diamond geezer

 Thursday, August 03, 2017

Five years ago an old carpet warehouse stood empty on the corner of Cooks Road and Stratford High Street. This postwar brick building, beside a temporary carwash yard, retained half a broken sign on its frontage, and the door to the delivery bay gaped open revealing a huge pile of tyres stacked inside.

Yesterday, on the precise spot where those tyres were stacked, I saw two impossible people. A posh man in a smart tie and a tailored suit. A posh lady in a couture dress and pristine heels. People like this simply don't visit the area around the Bow Roundabout, it is not for them. I was shocked.

But a lot has happened on the site of the carpet warehouse since the Olympics. In 2014 they knocked the building down. In 2015 they threw up a pair of liftshafts in its place. In 2016 two tall apartment blocks took shape. This year the first tenants moved in. And that's why the impossibly posh duo were here.

This is Capital Towers, a development flogged off-plan in the Far East with the pledge that there would be "no social housing" inside. The very idea that this exhaust-choked corner overlooking the Bow Flyover might somehow be attractive to foreign investors seemed ludicrous, but without having seen the place, they bought in.

The smaller of the pair is the City West Tower. It's 14 storeys tall, tucked in between the River Lea and one thread of the Bow Back Rivers. The taller of the pair is the Sky View Tower. It's 34 storeys tall, a height Newham Council deems appropriate for this landmark location on the edge of the borough. You can't miss it hereabouts.

The development's USP is that the two towers are linked, at 4th floor level, where a communal roof garden is provided. It's by no means a large facility, certainly too small for a croquet lawn, but its existence allowed the developers to flog their flats for a bit more than they would have done otherwise.

Floors 2 and 3 are also joined, and enclosed for use as a car park. The kind of people who live in developments like this need cars, apparently, so there are two dozen spaces per floor accessed via a lift from ground level. The presence of this car park also conveniently avoids anyone's kitchen window staring straight out onto the Bow Flyover.

Facing the road at ground level are half a dozen commercial spaces, which could be used as offices or presumably as shops. Given that the only retail successes within five minutes walk are a McDonalds drive-thru and a tiny corner shop, I don't rate their chances of being rented out.... but we'll see.

This isn't everyday housing, oh no, this is 'luxury accommodation' complete with gym, well-being zones and residents' lounge. Obviously there's a concierge too. This may be normal where you live. It is very much not normal for the Bow/Stratford hinterland.

But if we locals are suddenly feeling like lesser citizens, Capital Towers has a sly trick up its sleeve - its two towers are deliberately unequal. The taller Sky View Tower is the place to be, the more expensive option, and if you've only bought in the smaller City West Tower you're a second class resident.

On the top of the Sky View Tower, available to Sky View Tower residents only, is a 35th floor roof terrace. Imagine the view from up there, and the potential opportunities for cocktail-sipping-at-dusk. Residents of the City West Tower can only imagine. Even in a beacon of inequality there is further inequality.

Residents of the City West Tower also no longer have a concierge. They had one while the Sky View Tower was being finished off, but he's now moved nextdoor, so all parcel deliveries have to be made to the other building. A sign on the desk in reception, visible through the glass, apologises.

So yes, the posh couple I saw had been ushered into the entrance lobby of the Sky View Tower, were sharing a joke with the concierge, and were about to be led somewhere exclusive inside. It's not all posh - an hour later I saw a man in hoodie and joggers heading out with a basketball under his arm. But it is posh for E3/E15.

The developers have done well to squeeze 191 flats onto this small brownfield site. But it feels somewhat insulting to have riff-raff-free flats for overseas investors imposed on the local area, when there are so many locals who'd love to live somewhere properly affordable instead.

Stare up at Capital Towers after dark and a fair number of the windows are lit, at least below the 20th floor, so this isn't an entirely buy-to-invest development. But every time the go-ahead is given for an exclusive gym-and-roof-garden development, the capital's housing problem surely gets worse, not better.

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