Magazine article The Spectator

The Battle for Notting Hill

Magazine article The Spectator

The Battle for Notting Hill

Article excerpt

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 L32 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 fl 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. …

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