Over the years, the Estate has become renowned for its far-sighted approach to preserving the unique character of the area. Central to the Estate's ethos is the belief that for Marylebone to thrive it requires a healthy balance between its residential, medical, office and retail sectors, all of which are tended to with equal care and attention. The Estate needs to attract the right profile and blend of tenants to its retail, office and medical properties, while ensuring that local residents enjoy a consistently high quality of life. And this in turn means investing heavily in state-of-the-art facilities, many of them contained within Georgian and Victorian buildings, others within large, newly-built developments. It means respecting the area’s rich heritage. It means responding to the requirements of all the Estate’s stakeholders, planning decades into the future, and fostering an environment in which residents, retailers, businesses and medical practitioners can thrive.
Retail: Marylebone Village and the Estate
Marylebone’s status as a haven for shoppers is the result of a clear strategy, first implemented by the Howard de Walden Estate around 20 years ago, which continues to reap dividends today. The Estate’s innovation was to select retailers for the qualities they would bring to the area rather than for the rent they were prepared to pay. Central to this was the courting of two highly regarded stores—Waitrose and The Conran Shop—to anchor the high street, supported by an attractive and diverse cast of small, independent retailers.
The Estate seeks out quality, diversity and difference—avoiding either a clone high street of major multiples or an exclusive enclave of expensive brands. It works hard to find retailers which offer exclusivity in terms of merchandise, but not in terms of price. The mix of retailers is carefully designed to satisfy the needs of residents, workers and visitors alike. Some have been there for generations, providing a real sense of history and tradition; others are highly fashionable and entirely contemporary.
Maintaining the quality of the retail offering requires the Estate to constantly update and, where possible, expand the area’s retail units—providing larger, more attractive and more efficiently designed spaces, but without losing all of the quirkiness of the original Victorian and Edwardian shops. The Estate owns many of the area’s retail units and, where possible, it has also sought to buy up additional properties or else positively influence the decisions of other landlords and leaseholders to prevent the unique character of the retail district from being undermined.
Medical: Harley Street Medical Area and the Estate
The valuable lessons learnt from the Estate’s successful overhaul of the Marylebone Village retail area are now being carefully tuned towards the Harley Street Medical Area. For this area to continue to thrive as a destination for complex medical care, the Howard de Walden Estate has decided its role as long term steward and caretaker is critical. The Estate is uniquely placed to support and influence the success of the area and this work involves, amongst other things,actively enhancing the tenant mix, marketing the area to an international audience, and improving the patient experience.
The area already has a solid base of highly regarded medical practitioners and clinics, but the Estate is proactively identifying areas of specialism which might add to the current offering and then seeking out the most respected operators in those fields. To attract the necessary calibre of medical tenants, the Estate is investing heavily in facilities. The result is a large portfolio of sophisticated medical facilities contained within highly attractive, heritage-rich buildings. The Estate also provides significant investment to create brand new or substantially redeveloped medical buildings in partnership with tenants.
To promote the Harley Street Medical Area, the Estate has is regularly attending international medical conferences and exhibitions, developing brand identity and publications and building new digital media platforms.
To improve the patient experience, the Estate is keen to see medical concierge services opening up in the area to help patients with travel, accommodation and post-treatment services. It is investigating the feasibility of creating a special hotel for patients who have been discharged from hospital but require further attention.
Applying the Marylebone Village strategy to Harley Street Medical Area
The valuable lessons learnt from the Estate’s successful overhaul of the Marylebone Village retail area are now being carefully tuned towards the Harley Street Medical Area. The first is the importance of supporting a small number of ‘anchor’ institutions which help set the tone—in the case of the high street, it was Waitrose and the Conran Shop; in the Harley Street Medical Area it is the hospitals. Over the past decade we have worked closely with The London Clinic and HCA to provide significant quantities of additional accommodation, including The London Clinic 70,000 sq ft Cancer Centre on Marylebone Road, and we are currently in discussions with King Edward VII's Hospital over opportunities for expansion.
The Estate has also learnt the value of creating a balanced community of tenants, consistent in quality but diverse in function. When a shop becomes available in Marylebone Village, we actively seek out retailers who will improve the overall offering. We are now applying this thinking to the Harley Street Medical Area, with a small group of external consultants advising us on which areas of specialism are currently missing and who the most respected operators are. Gone are the days when a refurbished medical property will simply be thrown out to the open market; instead we search the world for the right specialists.
An example of this policy in action was the redevelopment of 11 Harley Street, now home to Isokinetic, an internationally recognised sports rehabilitation specialist. We were extremely keen for Isokinetic to choose Marylebone as the location for its first facility outside of Italy, so worked closely with the clinic to provide the necessary accommodation. The result is the presence on Harley Street of a highly regarded tenant in a genuinely world class facility. Other similarly welcome recent arrivals include the Royal Brompton & Harefield Hospital, Fortius Clinic, Optegra eye clinic.
To attract the right tenants we need to provide the highest possible standard of accommodation. One of the attractions of Harley Street is the aesthetic value of the period buildings, but the area’s historic fabric is the source of some major challenges. Providing modern medical facilities in a conservation area filled with listed buildings is far from straightforward. Thankfully, the Estate’s experience in this field gives us an unparalleled level of expertise and the quality of accommodation provided to our direct tenants is exceptionally high.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of all of the area’s medical properties. A number of these were sold by the Estate on long leases in the 1920s and 30s, and some of the current head lessees have neglected to invest in the fabric of their buildings. As a result, the area is pock-marked with a few rather Dickensian-looking facilities which detract from the Harley Street brand.
This is something we are working hard to address. Firstly, we are looking to acquire additional consulting houses, although hindered by spiralling property prices and limited opportunity. Alongside this, our efforts to substantially improve our existing portfolio of clinics are leading to doctors in other buildings refusing to tolerate the sub-standard conditions that damage their ability to compete. This, we believe, is already having a positive impact.
Services for patients
There is, however, much to be done. The international medical market is estimated to be worth £100 billion per annum, and is growing at a rapid rate, but the Harley Street Medical Area currently commands only a tiny slice. In part, this comes down to a shortfall in the kind of consistent marketing activity undertaken by many of its competitors, but it is also indicative of a need for an improved patient experience. A medical tourist arriving at Munich airport will be received at a special concierge desk at which every need is attended to: transport, accommodation for relatives, post-treatment services. Nothing like this is currently available for Harley Street.
The location of the Harley Street Medical Area offers some extraordinary benefits for patients and their families—shops, restaurants, parks, cultural institutions, transport links—while its 2,000-plus practitioners provide a range of sub-specialisms unmatched by any other medical district in the world. Better information, more transparent pricing and a concierge service could help knit all this together. The analogy we use is that the Harley Street Medical Area is like the world’s biggest and best hospital, filled with doctors of global renown—but with no roof, front desk or adequate signage.
We are now actively seeking out medical concierge service operators and are also investigating the feasibility of creating a special hotel for patients who have been discharged from hospital but require further attention. We are developing clear Harley Street Medical Area brand identities and looking at ways we can protected and promoted the brand. The Estate has a designated team regularly attending international medical conferences and exhibitions. It is our aim for a Harley Street Medical Area pavilion to soon become a regular fixture on this global circuit.
As these activities bear fruit, it is our hope that the Harley Street Medical Area will remain a synonym for all that is good in the world of private medicine: a place at the forefront of medical science; the first choice for patients from all over the globe; an area that offers a patient experience that’s the equal of any shiny new European or Middle Eastern complex.