CROWN SELLS ITS JEWELS; the Crown Estate Owns a Staggering [Pounds Sterling]6 Billion Worth of Property. Now It Is Selling off 1,300 Homes in Prime Areas. It's Good News for Some, Says David Spittles

Article excerpt

Byline: David Spittles

THE Crown Estate, which owns [pounds sterling]6 billion worth of property, including all of Regent Street and large parts of St James's, is proposing to sell 1,300 homes on four historic residential "estates" in London.

It plans to sell the freehold of a mix of mansion flats, terraced period houses and new-build apartments to a private or specialist housing company, which will in turn open up renting and buying opportunities to Londoners who are not already tenants and leaseholders.

The four estates are in some highly sought-after locations: at Millbank in Westminster, Victoria Park in Hackney, Cumberland Market, which borders Regent's Park, and Lee Green, covering Blackheath in south-east London.

About 35 per cent of the residents are "regulated tenants", the rest are either long leaseholders or assured shorthold tenants paying a market rent.

Crown Estate properties around Millbank could prove to be the most marketable; they include swish riverside apartments at Crown Reach and The Panoramic, handsome Ponsonby Terrace and tenament flats in John Islip Street, directly behind Tate Britain.

The move is part of a property review by The Crown Estate as it begins to focus on its large commercial holdings, mainly shops and offices in the West End heartland. As all profits ([pounds sterling]226.5 million in 2008/09) are paid direct to the Treasury, The Crown Estate says it has a duty to enhance the income it generates from its property portfolio, and this could be better achieved through the sale of the four estates.

Because of its special status, The Crown Estate is not bound by leasehold enfranchisement laws. This means occupiers do not have a right to extend their lease or buy the freehold. However, over the years, some residents have been allowed to do so on a voluntary basis, while a number of homes have been allocated to key workers.

Prized heritage properties, such as listed Nash villas and terraces in Regent's Park, are specifically "excepted" under legislation, and their freeholds cannot be sold under any circumstances.

The Crown Estate is seen as a responsible, if businesslike, landlord, and says it will cherry-pick a buyer with a similar ethos to its own after consultation with residents, stressing that it is seeking to "insulate" residents from change. Consultation is about to start and is expected to end on 23 March.

For residents, there are pros and cons to weigh up.

"We're happy with Crown Estate as our landlord," says one long-standing, rent-paying tenant, who doesn't want to be named. …