Is gritty Plymouth finally on the up?
Let’s be honest: until now, Plymouth has been a Cinderella location. The Devon town has not been as economically successful as its rival Exeter (40 miles east and with better transport links to London), and it is less alluring for visitors than the South Hams ( just up the A38 and including picture-postcard spots like Salcombe and Dartmouth).
Yet Plymouth appears to be off to the ball at last, and with a confident swagger.
With some 30,000 students, it has one of the UK’s largest universities, work is under way on The Box, a £37million gallery, and the city is preparing for Mayflower 2020, a year of events marking the 400th anniversary of the pilgrims going to the New World.
The housing market is improving too: prices rose 3.6 per cent in the past year and have gone up by more than a quarter since 2013, according to property portal Zoopla. However, many areas of the city are still surprisingly low-cost compared to much of the West Country; the average property price is £198,215.
As with most other cities, Plymouth is suffering from a shortage of new homes: the local council wants 5,000 built between 2016 and 2021, yet in the first two years only 686 were delivered. This has been easily outstripped by the number of new student rooms built.
Even so, the new properties in the pipeline are striking. Leeward House, a block of 59 contemporary apartments overlooking the river Tamar and Plymouth Sound, is part of Mount Wise Village, a scheme that has transformed a largely-derelict Ministry of Defence estate into a community of 500 homes.
“This has got the best view bar none of any development in Plymouth right now,” says Andrew Seether, a buying agent operating in south Devon. “You can see the river, the docks and marina, beautiful Mount Edgcombe Country Park.”
On the edge of Plymouth’s famous Hoe, work is set to start shortly on 1620 The Residences, two blocks hosting a hotel and 88 apartments close to many of the city’s best facilities, such as a restaurant quarter at Royal William Yard, the Theatre Royal, and sailing at Sutton Harbour.
Work is also under way on a £40million regeneration scheme linking the city centre with Millbay docks, which until the early 2000s was best known as a redlight district. A few hundred yards away sits Beckley Point, a just-opened 23-floor student tower that dominates the Plymouth skyline and is the tallest residential building south-west of Bristol.
With all this going on it’s not surprising that estate agents are excited. “Plymouth has been slow to get new homes built, but in the next two years the place will be transformed,” claims Andrew Bullivant, who has been selling property in the city for two decades and now works at estate agency Atwell Martin. He’s marketing new homes in the exclusive and elevated Hartley suburb, with views towards Plymouth Sound, as well as a range of properties at Mount Wise Village.
Longer-term, he says the city centre’s long shopping parades, built in the Fifties and Sixties, are likely to be turned into private apartments, too: built in a post-war rush, the blocks lining these long boulevards now have more shops than required.
A new council plan, shortly to be adopted, will trigger major change, Bullivant predicts. There will be properties with a “superb location, great views over the centre and towards the Hoe, all at liveable heights of three and four storeys,” he says.
Right now, however, family houses are being built at Sherford, a new town on Plymouth’s eastern fringe. So far, 120 have been completed in a community that, on paper, should look like a version of Poundbury for south Devon; the town will eventually have 12,000 residents, four schools and amenities including a 500-acre park.
Eliana Griffiths, a part-time nurse, was the first person to move into Sherford, having bought a three-bedroom home from Linden Homes, one of the developers creating the new town. “Although it’s a new development, there’s a real sense of heritage about the design,” she says. “I fell in love with its style.”
This city isn’t all about new homes, of course: there are plenty of Victorian terraces and Georgian crescents, a few 15th and 16th century homes near the Barbican fishing port, plus a central swathe of brutalist architecture and many estates built in the Fifties and Sixties.
Plymouth is nothing if not a mix, which gives the city such character. So what if it’s not the prettiest part of the South West? It has some of the country’s finest waterside living, more affordable property, and a bevy of new homes enjoying the best views.
Mount Wise Village, on the market with Atwell Martin
1620 The Residences, above; Eliana Griffiths, top