King's Cross, London: how developers are constructing a community

There is something rather disconcerting about the new King's Cross development in London. Go down to the large public space at Granary Square on a sunny spring morning and you will see groups of giggling children dancing in and out of the fountains. A total of 1,080 choreographed jets shoot water about 8ft in the air and, while they might not have quite the impact of those at Las Vegas's Bellagio, the youngsters are having a great time. So are the parents, who sit watching from benches and deck chairs, lattes in hand, and the clusters of art students over by the canal, and the office workers, and the tourists waiting to jump on the Eurostar. It is exactly the sort of cohesive community feeling that the developer Argent has been promising since work began in 2008.

"I think Argent has done one of the best regenerations in recent times with King's Cross," says Lee Layton, a research analyst at estate agency Carter Jonas. "Walking through the site, it has a genuine mix of people - not just what developers normally call a 'mix' - and the feel of Granary Square is spot on."

The 67-acre regeneration scheme is now halfway to completion. By 2020, the site will include 2,000 new homes, a new primary school, 10 public squares, three parks, a lido, 500,000 sq ft of restaurant and retail space, and 3.4m sq ft of office space, including Google's new UK headquarters. But for Layton, it is the presence of the St Martin's College campus that is really driving the area's current success.

"The importance of the art school cannot be overstated," he says. "To have young, interested students wandering through the site every day can only be a good thing. Not every regeneration scheme can have that, of course, but it's something that has really tied the scheme in with the surrounding area."

The site might have gelled with locals, but it has not been easy - and it did not happen by accident. Robert Evans, a director at Argent, says: "Getting local support is incredibly important, but it was jolly hard because we had an area where people were pretty tired of the years of construction work that brought Eurostar to St Pancras [in 2007]."

Some local groups opposed aspects of the original plans, which led to a public inquiry and judicial review in 2007. "It was a long consultation," he says, "but the stuff we have delivered has landed well and we're proud of it."

Not everyone has been pleased with the progress though. Detractors have complained about the architecture and Sian Berry, Green party councillor for Camden, has criticised the developer's proposal to cut the "affordable" housing provision from 43 per cent to nearer 33 per cent. "If Camden Council [agrees to the cut], it will be a real betrayal of the King's Cross community," she says. A decision is due in the next few months.

Homes in the three residential buildings that have been launched - ArtHouse, Tapestry and The Plimsoll Building - have all sold or are selling well. The 114 apartments at ArtHouse are all occupied, while only two of the 95 units at Tapestry are still available. Knight Frank is selling a three-bedroom, three-bathroom apartment there with an open-plan kitchen, living and dining area and a balcony for £2m.

"The demand for residential at King's Cross has been huge," says Priya Pannu, a partner at Knight Frank, who cites the transport links and the arrival of Google as being big drivers for sales.

At the Plimsoll - a project of 255 units on Regent's Canal due to open in September - Knight Frank is selling a three-bedroom apartment for £2.2m. Pannu calculates the average price per sq ft at the Plimsoll is about £1,400. Latest estimates from Knight Frank predict prices could hit £2,000 per sq ft by 2018, but some are unconvinced.

"If I'm brutally honest, I'm not sure how accurate any estimates could be," says Layton, who worked as an estate agent in Stratford in the run-up to the London Olympics. "Something strange happens to the housing market around the delivery of a big scheme like this. There's this compounding effect where prices go up but supply goes to zero because no one wants to sell before it's finished . . . it supercharges prices."

Whether or not prices are overinflated will become clear in time, but the regeneration of King's Cross has dovetailed with other efforts to smarten up the area, including the redevelopment of King's Cross and St Pancras rail stations and the 245-room St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, which reopened in 2011.

Developer Manhattan Loft Corporation has converted the hotel's upper floors into 67 apartments, and Hamptons International is selling a one-bedroom apartment there for £849,950.

Perhaps the main reason why the King's Cross regeneration has succeeded is because Argent has been the sole developer - a luxury unavailable in other multi-developer projects such as those around City Road or Paddington Basin. "We spent a lot of time getting the master plan right," says Evans. "We needed to create a place that people want to go to first: the value will follow."

? A regeneration scheme designed by Sir Norman Foster was abandoned in the wake of the 1990-92 recession

? The King's Cross Pond Club, a new 40-metre public lido, will open this month

? In March, King's Cross ward had a crime rate of 11.4 crimes per 1,000 residents, slightly lower than nearby Camden Town's rate of 11.75 crimes per 1,000

£500,000 A one-bedroom flat in a purpose-built block near Euston

£1m A two-bedroom apartment in a new-build at King's Cross

£4m A four-bedroom period apartment near Regent's Park

Main photograph: Argent Services

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