Cranes are competing with college spires on Cambridge’s city skyline. With a university that has topped the world’s academic league table for the second year running, this is boomtime for a spot which the Centre for Cities think tank believes could be in the vanguard when Britain emerges from recession.
With a growing population and a burgeoning business sector, boosted by 45-minute train links to the capital, Cambridge’s success has put pressure on its housing market: along with London, it is one of the few places in the UK where values have risen since 2008.
To boost the supply of homes Cambridge City Council has relaxed a development ban close to the city’s ancient centre, where medieval colleges line The Backs, a popular punting stretch of the river Cam. A thousand new homes are already under way, mostly apartments aimed at young professionals and investors.
Britain’s Silicon valley
Several thousand more homes are planned on the city’s fringe where science and technology businesses are creating a UK “Silicon Valley”. CB1, an £850 million mixed-use scheme led by international architect Richard Rogers, which takes its name from the local postcode, is helping transform the area around Cambridge’s main railway station. Microsoft has relocated to a new HQ at this huge “brownfield” site, which includes a former mill being turned into 350 new homes. Prices at the first phase, called Ceres, start at £234,950. Call Hill Residential on 0844 225 1977.
The same developer is building a boutique scheme of 10 apartments in a tucked-away conservation quarter known as Back of the Inns. Prices from £199,950. Kaleidoscope is another station - area new-build — with 408 flats by Crest Nicholson. Prices from £315,000. Call 0870 757 8186.
Such is Cambridge’s appeal, Grosvenor Estate has made a rare excursion outside its central London heartland to build Parkside Place, 99 flats (all sold off-plan) on the site of a former fire station, while also selling well is Berkeley Homes’s Riverside — 205 new homes near Midsummer Common — where values have reached £600 a sq ft.
New homes Scotland
Homes are also being built on former green belt land to the south of the city, next to the fast-expanding Cambridge Biomedical Campus, which already employs 8,000 professionals. More than 4,000 homes, plus new schools, shops and community facilities are planned at new “settlements”, including Trumpington Meadows and Great Kneighton.
One of the first housing estates to emerge here is Seven Acres, by Swedish construction company Skanska. It is a characteristically Scandinavian-style development — highly energy-efficient and architecturally restrained, with modern, thoughtfully designed, space-efficient interiors (by Clerkenwell architects Johnson Naylor). Properties are grouped around tastefully landscaped communal areas. Prices start at £295,000 for a two-bedroom flat and £760,000 for a four-bedroom, three-storey townhouse with integral garage. Call 01223 846711.
Traditionally, Cambridge academics have preferred to live in Victorian and Edwardian villas lining streets radiating from the city centre, but the quality of new-build schemes is drawing them to the suburban fringe.
© Christian Smith
The easy commute to London, combined with excellent schools and a lively cultural scene, also make Cambridge a popular choice for young families looking to move out of the capital.
“It’s a relaxed, cosmopolitan city and it is therefore easy for Londoners to make the switch,” says Toby Greenhow of Savills.
Prices drop by about 20 per cent five miles out of the often-congested city. Transport is improving, with a new Cambridge Science Park railway station due to open in 2015, and a rapid-transit bus route on old railway tracks linking the centre with business and science parks.
The university itself has been granted planning consent for a £1 billion development in the north-west of the city. This will be another important commercial hub, with 1,500 private homes, plus 1,500 homes for key university staff, 2,000 student accommodation units and more than a million sq ft of space for research companies and institutions, all integrated with an ecology park.
With up to 16,000 new homes planned by 2020, Cambridge’s supply-and-demand dynamics may change. But for homebuyers the city is likely to remain a sound investment.