Finally it’s here: Crossrail, Europe’s biggest construction project, and one of the most ambitious in British history, will open its first leg, from London Liverpool Street to Shenfield in Essex, in May 2017.
It may be a slightly underwhelming start, but it’s only the beginning. The Elizabeth Line, as it will be known, is scheduled to open between London Paddington and Heathrow Terminal 4 in May 2018, followed by Paddington and Abbey Wood in December 2018 and Shenfield to Paddington in May 2019. The full line, reaching 118km from Reading and Heathrow in the west via Central London to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east, should be entirely open by December 2019.
Burrowing beneath the capital
It’s been a long time coming. Work started in 2009, and included three years of around-the-clock burrowing beneath the capital, using 1,000 tonne machines to move forward at an average of 38 metres a day. Nor has it been without its surprises – the discovery of mystery graveyards, Roman horseshoes and a stash of rare Victorian jam jars, amongst others, has provided enough intrigue to generate not one but two Crossrail documentaries – or high-profile controversies. But the Elizabeth Line’s backers –who range across the board from former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to former Labour London Mayor, Ken Livingstone – believe the £14.8 billion investment will transform the capital and the South East.
For projections as to the Elizabeth Line’s impact are almost as ambitious as the engineering required to build it. Crossrail promises to increase the number of commuters able to travel to London in 45 minutes by 1.5 million, upping London’s rail capacity by 10 per cent and creating what it terms “at least 75,000 opportunities for businesses” and “enough work to support the equivalent of 55,000 full time jobs”. Ultimately, Crossrail predicts, the Elizabeth Line will generate £42 billion for the economy.
And while there may be a great deal of activity still going on below ground, there’s plenty to take notice of above ground too, from the 10 new stations being built at Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street, Whitechapel, Canary Wharf, Custom House, Woolwich and Abbey Wood (a further 30 along the line are being upgraded), to the place-making that’s going on around these new transport hubs. First to open to the public, in May 2015, was Crossrail Place, a Norman Foster-designed roof garden and shopping centre built above the new Canary Wharf station. A range of improvements to the public spaces surrounding other stations will follow, from new and improved forecourts, to pedestrian crossings, bike parking spaces and plenty of new trees.
Improvements in infrastructure are, of course, one of the key indicators that property investors look for. Crossrail is confident that the Elizabeth Line will have a positive impact, and with 57,000 new homes planned along the route so far, it’s certainly off to a good start.
The Crossrail effect
Research commissioned by Crossrail indicates that residential property values along the Elizabeth Line are predicted to rise by 25 per cent in London and 20 per cent in the suburbs compared to a rising baseline projection.
But in truth the “Crossrail effect” is already with us, with property prices along the route rising steadily since building began in 2009. Rightmove noted a further surge of interest in 2016, with searches for properties in Crossrail locations going up by a third.
And the hotspots to invest in? GVA predicts a potential increase of £5.5 billion added value to residential and commercial real estate along the entire route between 2012 and 2021, with a halo effect that’s likely to spread out to Berkshire and Essex. Within that, Crossrail pinpoints the areas of Canary Wharf, Farringdon, Whitechapel, Abbey Wood, Custom House, Ealing Broadway and Woolwich for significant property investment.
Having said that, some areas are due to be more transformed than others. Within London itself, it’s traditionally the more affordable commuter districts that are set for the most growth due to their greatly improved access to the City, central London and Heathrow airport, particularly Whitechapel and Ealing Broadway.
However it’s the slightly less obvious commuter hubs that are set to be most transformed. Woolwich and Southall stand out thanks to the major housing projects currently undergoing construction there, but the biggest winner so far is Abbey Wood. Out beyond Canary Wharf, at the east end of the Elizabeth Line, residents will see their commuting time halved, with over 12 fast trains an hour to central London. They’ll also enjoy a significant increase to the value of their property; house prices rose by an average of 35 per cent in 2015-16, and that trend looks set to continue.