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Jane Hughes Writer, editor, yoga teacher

Hospital conversions

Mail on Sunday, January 2006

Their echoing wards and antiquated layouts may be redundant in the modern health service, but many of London's old hospital sites are, it seems, highly prized locations for new homes. Some of the finest period hospitals are being refurbished into plush new apartments, their character and architectural features now recycled as desirable selling points. Other sites - where buildings have crumbled to the point where they are unfit, unsuitable or uneconomical to save - are being redeveloped as large scale residential schemes.

Such ageing hospitals became obsolete as healthcare services and technology were revolutionised and hospital stays minimised. But because they were built in the centre of communities or - as in the case of mental institutions - in outlying parkland, they are proving ideal for residential development.

"Many hospital trusts have chosen to sell off outdated buildings on prime land and plough the profit back into new facilities," says David Henry, director of planning at Savills. More than a dozen hospital sites across the capital have been transformed into new homes, with many more underway.

One of the first was the Royal Herbert Pavilions in Woolwich, designed by Florence Nightingale and built in 1865. Its eight pavilions were converted into 299 flats around a decade ago. Later, the Bromptons - developer Northacre's conversion of a listed section of the Brompton Hospital into classical apartments - broke price ceilings in South Kensington.

Last year saw the completion of Westminster Green - the conversion of Westminster Hospital into 176 flats by Clementine Investments. Overlooking St John's Gardens, the building was gutted behind its original thirties facade, although three metre ceiling heights were retained on some floors.

With a concierge, meeting rooms, gym and underground parking, prices for the remaining 19 flats range from £565,000 to £800,000. New duplex penthouses, built on the 9th and 10th floors and launching next month, start from £825,000, rising to £3million.

Raj and Fal Patel, both 34, who moved to Westminster Green with their young daughter, were won over by its character and location. "We liked having central London on the doorstep, while living in quite a serene environment," says Raj, an accountant. "The look of the building is very distinctive, and it feels like a five star hotel."

Currently being developed is the site of the former South London Hospital for Women, opposite Clapham South tube station. Closed in the Eighties, the hospital stood derelict before being bought by Tesco who have opened a ground floor supermarket.

Only the listed 1916 facade remains and behind this, Grainger Trust's new build scheme of 77 one and two bedroom flats is nearing completion. Its contemporary design and convenient location has proved a popular combination and eight flats remain, priced from £249,950 to £525,000.

Also coming up for completion is Windmill Chase's conversion of the old German Hospital in Dalston, built in 1845 to treat poor German immigrants. Prices for the 20 flats, with exposed beams and feature windows, start from £199,000. On a grander scale, Comer Homes' Princess Park Manor is the conversion and extension of the former Friern Barnet mental hospital into 380 flats. Set in lovely parkland, prices range from £247,000 to £2.5million.

In Lewisham, Bellway South East is carrying out a £100 million redevelopment of the 20-acre Hither Green Hospital site. Built as a fever hospital in 1897, this was bombed during the war and became a geriatric institution until it closed in 1997.

The rundown wards proved unsuitable for conversion and were demolished to make way for a mixed use development of 544 new flats, priced from £187,000 to £266,000. However, original entrance buildings, including a Victorian water tower, were refurbished as a historic quarter. They house a creche, GP surgery, exhibition venue and live/work units. Pathways lead through to a central piazza, which will have a gym, supermarket and restaurant from 2007.

Alan Anderson, 40, who runs local electrical contractor firm, Polaris Power&Data (((please keep in))), is moving into the old gate house, refurbished as a live/work unit. He says Meridian South has given the area a huge boost. "The old hospital looked grim and neglected but the site is fantastic now and the new shops and bistro are really going to bring things alive.

"We're less than 15 minutes by train from London Bridge so it's very convenient for me to visit clients in the City."

First time buyer Joanne Howes, 30, moved into Meridian South last Summer after buying her £167,000 one bedroom flat with underground parking off-plan. "I'm really pleased with the way the development is turning out," says the primary school teacher. "The historic buildings are lovely, the new ones fit in well and the lawns, pathways and trees all look great,"

A similar transformation is kicking off in Croydon, where Fairview is beginning work on the nine acre Queen's Hospital site. Originally workhouses, Queen's was, like Hither Green, also bombed during the war and became a geriatric hospital before being closed in 1987.

A surviving Grade II listed building with Italianate tower is being turned into 12 flats and more than 340 flats and houses will be built in landscaped grounds. Featuring environmentally friendly technology, such as wind turbines and solar water heaters, the scheme launches this Summer, with prices expected to start from £170,000.