Back it up: why N8 and N10 are going crazy for backland developments
- Credit: Archant
All over Crouch End and Muswell Hill people are turning derelict sites into bespoke homes. We get to the bottom of this new trend - and discovers the secret of keeping the neighbours onside.
Up in Crouch End and Muswell Hill there’s a new build revolution of underway. Instead of building up they’re building in, filling up the voids of derelict garages and neglected patches of land with light filled family homes.
“Every other week I get an enquiry from someone who thinks they have a pot of gold at the bottom of their garden,” says Alan Crawford, director of Crouch End architects practice Crawford Partnership. He’s currently involved with at least seven of these projects, and the enquiries keep on coming.
There’s a satisfying makeover movie montage element to the before and after pictures, where ugly duckling eyesore sites turn in to beautiful high spec swans.
Cairncross Mews is the pet project of estate agent Laurence Glynne (father of pop singer Jess Glynne) of LDG Estate Agents, who has overseen the site’s development from a scruffy patch of land to a multi million pound dream eco dream house.
Along with interior designer Jan Reid he’s brought the dreams of architectural designer Steven Pooley to fruition. Pooley ended up returning to Australia and the site was sold to a buyer who is also emigrating, so Cairncross Mews is on the market for £2.75 million.
Hidden away at the end of a Crouch End cul-de-sac off Broadway, the site was originally a local authority sweeping depot. Today you enter through electric gates down a cobbled path leading to a truly unique piece of architectural design. The stand-out feature of the main house has to be the reception room spanning the widest edge of the wedge shaped plot. The pitched roof and glazed wall drenches the space with natural light and allows the occupant to enjoy their tranquil niche of calm whatever the weather.
“Even though I’m an estate agent, I’m a green estate agent,” says Glynne, who impressed Reid on their first meeting by turning up on a Boris bike
The eco credentials are impeccable. The main house and the separate studio are both heated via a whizzy Samsung air sourced pumped heating system, which uses inverter technology to turn water and electricity into under floor heating. It’s three times more efficient than conventional heating systems and much cheaper to run.
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The terrace is made from Enviro build decking made of recycled plastic, and once the autumn leaves have fallen they plan to install an Eviromat living roof.
Standing out in the peaceful garden under the spreading bows of the tripartite oak (it spans three separate properties and is a protected tree) under the watchful eye of a seated Buddha (“We decided that we wanted to bring some peace and love into it, because we’re all about the love,” says Glynne) you feel like you’re in a secret oasis of calm.
“It’s nice to be able to be involved with something with a real element of earth about it,” says Gynne.
Fulfilling a collective eco dream is one thing, but for many backland transformers price is also a motivation. Much of the housing stock in the N postcodes is beautiful Victorian or Edwardian terraces, but homeowners frequently find their period house dream can become a nightmare. You’d be hard pressed to find a mid terrace property for under £1.5million, and even then you’re looking at hundreds of thousands of pounds if you want to renovate and extend.
Land in Crouch End and Muswell Hill is, by London standards, comparatively cheap. Find Properly calculates that N8 houses cost £795 per sq f, and in N10 it’s as little as £485.
Buying up a couple of garages will only set you back a little upwards of £250,000, and Crawford estimates that you can build a bespoke, purpose built house on that site for under £1million.
The scale and scope of these projects has increased. Crawford worked on his first backlands transformation project in the area 15 years ago, creating a single house where a garage once stood. Now developers look to these sites to yield two, four or even six separate homes.
Pinnacle is Muswell Hill’s first new build scheme for 30 years. SAS Investments purchased the land in 2012, and have transformed the former pub carpark into 28 residential units, plus commercial and community venues.
They’ve created six four bedroom houses, along with 24 apartments ranging from one to three bedrooms. They’re proving popular, with 70 per cent of the apartments selling off plan. The houses launched in the Autumn and the whole site is due to be completed by the end of the year.
Each home has been thoughtfully designed and finished to a high specification, overseen by SAS’s boutique interiors brand JAMM Living. The kitchens are kitted out with handle-less units by Alnoo of Wigmore Street and Siemens induction hob is set in to every quartz stone workshop. The bathrooms have Italian porcelain tiles and there’re deep carpets in the bedrooms, some of which have private balconies looking out over the city skyline.
Pinnacle also has its eco credentials in order. The communal areas draw electricity from photovoltaic panels, there’s cycle storage on site, some of the parking spaces have electric car charging points and all the homes are fitted with a mechanical heat recovery system that circulates fresh air whilst recovering heat.
Eco friendly infill projects are a smart solution to a city in the grips of a housing crisis, but they’re not always welcomed by local communities with open arms.
“One of the biggest issues we have with backlands sites is the neighbours,” says Crawford. Architects and developers can often find themselves quite literally up against the boundary walls as lines are crossed, gardens encroached upon and prize rose bushes put at risk.
To successfully develop a gap site you need to be skilled in the art of conflict resolution.
“Whenever we go on site we have to wear flak jackets,” he jokes. Crawford keeps a handle on the situation by making sure he and his team drop by the sites as frequently as possible to make sure that everyone is happy. Nimbyism is rife, and he’s not above paying out to next door neighbours when he needs to rent space in their garden to erect scaffolding or store materials.
For the Pinnacle developers for the most part the neighbours were grateful to see some class bought to their back gardens. The site is next door to what was formerly Muswell Hill’s only nightclub, which eventually had its license revoked following a series of mass brawls. The car park itself was a popular meeting point for London’s dogging community. A matching set of upscale homes is a welcome alternative.
Nothing causes tempers to flair more than a north London basement build, and Cairncross has a big one. It spans nearly 900 sq ft and the complicated steelwork piles extend down twenty metres in places. “It’s like a bomb shelter!” says Reid. Luckily, they had and ace up their sleeve when it came to keeping the neighbours onside during the months of building works.
“Everybody has been lovely,” says Reid. “We haven’t had any complaints. In fact we made friends with people. One lady found out my husband is the head chef at Balthazar’s and she was ringing me up for tables.”
Peace, love, and a direct line to good food is the key to a harmonious development with a human touch.