The new rail route – officially known as the Elizabeth Line – will link Reading in the west with Shenfield in the east, as well as branching off to the likes of Heathrow Terminals 2-5 and Canary Wharf. It will pass through some of London’s busiest and best-known areas, including Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Paddington and Liverpool Street. However, it has been beset by problems – ranging from budget and delivery to fierce opposition and architectural troubles – from the start.
It's not unusual for major transport infrastructure projects (Crossrail 1 being one of the biggest in the world) to overrun. But not typically by this many years.
Now, however, it seems likely that the line will finally start to fully operate in 2022, 13 years after it first broke ground in 2009, when Labour were still in power under Gordon Brown.
Transport for London has insisted that Crossrail will open before June 30 this year, and has now set 24th May as the intended opening date.
What, though, has the new line – already effectively running in large parts under the TfL Rail banner, but not yet running directly through London or through some of its most flagship stations – meant for property in London?
The ‘Crossrail effect’
For many years, the ‘Crossrail effect’ has been talked about – a phenomenon that has seen house prices and rents rise rapidly in areas with the promise of a Crossrail station. The mere prospect of a stop on the new Elizabeth Line has been enough to send demand for properties in the sales and rental sectors soaring, which in turn has forced prices upwards.
Research last year by London estate agent Benham & Reeves found that house prices surrounding Crossrail stations were still largely outperforming the wider areas in which they are located, despite significant delays to the proposed Elizabeth Line.
On average, the research showed property values in postcodes home to a Crossrail station sitting 17% higher than the wider area, with the premium at its highest in Tottenham Court Road, but also considerable in Bond Street, Liverpool Street, Twyford, Gidea Park, Iver, Whitechapel, West Ealing, Shenfield, and Canary Wharf.
Numerous pieces of research have been carried out into the Crossrail effect, with lots of previously neglected areas receiving considerable regeneration as a result of the new line. The likes of Southall, Hayes & Harlington, Romford, Whitechapel and Abbey Wood have all been given a new lease of life, although critics have suggested that rising prices and rents as the areas become more popular are pushing existing residents out – in what is being called the ‘Crossrail gentrification effect’.
A lot of the areas that have been boosted by Crossrail were already expensive – Bond Street, Paddington, Tottenham Court Road – but other lesser known areas have seen their profiles and prices rise beyond all recognition, especially on the eastern and western extremes of the line.
Let’s take Slough, for example, which has seen average house prices rise by 11% since 2018 (Rightmove) and Crossrail providing the opportunity for it to rehabilitate itself in the public eye. It wants to move away from the depiction seen in iconic BBC sitcom The Office or the infamous poem ‘Slough’ by John Betjeman and is becoming an increasingly desirable location for first-time buyers and canny investors.
Meanwhile, Brentwood in Essex – keen to move away from its own associations with The Only Way is Essex, filmed in the town – has experienced price rises of 12% since 2018 and currently has an average asking price of over half a million. That said, prices were down 3% on last year, perhaps a sign that the Crossrail effect is starting to diminish.
According to Rightmove's data, house price growth across the line is a mixed bag – big rises in some places but falls in Prime Central London (albeit falling from a high base). Places like Brentwood have also started to see a slight tapering off in rampant house price growth.
What will happen when Crossrail finally opens?
Assuming the high-speed line – which has 41 stations spanning from west to east, offering rail access to London’s biggest airport at Heathrow and its biggest financial centre in Canary Wharf – finally opens, will this lead to a further boost in prices and rents?
There is an argument that house prices rises and rents have already been baked in, and the Crossrail effect – after many years of influencing areas on or close to the line – is starting to decline.
But equally, the official opening of the line could lead to a fresh boost in demand as people look to take advantage of quicker commute times.
While the journey times from Reading to London or Romford to London won’t get quicker as a result of Crossrail, previously more underserved places like Gidea Park or Twyford will now get much better and more frequent transport links to the capital. This could be a big boon for sellers or landlords in these areas.
Areas on the line are continuing to experience significant investment and the creation of new homes, with Stratford, Romford and Whitechapel in particular seeing ongoing transformation. Stratford was completely transformed by the London Olympics in 2021, but it’s arguably been the prospect of Crossrail that has helped to sustain investment and new homes in the area.
Meanwhile, Metro recently reported that better transport links are turning West Acton into a property hotspot, with Crossrail making the area more desirable than ever.
Legitimate question marks will continue to be posed about the fine balance between regeneration and gentrification, and criticism of the cost, delivery, and delays of the project itself will continue to rage, but it can’t be denied that a Crossrail effect has taken place – with more deprived or under-the-radar parts of London and the Home Counties now getting the recognition and limelight they deserve.
Whether this will continue once Crossrail starts operating and becomes fully functional remains to be seen, but all the evidence of the last decade or so suggests overall growth is more likely than a steep decline for the areas on the line.