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Could London's big property plans be brought down to earth by skateboarders?

By Eoghan Macguire and John Defterios, for CNN
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Wed March 26, 2014
  • South London is experiencing a construction and property boom
  • Dozens of high-rise projects are slated to be built in the area in the coming years
  • Some warn these projects could make living in the city unfordable for large numbers of people

One Square Meter explores the leading architectural designs, city plans and demand for property investment in emerging markets. Join CNN's John Defterios as he visits some of the world's most dynamic cities for an insight into the fast-paced world of real estate development.

(CNN) -- "Sorry, I don't go south of the river," was once a common refrain from central London taxi drivers. Not anymore.

Today it seems that everyone, from the city's trendy art-set (attracted by the likes of the Southbank Center, Tate Modern as well as Old and New Vic theaters) to wealthy international property developers, is crossing the Thames to the less celebrated side of the British capital.

It is here that the sparkling new Shard Tower soars into the sky above the city's Borough district while the redevelopment of the area around Battersea Power Station is helping regenerate a part of southwest London long lost to neglect and decay.

According to a recent study carried out by international property specialists CBRE, south of the river is now the hottest spot in town because there is space to build.

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"One of the key drivers of the London market is there is still quite dramatic short of available stock," explained chairman of CBRE Residential, Mark Collins. "If you look at the current figures if you look at last year there were about 20,000 new homes created.

"In our view, we actually think the figure could be closer to 50,000 units that need to be created to satisfy the demand."

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Between Tower Bridge and Battersea, roughly five miles west, is where a large portion of the room required to cater for this extra demand can be found.

New projects like the Strata Tower and the aforementioned Shard have popped up in this area in recent years.

Large scale regeneration of the Nine Elms area around Battersea, meanwhile, is happening at a startling pace with plans for 25 projects on the 195 hectare site already under construction or in the pipeline.

Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda aims to build two skyscrapers designed by American architects KPF here. When completed, the hotel and residential towers will be the tallest in western Europe.

The area will also get new underground train lines and improved transport connections.

"The importance of this project cannot be underestimated for us as a company," said Michelle van Vuuren, sales and marketing director at Dalian Wanda.

While van Vurren refuses to confirm the exact value of the company's investment here, unconfirmed figures in the media suggest it is somewhere between $3 billion and $5 billion.

The early signs are that this estimated outlay is money well spent. In the last five years alone, land prices in Nine Elms have doubled to $33,000 per square meter.

Changing the city

Some, however, worry about the impact these developments are having on the city's demographics and the affordability of property to those of low to medium incomes.

"Newly built investment properties are selling for inflated prices which in turn is pulling up prices of the homes in the surrounding areas," said Darren Jonson, Green Party member of the London Assembly.

"Central London is losing key workers who are being forced out by rising rents and house prices," he added.

While these issues worry campaigners and politicians like Johnson, they haven't dampened the spirits of would-be developers who are plowing cash into similarly ambitious high-rise developments nearby.

Energy giant, Shell, hopes to consolidate all of its local divisions into one 27-storey building next to Waterloo Station.

Wheeled resistance

Just a few hundred meters away, the Southbank Centre -- an iconic arts facility -- wants to redevelop the existing spaces for the public and 25 million tourists who visit each year.

But the $200 million design that would modernize the center's "brutalist" concrete exterior has been delayed thanks to resistance from an unlikely source -- skateboarders.

The Southbank is also home to arguably one of the world's oldest skateboard parks and those who frequent it are keen to ensure new developments don't mean an end to boarding in the area.

"This place is important for a lot of reasons, from cultural to community based for kids," said professional skateboarder, Chewy Cannon. "It's a free space and there's not a lot of them in this area so it's good to have."

The final say on this issue will go to London mayor Boris Johnson who has already intimated he wants the boarders to stay.

Whether they do or not, one thing is for certain. If all of the projects earmarked for the south side of the Thames come to fruition, it will no longer be regarded as the poorer half of Britain's capital.

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See also: The world's most expensive luxury homes

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