Get Set for Bloomsbury

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID SPITTLES

The elegant residential streets of Bloomsbury are poised for a revival. David Spittles finds a landlord with focus

FOR a 300-year-old district located right in the heart of London, Bloomsbury hides itself well. Its history is one of radicals and romantics, but little of this lavish atmosphere is obvious to the tourist or home-spotter who steps out of Russell Square Tube station.

Bloomsbury has been virtually forgotten as a residential district.

Buildings and offices belonging to London's main universities lace the squares and avenues and have become woven into the fabric of the area. This gives the would-be resident a bit of a confusing message, compounded by indifferent small hotels and the death of good shops.

Yet Bloomsbury is a neighbourhood of elegant squares, hidden mews and peaceful corners, offering a range of flats and, occasionally, magnificent houses.

Somewhat late in the day, Bedford Estates, following in the footsteps of some of the other more forwardthinking London estate managers and landlords, has decided to build on these villagey credentials to enhance the appeal of the Bloomsbury heartland as a residential area.

Most of the 180 buildings on the estate are listed period town houses in commercial use. However, a policy change has meant that properties are being converted back into homes after decades of being used as offices.

But Bedford is not abandoning the commercial sector or its traditional occupiers. Office refurbishments are continuing: Sotheby's Institute of Art has signed up for space, while Yale, the Ivy League university, has chosen Bedford Square for its UK headquarters. And the estate has built up a [pounds sterling]50 million war chest for acquisitions, including modern office buildings and retail space.

Regeneration at King's Cross, which is on the northern edge of Bloomsbury, is one reason for this change of strategy. The expectation is that Bloomsbury will become a desirable business quarter once the Channel Tunnel Rail Link arrives and redevelopment of railway land is complete in 15 years' time.

migre media companies from nearby Soho are another target group.

Bedford's 30-acre estate stretches from Euston Road in the north to Tottenham Court Road in the west, Southampton Row in the east and New Oxford Street in the south. It is also part-owner of the Heal's building and makes no secret of its ambition to buy more properties on Tottenham Court Road, where it could begin to groom quality retailers in much the same way as the Howard de Walden Estate has done in Marylebone.

The irony is that many of the buildings were owned by the estate originally.

The family once had a monopoly on property ownership in Covent Garden, but these properties were sold years ago.

"Steward", not estate manager, is the job title on Mark de Rivaz's business card. He is the man responsible for the day-today running of the Bedford estate, and though the title appears a little paternalistic, it captures the essence of the organisation's lowprofile approach. …