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Property SpecialThe battle for Notting Hill

Aubrey Square is not for Rachel Johnson, even if she could afford it

29 March 2003

12:00 AM

29 March 2003

12:00 AM

John Prescott’s plans to erect hundreds of thousands of new homes on – I’m going to use that disgusting word – ‘brownfield’ sites has not, so far as I know, caused a further outbreak of nimbyism in my neighbourhood. In Notting Hill, there is an embarras of new building already. Aubrey Square in W8, by St James Homes, is one of several ‘high-end’ developments nearing completion.

I’ve wanted to snoop round this for ages. One, it forced the closure of my old tennis club, Campden Hill (that didn’t bother me, though I did resent being told off for not wearing ‘regulation tennis socks’ by a spotty male member of the committee – you know who you are).

Two, I knew that, since plans were submitted to the unutterably venal Tory Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, more than 400 objections were lodged on the grounds that the area did not include enough affordable housing for ‘locals’.

The nimbys were led, according to the Sunday Times, by Harold Pinter and Lady Antonia Fraser, whose stately Campden Hill Square house is within hailing distance of the new build. By the way, I would like to stress that the Sunday Times article was not linked to the fact that the development has delayed the reopening of the tennis club – where sporty Sunday Times editor John Witherow is a member – for well over a year.

Now I’ve made that clear, let’s go and see Aubrey Square. Nothing, you would think, would be easier than arranging a viewing of a swanky new development with a view to writing a nice article. And I haven’t even mentioned yet that the prix for units in the development are not exactly choc.

They start at around half a million for a one-bedroom flat and finish at a cool eleven million (I have to spell that out) for a seven-bedroom house with its own staff quarters and underground parking and swimming pool. (What? You don’t have separate staff quarters? Darling, how on earth do you manage without?)

Nor have I alluded to the fact that Aubrey Square is competing head-on with several other new developments for buyers. (In addition to the 19 town houses and 49 apartments in Aubrey Square, you see, there are 34 ghetto-fabulous, urban-trendy apartments, villas and mews about to top out at the Corner, a £32 million development on the corner of Westbourne Grove in W2. And there are the Notting Hill Lofts, also in Westbourne Grove.)


Or to the fact that there’s a war on, and a flatlining housing market. You would think, as I did, that the PR company would be panting for me to visit Aubrey Square, where a £1 million show suite has already wowed one property writer, who raved about the ‘joy of moving into mint-condition homes that have been built with the finest materials using traditional skills’.

I call Knight Frank. I am referred to a PR agency. I call the PR agency. They refer me to another PR agency, explaining that the PR ‘operation’ is now being handled by another company. I hoitily tell them that if they want a fabby piece all about Aubrey Square, they had better sort it out for me, pronto. I am duly called by the new PR.

Kelly and I chat. We make an appointment. We then both change the time of the appointment once and reschedule it once, each. I plan my day around the new appointment. And then she has an assistant cancel it, and refuses to make a new one.

Which of course sends me into a frenzy. Why has she cancelled? Is the project going pear-shaped? ‘All I want to do is view the place,’ I whine. ‘It’ll take half an hour. Why can’t I?’

Kelly starts talking about ‘agreeing marketing strategies’ and getting ‘all our ducks in a row’ and so on until I feel like screaming. But her message is clear. I am not going to see Aubrey Square, in case I write about the tennis club or Harold Pinter or something. I seethe. Then the lightbulb flashes.

I call Knight Frank in Notting Hill. I explain, in an expensive voice, that I am looking to invest in the area. I am instantly given a 9.30 a.m. appointment with an agent at Aubrey Square. Bingo! The only problem is …I have to look as if I can pay for an £11 million town house ‘as an investment’ out of petty cash.

This means I have to look smart and super-rich of course. This sort of rules out jeans and tracksuits, I feel. This can mean only one thing, I realise, with sinking heart. This means tights.

But we all have to make sacrifices. So that morning, instead of putting on the clothes I had thrown on to the floor the night before, I got into the full rig. Skirt. Heels. Tights. Jil Sander coat. And I tottered to Aubrey Square, which is – think a sort of Belgravian Brookside – really super-duper. But, it has to be said, not for me.

It is new. There is plenty of style, bags of quality, but no patina, no texture to the architecture or to the interiors. The development is faced with London stock ochre-coloured brick, and has timber double-glazed windows. The brick faŒade is broken up by Portland stone here and there, but the overall impression is quite boxy and Legolandish, even though there are clever details like shutters in bay windows, and the main quad is set around a green garden. Inside, it is marble-floored in the bathrooms, where the 12-inch showerheads are not so much power-shower as water-cannon, and limestone-cool in the halls. The kitchens are integrated with top-of-the-range Miele equipment and everything is high-tech, climate-controlled, deluxe living.

But it is not designed, is it, to appeal to me. I saw only the show-house bit (which they are tearing down after marketing). Aubrey Square is squarely designed to appeal to, say, the Hong Kong Chinese businessman who has a daughter at school here, who spends $4 million in one shopping trip to New York for modern art. (A man answering to that description has taken a corner house.) It appeals to the sort of person who wants 24-hour security, electronic access to the underground garage (£65,000 per space) and the Total Solutions Enhanced Concierge Service.

The concierge service does, I admit, sound grand in a ‘quintessentially, darling, I’m-too-busy-to-live’ sort of way. There are four categories of concierge service: ‘Personal’ – i.e., help with admin, arranging fitness trainers and shoppers; ‘Interiors’, which arranges fresh flowers, art and antique commissions, and maintenance; ‘Household’, which covers general errands like ‘gourmet-food deliveries’; and ‘Leisure’, which takes in party planning, and organising travel and entertainment for ‘out-of-town guests’. (Service charges are set at £3.80 per square foot per year, and the smallest flat is 650 sq ft, the largest house 8,000 sq ft.)

I can quite see why Kelly didn’t want me near it. It’s out of my league. But I repeat my question. Are there enough ‘Portobello Princesses’ out there to go round for these hundreds of new units, demanding gourmet-food deliveries and liveried staff, when what Notting Hill is apparently crying out for, the W11 celebocracy tells us, is affordable housing for locals?

I’m afraid there are.


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