Arriving very soon: all change as Crossrail opens

By Ben Monteith

When I moved into my flat in spring last year, I stumbled upon some documents from when my landlord originally bought the flat in 2017.

“Crossrail, which is coming very soon, will transform the area.”

Crossrail, or the Elizabeth line as it’s now known, has been coming “very soon” for roughly half a decade now. And yet, now that it’s opened, it feels almost like it’s crept up on us.

Yet, arrived it has. I would know, having had the easiest commute this morning since I used to walk around the corner to school.

I felt real anticipation this morning when walking to the station (my local is Woolwich Arsenal, built as part of Berkeley Homes’ Royal Arsenal Riverside regeneration).

The station – designed in homage to Woolwich’s military past – is vast. There was a sense of excitement as people walked into the station, taking pictures of the shiny new platform and signs (and generally pleased not to be setting off on the DLR).

The passengers on the train itself were a clear split between commuters looking pleased with themselves that they had their water-cooler conversation topic sorted for the day, and trainspotters/Crossrail enthusiasts, some of whom were wearing purple in honour of the Elizabeth line’s regal brand colour.

Of course, the Elizabeth line has been greeted enthusiastically by more than those who marvel at engineering and architectural feats and those whose commuting times are being shaved in half.

The real estate sector, particularly, although not exclusively in London, has gone Elizabeth line loco.

For years, the much-vaunted line has been a central factor in investment decisions: from where to build new home to where to lease a new office. And, according to Cushman & Wakefield (via The Times), we’re seeing rents in the likes of Clerkenwell and Shoreditch surge by 123% since 2008.

And then there are developers pinning full-scale regenerations and new towns to the Elizabeth line, with Canary Wharf Group’s ambitious plans to turn the commercial district into one of London’s most lively neighbourhoods and Peabody’s Thamesmead regeneration springing to mind.

The knock-on effect, beyond London, is also clear. The likes of Andy Burnham and Street are asking, “where’s our transport infrastructure?” There’s a very real argument to say that the demand for the government’s Levelling Up agenda is in no small part due to the vast sums poured into Crossrail catalysing a demand for the regions’ share of the infrastructure magic money tree.

But, back to London, it’s clear the Elizabeth line will continue to have a big impact on the capital’s real estate market. While a lot of residential and commercial properties have the line priced in already and developers have hoovered up – or are in the process of doing so – the land around stations for new homes, retail, hospitality and offices, there’s a very real question about how the improved transport infrastructure reshapes the city.

Not only the city, but the City. Central London, with Canary Wharf the notable exception, has always been the central business district of the UK. We’re likely to see the likes of Whitechapel and Paddington on the rise, with listed developers such as GPE and British Land already on the ground and thinking big.

The Elizabeth line, then, is truly transformative, for London and its real estate market.

As well as having its direct impact on property prices, and developments, it will spur wider change: demand for more regional infrastructure, Crossrail satellite towns, and even the remit of property agencies’ specialist leasing teams as the central business district expands east and west. It’s also only a matter of time until Crossrail 2, the north-south route, returns to play a prominent part in the national conversation.

Transformative for me too, as my New Year’s resolution of cycling to work slips away – at high speed, like the platform at Woolwich Arsenal as the 17-minute train ride to Farringdon begins. And, very much unlike the construction of Crossrail itself, I can confidently say I will arrive “very soon.”