A £500 million investment plan by the Crown Estate is a significant boost to St James’s revitalisation with new developments that uphold the area’s prestigious reputation and heritage while creating a neighbourhood fit for the 21st century…

Words: Kat Hopps 

An archetypal character in St James’s has existed for some time. He is British, most likely aristocratic and conservative in his style and tastes. He likes to reside in the gentlemen’s clubs on Pall Mall and shop for bowler hats on Jermyn Street. He’s been the epitome of the area, until now. 

‘St James’s is modernising,’ says Mark Dorman, Head of London Residential Development for Strutt & Parker. ‘It’s moving away from being the stuffy, traditional place that it was 10 years ago.’ He’s one of several property agents citing the area as exciting new prime investment territory. Charles Lloyd, Head of Savills is another. ‘St James’s today is more vibrant,’ he says. ‘The shopping experience has changed massively. There are lots of restaurants and it’s far more glamorous now.’

Underlying these external changes is one major one: a £500 million investment plan by the Crown Estate. The company manages the properties owned by the Crown and owns 50% of the four million sq ft freehold in St James’s. Its 10-year investment plan started in the spring of 2011 and will upgrade the area’s retail, office and restaurant offering, while half an acre of public realm is being revitalised through new public spaces and pedestrianised streets – additional local investment is expected too.

St James's Court, a Taj Hotel

Inside St James’s Court, a Taj Hotel

Of course for an area as reliant on its history as on its pomp, any advancement must be sensitively managed. Crucially, as large-scale block developments with modern facilities are introduced, historic facades will be preserved in order to safeguard the area’s traditional architecture. A £320 million regeneration programme of St James’s Market – covering Regent Street and Haymarket – is doing just that through a stream of new restaurants and residential flats plus a newly-smartened public realm; the ensemble of 18th-century and 21st century architecture is expected to be fully complete by November 2016.

One Eagle Place, Piccadilly, which forms part of the £100 million St James’s Gateway redevelopment, is already a success. Featuring contemporary design by Eric Parry Architects and a cornice designed by renowned artist Richard Deacon for the St James’s Gateway, the development has attracted high-calibre retail tenants like Tiger of Sweden and Arc’teryx, and won awards for its design. Similar proposals are expected to follow for the redevelopment of Duke’s Court, a commercial block on the corner of Duke Street and Jermyn Street.

Investment is about upholding the area’s distinct qualities of excellence and heritage; it’s a considered, gradual refinement

Investment is about upholding the area’s distinct qualities of excellence and heritage; it’s a considered, gradual refinement according to Tim Webb, spokesperson for the Crown Estate. ‘What St James’s did need was the investment and commitment to upgrade it to allow it to evolve and enhance. We’re re-plugging into those parts of the West End that perhaps have not been on people’s immediate radar. That’s when you remind the marketplace about the qualities of the area.’

Keeping a balance between heritage and modernity can be a tightrope walk at times. St James’s remains a compact district from Fortnum & Mason in the north and St James’s Palace in the west to the grand theatres of Haymarket in the east and central London’s oldest park, St James’s Park, in the south. The art galleries and private members clubs remain but now attract a broader mix of people and proclivities. 67 Pall Mall, a new private members’ club, allows people to enjoy access to the some of the finest and rarest wines in the world direct from the club’s cellars.

An area traditionally associated with luxury British brands is also embracing international retailers previously found in Knightsbridge and Kensington. ‘We didn’t openly market the restaurants in St James’s Market,’ says Webb. ‘We went to restaurateurs that we thought would match the food offer we would like to see and got them to do something bespoke for us.’ Pintxo restaurant Bilbao Berria and Estiatorio Milos, the internationally-acclaimed Greek restaurant, are two examples ‘demonstrating the quality we can attract’, he adds. Eight new restaurants will be arriving in St James’s Market in 2016 alone.

Rowley's restaurant, a St James's institution

Rowley’s restaurant, a St James’s institution

An even bigger movement in menswear is occurring. ‘We want to bring in new brands that match our core values: personal, distinct, stimulating and eclectic,’ Webb says. ‘We’re not looking to concentrate on St James’s being a British-focused offer and you can see that by the fact that we’ve got La Martina, the luxury polo wear and Tiger of Sweden, a progressive, modern Scandinavian fashion brand.’ Barbour International, Osprey and Sunspel are others.

Savile Row tailors and fashion brands are playing a key role in the success from St James’s Street hat fitters Lock & Co, which featured in the 2014 movie Kingsman, to the premium brands displayed at London Collections Men (LCM), the menswear equivalent of London Fashion Week. Launched by the British Fashion Council in 2012, LCM enjoys growing success year on year, as well as endorsement from A-listers like Idris Elba and Lewis Hamilton.

Brand new properties behind period façades are offering exceptional ‘new build’ living in one of London’s most established areas

In 2015, Jermyn Street launched the first accessories specialist event at the collection, showcasing luxury shirtmakers, shoemakers and grooming specialists at Fortnum & Mason. Dylan Jones, editor-in-chief of GQ magazine and the Chair of the British Fashion Council’s Menswear Committee, says, ‘St James’s has played a huge role in London Collections: Men so far as it has established itself as one of the hubs of our new men’s fashion week. Jermyn Street and Fortnum & Mason have become central to our success.’
This diversity extends beyond menswear to womenswear, lifestyle brands and technical sportswear. High-end cycling retailer The Bike Rooms opened in Regent Street, while Jo Malone launched its flagship store in October.

The area’s increasing international influence is being felt most in the residential market, with a rise in buyers from Asia, the Far East, Russia and India. ‘Until two years ago, these buyers were always in Knightsbridge, Mayfair and Belgravia but they are now starting to spend more time in St James’s,’ says Mark Dorman. Although Mayfair’s own rise has pushed this resurgence along, he says, the scale of expansion is at a far lower level in St James’s. ‘The area is going to keep its identity as a smart, traditional address with a lot of heritage. St James’s has some very grand streets, which you don’t have in Mayfair.’

‘Pall Mall is indicative of the new developments that are springing up in the St James’s area,’ says Alastair Nicholson, Associate at Knight Frank. ‘Brand new properties behind period façades are offering exceptional ‘new build’ living in one of London’s most established areas.’ Planning applications have accounted for luxury essentials like spas and gyms, underground parking and 24-hour porterage. One example is Bennet House, a luxury redevelopment of a period building on the corner of St James’s Street and Bennet Street. It has been transformed into four lateral apartments and one duplex penthouse, developed and designed by Lord Sugar and interior designer Kelly Hoppen.

St James's Street development

Property development on St James’s Street

Key among the new developments is St James’s House, located on St James’s Street, overlooking St James’s Palace on one side and down Pall Mall on the other; no doubt, many of its residents will casually name-drop at parties that they’re neighbours of the Royal family. The Grade-II listed building will have two roof terraces with duplexes, two 5,000 sq ft lateral apartments and a triplex in the region of 10,000 sq ft below, replacing the former old banking hall. The ground-floor leisure suite will have a pool, gym, steam room, changing room and car parking. Completion is due in May 2016.

With development by the Crown Estate now at halfway, a host of new retailers and developments are yet to arrive. ‘As the Crown rolls out its programme of public realm improvements, St James’s will become an increasingly attractive place to live – and more on people’s radar,’ says Charles Lloyd, not without a final note of caution. ‘There are many period buildings that won’t, or can’t, get knocked down so you’re not going to see the high-rise, new-build, mass-market residential schemes in St James’s.’ The area may be on the up but the clock is ticking if you want to secure your small corner of history.