Great Estates

Thursday 24 October 2013

© Agnese Sanvito

Granary Square

© Agnese Sanvito

© Agnese Sanvito

The Great Estates are London’s most attractive places in which to live and work, thanks to their careful ‘curation’ and the ‘enlightened self-interest’ driving their long-term involvement.

The contention emerged at this morning’s special seminar at the NLA on ‘long-termism and sustainability’, intended to tease out some of the lessons London’s older estates could teach the new.

Chairman of Get Living London Stuart Corbyn ran through some of the history of London’s estates and leasehold reforms, right up to the transformations of places like Regent Street and Marylebone High Street via a new attention being paid to the public realm, and through adapting to changing circumstances. ‘At the end of the day, it comes down to patience’, he said. The Qataris at East Village share that long-term approach, he added, even if they do not take as active a role as their UK family counterparts. 

Corbyn’s successor at Cadogan, chief executive Hugh Seaborn, said that if everything was stripped away his was a property company with a gross value of £4billion in a mixture predominantly of retail and residential. ‘We own a lot of property – 93 acres – in one place’, he said. ‘But it’s not just a big holding – it’s about being embedded in the area.’ The estate has been in existence for some 300 years in private family ownership, and the Cadogan family still has homes in the area today, with the estate concentrating on a broad, effective stewardship including cinemas, bars, music halls, restaurants and shops, as well as housing. ‘The benefits of this approach are legion. It’s a lot to do with self-interest, but it is also recognition of impact and responsibility’, said Seaborn. If Cadogan gets the stewardship right, he added, the finance and the rest of the business should follow.

The conference also heard from the self-branded ‘Johnny-come-latelys’ Argent, whose partner Robert Evans detailed the steps taken behind creating an estate that is ‘professional’ but not corporate in tone at King’s Cross, working with heritage and forging a new place based on streets and squares. Capco investment director Gary Yardley showed the developer’s moves to transform Covent Garden including via new residential being sold predominantly to UK buyers, and Earls Court, its plan to create a series of ‘villages’ to a masterplan by Terry Farrell. And Allies and Morrison’s Jason Syrett showed how a series of masterplans for Wood Wharf had been superceded by one designed by his own practice, which aims to move away from the Canary Wharf model with more connections to its surroundings and an integrated social structure, plus buildings designed by A&M, Herzog and de Meuron and Stanton Williams.

There was also time for a look at Shaftesbury’s cultural strategies, informed by the work of Futurecity founder and director Mark Davy, especially in the transformation and ‘cultural branding’ of Carnaby Street; an analysis of Soho Estates by its managing director John James and the balance it must strike through upgrading areas like Walkers Court between heritage, the planners, and progress; and Grosvenor’s Nigel Hughes’ drive towards greening the estate’s buildings. Finally there was Claire Bennie from Peabody (‘I’m an interloper here – I’m female’), who said the housing group was faced with pressures to adapt its stock with environmental measures and for ageing tenants, requests from residents for better public space, and constant pressures – which it resists – for Peabody to dispense with some of its valuable stock for reinvestment elsewhere. 

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

The NLA conference Lessons from the Great Estates was sponsored by Cluttons, Futurecity and Savills

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