diamond geezer

 Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Another Stratford highrise, anyone? They're going up all over, as you might expect in a post-Olympic neighbourhood with loose planning controls. The latest to break cover is Glasshouse Gardens, whose presence has been revealed by a row of turquoise flags along Westfield Avenue. The precise site is the corner of the Olympic Park closest to Stratford station, between the Aquatics Centre and the shops, where the army oversaw security checks during the summer of 2012. A little further north will be The International Quarter, i.e. offices and more shops, but this corner plot overlooking the railway has been allocated to housing.

Two tall towers will arise, one 30 storeys high, the other 17. Pick the right apartment and your view will be of the Olympic Stadium, Docklands and the City, which is a pretty stunning vista. Pick more cheaply and all you'll see is lots more flats, or Leyton, or the back of Westfield Shopping Centre. A large proportion of the cladding will be glass, and a large part of the footprint will be gardens, hence the name of the development. I'm still trying to determine how public the surrounding gardens will be, but there's a good chance they'll be properly communal, including a large amphitheatre at the far end of the site.

In the promotional video a young City worker zips home to Glasshouse Gardens via an impossible connection of trains, then goes for a jog along only glamorous bits of the river Lea. He then explores the 'local neighbourhood', buying olives and meeting a mate for a craft beer, while waiting for his partner to fly home from Paris. It's not how you and I live, but then we're not the target market for this 330-apartment development, it's another residential opportunity with an eye on overseas. The public sales launch took place last month in Stratford "with reservations in the double digits", which I'd suggest represents about 5% of the flats available. Since then the team have held launches in Singapore and Hong Kong, with Shanghai pencilled in later this week. Four highrise apartments are currently being advertised, with prices ranging from £543,000 for a two bed apartment to £800,000 for three, although prices lower down the stack start at £265,000 for one.

For future residents the development has three huge pluses, with Westfield, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Stratford station all immediately alongside. So let's see some of the things the official website has chosen to highlight to potential buyers.
Endless possibilities day in, day out: Stratford London is a vibrant neighbourhood, an area that embraces all that is new, but keeps its heritage at its heart. This is the place that continues to grow and thrive on a daily basis. This is the place where everything feels fresh and exciting. This is the place to be.
Someone got paid to write that vacuous drivel. If they're being paid more than me I demand to switch jobs immediately. Even digging beneath the flowery waffle, I'm not convinced this is the Stratford I recognise.
Shops: Love shopping? Or just love having everything in one easy place? Westfield Stratford is the largest urban shopping centre Europe. Timewise, it’s open until 9pm every single night. Nearby, The Stratford Centre hums with indoor and outdoor market stalls.
If you love shopping, and those with sufficient disposable income to live here probably will, then a flat next to Westfield might be nirvana. But be warned, the mall shuts at six on Sundays, and the Westfield at White City is considerably posher. And I'm willing to bet that rich incomers will only ever visit the market in the Stratford Centre once, at which point they'll immediately spot it's for us locals only.
Cafés: As a local you can wander through Victoria Park, Hackney Wick and Dalston and discover cafés with their own identities. You can sit outside watching the world go by or stroll along the canal with your cappuccino in hand. No two cafés are the same.
Hackney Wick's not far from Glasshouse Gardens, though to reach a decent café near Victoria Park would be a good 30 minute walk. And as for Dalston, the Overground may head there, but it's hardly going to be a local café of choice for someone living three miles away.
Discovering Artisan may in fact be a bitter love as now that you have tasted real coffee it means that you will go out of your way to find it. Stratford now boast more than 5 coffee houses all within walking distance from Glasshouse Gardens including: Grind Coffee Bar, Café Mondo, Caffe Concerto, Counter Café, Elbows Café
It's less a selling point and more a guilty admission that the area boasts only five decent coffee house. Two of these are within Westfield, one's at Stratford Library and the other two are beyond the west side of the Lea. If you want decent coffee, Stratford is not yet on a list of gourmet destinations.
Arts & Culture: Did you know David Bailey was born just up the road as was David Beckham? Those with art in their heart are in for a treat as the area is dotted with cool and contemporary art galleries and inspiring spaces including The Elevator Gallery and Stour Space located in Hackney Wick.
The two Davids were both born in Leytonstone, and quite frankly if you really want to follow in their footsteps you should go and live there, the flats are much cheaper. But Hackney Wick really is the epitome of artistic cool... at least until too many rich folk move into the area and drive all the creativity elsewhere.
Markets: Local markets always create a sense of established, time-old community. Columbia Road flower market and Broadway Market in Hackney are no exception. Hackney is also rich in places demonstrating independence of spirit, from a bakery selling jars of Hackney honey to a shop selling vintage wares as if from someone’s very own front room.
This is the genuine East End repackaged for gentrified consumption, as the Spitalfields Effect ripples east. But 'vintage' Hackney isn't exactly close, and I'm not sure anyone moves house purely for proximity to honey.
Stratford: You’re just 8 minutes from the City, 15 minutes from London City Airport and less than an hour from London Gatwick, Heathrow or Stansted airports
Not quite. Stratford station may be 8 minutes from Liverpool Street, but it's almost as long a walk from Glasshouse Gardens' concierge desk down the road and through the warren of subways to the Central line platform. But those times to the airports are about right, if all the connections work, because Stratford is indeed a very well connected station.
High Speed 1 is the fastest way to get from Stratford International to King’s Cross St Pancras International, the biggest interchange station on the London Underground and gateway to Paris, Brussels and beyond.
HS1 is indeed the quickest way to Paris, once you've yomped across Westfield to its northern ghost station. But how galling for the international traveller to have to start their journey at an "International" station where Eurostar have never bothered to stop, and where the customs hall and international check-in remain as mothballed as they were when I first looked round seven years ago.
Bike: But why bother with the car? There are plenty of brand new cycle routes to enjoy, the scenic routes along the River Lea canals by foot and bicycle and by boat along the Thames using the Thames Clipper from Greenwich.
Local cycle routes? Absolutely yes - Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is going to be catnip for recreational cyclists. But what's this rubbish about taking the Thames Clipper from Greenwich? That's miles away, and not exactly a bike-friendly route either.

One thing that the Glasshouse Gardens marketing team have got mostly right is a promotional brochure - My Guide Stratford. This packs two dozen pages of attractions in the surrounding area, many of which even local people might not be aware of, and hence might be worth downloading even if you're not planning on buying a new flat. But if you're a foreign investor looking in, I'd suggest you'll be doing most of your socialising elsewhere, because E20's not yet the cosmopolitan hotspot the developers would like to suggest.


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