Paddington Cucumber tower: Westminster council approves plan for 42-storey skyscraper with hundreds of new London Zone 1 homes


Westminster council has approved a new 42-storey skyscraper, which, thanks to its inky terracotta cladding, white ridges and distinctive curved profile has been dubbed the Blue Marrow.

Its size and location, on a key site between Harrow Road and the north side of Paddington Basin, mean it will become a looming landmark across much of central and west London.

Together with a second, comparatively diminutive 21-storey conventional-looking tower, the project is the final piece in the Paddington Basin jigsaw — a Zone 1 waterfront regeneration zone that has been brewing since 1998, when developer European Land bought a tranche of brownfield land in this backwater behind Paddington station.

The new buildings will together include 426 flats. There will also be shops, a sky bar at the top of the 492ft building, and a cinema may also be included.

1 Merchant Square: at 42 storeys the so-called Blue Marrow will loom over west London

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has the final say on the proposals, and early indications from the Greater London Authority are muted, to say the least. It has dismissed the offer of 16 per cent affordable housing, or 67 homes, and has called for at least 35 per cent.

European Land points out that it is also giving the council £20 million to help fund local regeneration projects as a condition of planning permission. It aims to start work on the three-year build “as soon as practical” according to a spokeswoman.

The finished £500 million Paddington Basin project will create just over 900 homes and 970,000sq ft of office space on an 11-acre site, served by an increasingly impressive and mainly independent range of cafés, restaurants, street food vans and open space.

Property for sale in Paddington Basin

For sale now are two-bedroom flats under construction at No. 3 Canalside Walk, a project that has fared reasonably well in London’s Brexit-stalled market. The 84 waterfront apartments went on sale in October 2017 and all but 15 have now sold in advance of completion next year. Prices start at £1.2 million

As well as building homes, European Land has put energy and intelligence into how it manages its site. On sunny days the well-curated range of bars and restaurants are full and in July the annual Dragon Boat Regatta draws huge crowds, while there are regular open-air film screenings, free events for children and paddleboard yoga sessions.

Good use has been made of the canal basin at the site. A floating pocket park — in reality more of a pontoon — has been built, and two kinetic bridges installed. Both bridges span the basin but can be raised like small-scale, far more contemporary versions of London Bridge.

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Floating pocket park: good use has been made of the canal basin, with a pontoon park for public space

Olympic cauldron designer Thomas Heatherwick designed one of the bridges, which looks like a conventional footbridge until it curls up into a ball thanks to a system of hydraulic cylinders. After a period of maintenance the bridge will be back in Instagrammable action later this month.

But Paddington Basin has a bigger problem to deal with than a malfunctioning bridge, and that is the state of London’s underlying property market.

Anyone considering buying into this brave new world of trendy coffee shops and landmark buildings will need to see it more as a medium-term lifestyle choice than an easy way to make money.

Dylan James, sales manager at Chestertons, estimates that prices have fallen by 20 to 25 per cent since the market peak of 2014, leaving buyers who bought properties off-plan with the aim of making a quick exit from W2 in a predicament. “In a lot of cases they are actually losing money,” he says. “They are selling for less than they bought for, or they are taking their property off the market and renting it instead.”

While transaction rates remain very low, James has seen a spike of interest from buyers for the area this year, although of course registering with an agent does not necessarily translate to a sale. He believes that until Brexit is resolved the market will remain quiet — and that goes for period homes around Paddington station as well as purpose-built flats in the basin.

“The market is still active below £1 million,” he adds. “But above that it is very slow. Landlords and vendors are taking their properties off the market and renting them instead.”

Fawzi Moosa, managing director of Paddington Estates, agrees fully with James’s assessment of the state of the market. But ironically as prices subside, so the basin is becoming a better and better location.

As well as Merchant Square, there is the imminent promise of Crossrail services from Paddington station, while the Paddington Cube is due to open in 2022. This 14-storey glass block of offices with shops and restaurants set around a new public square is the latest offering from the Sellar Property Group, of Shard fame. Like the Shard, the Cube is designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. “Paddington Basin has become a beautiful place,” says Moosa.

“When I take a break I go and walk around the basin and there are so many people having coffee, having lunch. There are so many activities and development is expanding over the Edgware Road. It is really, really good.”

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