What do the Old War Offices Residences by Raffles on Whitehall, the Peninsula London near Hyde Park Corner and the Bryanston by Marble Arch have in common? All are, of course, beautiful new super-prime developments attracting interest from UHNW buyers. But they could also be among the very last schemes of their kind, due to changes to Westminster council planning permissions.
The new restrictions, adopted in 2021 as part of the borough’s 2019-2040 ‘City Plan’, mean that no new residences or properties can be greater than 200 square metres (around 2,150 square feet) in size, ‘except where it is necessary to protect a heritage asset’, the 216-page edict reads.
This means that none of the aforementioned developments – which each include properties that exceed the new limit of 200 square metres – would receive planning permission if they were brought before the council today.
‘I understand why the council did it,’ Mayfair property guru Peter Wetherell says, acknowledging the plan’s aim of helping to create more than 20,000 new homes. ‘They looked at every single site, and they said, “Well, what have we got to do to actually create this amount of homes?” Initially, they [considered a size restriction of] 100 square metres, and everyone said, “That’s madness.”’
The new limit will force a rethink among developers, explains Wetherell. ‘When you do a new development, you need to have the trophies – those standout apartments.’ Of particular note, he says, is the show- stopping 14,000 square foot ‘townhouse in the sky’ within the Bryanston, which is priced at £132 million. ‘That’s what people want – big lateral spaces,’ says Savills’ Ed Lewis, who heads the agency’s London residential development team. However, he notes that, even in this rarefied part of the market, trade tends to be brisker for less extravagant homes: ‘Two and a half, three and a half thousand square feet. That’s where the sweet spot of that super-prime market has been.’
Some new luxury schemes that gained consent before the rules were adopted are still due to come online. The Whiteley by Finchatton is due for completion any day now, while a £450 million redevelopment of St John’s Wood Barracks, which gained planning consent in 2015, is slated for completion in 2028.
Buy now before Westminster planning permission drought
But beyond a handful of developments whose completion will lag behind the introduction of the new rules, there will be no new large properties created within the domain of Westminster Council, which covers everywhere from Queens Park and St John’s Wood down to Pimlico, thus enveloping Hyde Park, Mayfair, Knightsbridge, Belgravia and St James’s.
Even now, there is a shortage of supply of larger properties in prime central London, especially compared to other major cities. ‘We’ll tell a buyer with £15-20 million, “We can probably show you everything inside two or three days,”’ says Lewis. ‘If we took them to New York it would be two or three weeks, and if we took them to Dubai it would be two or three months.’
Recent analysis from Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices London noted that ‘the size limitation for future developments has the potential to drive up the value of existing large-scale properties in Westminster’. And the demand for these larger, now limited-edition homes could even create ‘a two-tier market where the price per square foot of homes in excess of 200 square meters are likely to be higher than those sub-200 square metres’.
There’s already evidence of this, notes Lewis: ‘The bigger the space, the more pounds per square foot.’
It’s a question of buy now while stocks last, says Wetherell. ‘The availability of stock is going fast, and you know that there’s nothing else coming down the line. And if you want to buy into one of those new developments as a second-hand purchase, you know that the price is going to go up by 20 per cent straight away because they’ve had to pay stamp duty.’
Wealthy buyers might still be able to find opportunities to acquire and perhaps refurbish slightly older ‘second hand trophies’ – large pads in developments such as 199 Knightsbridge by Squire & Partners, which completed in 2005, or the Candy Brothers’ One Hyde Park, which came online in 2009.
But some of the new developments are truly remarkable, says Wetherell. ‘[That] townhouse in the sky, you’ve got 14,000 square feet of accommodation with a 4,000 square foot garden. I call it an infinity garden – where the garden finishes, 350 acres of Hyde Park then start. It’s a trophy. Once somebody buys that, the story will go around the world.’