bite-size chunks of London

Centre Point

Centre Point is a massive and formerly contro­versial 36-​​storey office block overlooking St Giles Circus, at the northern end of Charing Cross Road, on the corner of New Oxford Street.

It was built by the property speculator Harry Hyams in 1963–7 to the designs of Richard Seifert and Partners. Because of an economic downturn much of it remained empty for several years, with Hyams content to benefit from the escalation in its capital value while he paid no rates. The structure thus gained a reputation as a monument to the evils of capitalism and a hundred squatters occupied it in 1974.

Commercial tenants were eventually found, including the Confederation of British Industry, but Centre Point never achieved its full potential as a London icon – partly because the area around the base of the tower was so badly laid out. At ground level, Centre Point became a place to avoid unless you had reason to be going inside.

Developers Almacantar acquired Centre Point for £120 million in 2011 and soon announced that “the building is in need of major repair and refur­bishment to ensure that it can remain safe and open.” The company proposed to adapt the tower for resid­ential use, arguing that Centre Point was “designed for an era of typewriters and telephones, secretariat pools and filing” and could not be cost-​​effectively converted to meet modern business needs because of restrictions imposed by its grade II listing.

The planned resid­ential conversion did not include any provision for affordable homes. Almacantar later sought to deflect objections in this regard by proposing to build a block of 16 flats on the site of the former Intrepid Fox pub, which it bought in September 2012.

The developers began consultation on a revised plan in March 2013 and Camden council’s planning committee granted permission for the project in July. Almacantar chief executive Mike Hussey was quoted as saying: “We intend to transform the way Londoners view and interact with Centre Point, while always staying true to its heritage. Our ambition is to ensure the scheme is re-​​established as a landmark destination that Londoners can be proud of.”

Almacantar secured a £220 million loan from the investment company Starwood in November 2013, which should virtually guarantee that the project will be completed as planned. When the trans­formation has been wrought, Centre Point will contain 82 luxury apartments, with the double-​​height penthouse at the top selling for up to £50 million – according to the Daily Telegraph – more than twice the figure quoted when the project was first mooted. At the end of January 2015, Almacantar announced that it has started work on the conversion.

Taking advantage of the forth­coming arrival of the Elizabeth line (Crossrail) at Tottenham Court Road station (which will make the locality even busier than it already is) a new public square is planned to surround the base of the tower – inevitably accom­panied by shops and restaurants.

Centre Point

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