When you think of Kensington, you think of the infamous royal palace, the Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gardens and of course, some of the capital’s most extravagant homes. It is home to one of London’s most expensive rental properties, which comes in at a whopping £ 86,000 a month and features a cinema room, swimming pool and games room. But there is another side to the area. Not everyone is super rich and thriving.
Property in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea certainly is expensive. Prices rose by almost 14 per cent in the last year, according to data released by Rightmove, making it the most expensive place to live in London.
I decided to visit the area to find out if it truly felt like the most expensive borough in the capital. Coming from West London, I hopped on the District line eastbound towards Edgware Road and got off at High Street Kensington, passing a Pret a Manger and a Marks & Spencer café as I left the station.
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Kensington High Street
Within minutes of leaving the Tube station, some of Kensington’s most extravagant properties were on show. The houses are tall, surrounded by luxurious greenery and a vast array of colors – I was wowed. Also down the road from the Underground station is Kensington Gardens, seemingly full of middle-aged, and extremely serious looking, fitness fanatics on their mid-morning workout.
Just 20 minutes into my visit to the borough, I start to understand why Kensington and Chelsea earned the title of London’s most expensive borough. The High Street is full of glamorous eateries from Caffé Concerto to The Ivy, and it even has a wholefoods outlet. At the same time, it’s still London, with some shops on the High Street completely shut down.
Jacinda Ross, 40, has worked in Kensington for the last seven years and said she has noticed the High Street and shops across the borough change over the years – and not for the better. She told MyLondon: “The access to green spaces across the borough is great but the shops have changed as the economic climate has changed. The High Street is not what it used to be … it’s harder to get what you want.”
The decline of Kensington High Street is nothing new, nor is it unique to the borough. By the council’s own admission, the department stores – Barkers, Derry and Toms and Pontins – the High Street was once famous for having now disappeared. So have the iconic fashion names of Hyper Hyper, Biba and the Kensington Market.
As of 2018, vacancy levels on the High Street sat at around nine per cent, in line with the rest of the UK but the council acknowledged in 2019 that it needed revitalizing and outlined what it was doing to change that, with the redevelopment of key sites including Lancer Square, the former Post Office and Odeon cinema and a building that was once Woolworths’ flagship London store. Three years on from that and things are still a little rough around the edges although Lancer Square has now become “opulent” apartments.
A mixed bag
David Smith, 66, moved into the borough in 1985. He loves living in the area because of its transport links and the quiet and open green spaces and actually thinks it’s becoming less run down. He told MyLondon: “It was very different then to how it is now, in the 1980s, particularly in Notting Hill. It was very run down then, though I think it changed for the better.”
Although Mr Smith said he recognized that the area is now full of multimillion pound houses and Michelin star restaurants, he said it does not always feel like London’s most expensive borough. He added: “It’s still a very, very mixed area. Yes it’s got its hedge fund guys and investment bankers … but then you have the Grenfell area, which as we all know standards haven’t been great.”
Walk 15 minutes away from Kensington Gardens, even into Notting Hill, you start to see the mix of fortunes Mr Smith spoke about, and it makes you question how it consistently retains the title of London’s most expensive borough. But then one house selling for £ 20 million is bound to push up the average price. Like Kensington High Street, and like countless high streets across the capital, some shops in Notting Hill just do not seem able to survive.
Though there certainly are some extravagant properties on display in Notting Hill – some even seem to force you to act like Hugh Grant as you swagger along the High Street – there are also some pretty dilapidated buildings too, and a lot more than you might expect in London’s most expensive borough. Newcombe House, for example, looks pretty run down. Property in Pembridge, Notting Hill, although picturesque, is not particularly spellbinding either.
According to Joshua Grinling, director of Winkworth Estate Agents, seeing such a mix even in an area as expensive and extravagant as Kensington is no surprise. He told MyLondon: “It’s very much a London thing. You see it in capital cities across the world from here to New York City. You’re always going to have high-network individuals pushing up prices in an area.”
In terms of what attracts people to the borough, Mr Grinling said: “There are two primary factors that attract people to the area – aesthetics and location. You have some very attractive properties and a huge range of them, from huge family houses to mansion blocks. Kensington is also wedged between two very delightful parks – Holland and Kensington Gardens – so it’s natural that people want to live here. ”
Though he said that “only fools” make solid predictions, he said that the trend of rising house prices will “probably” continue due to demand being so high and the pressure this puts on inflation, for the area’s lower end properties and mansions alike.