Despite its good schools, reasonable house prices and great commuter location, Bracknell in Berkshire has always been the poor relation to its neighbour, affluent Ascot, largely due to the ugliness of its Sixties town centre. This, however, could turn out to be Bracknell’s year.
The northern side of the town centre is in the throes of a £750 million regeneration project which will see Marks & Spencer open an 80,000sq ft shop. Other confirmed new arrivals include a 12-screen Cineworld Cinema and restaurants including Carluccio’s.
Comer Homes has put forward plans to knock down the former 3M office block — a giant yellow-clad eyesore, derelict since 2003 — and build 300 flats and leisure facilities including a gym and restaurants.
£750 million is being spent bringing new homes, shops, jobs and leisure facilities to the Berkshire town’s centre
Improving the heart of Bracknell could be just the boost the town needs, as it already scores highly in other areas. Train journeys to Paddington take from 55 minutes, and you can be at Waterloo in a fraction over an hour. An annual season ticket costs £3,392.
By home counties standards, Bracknell is highly affordable. The average property price is £261,009, up a healthy 5.6 per cent in the last year, says Zoopla property website.
In smart satellite villages around the town you could easily spend up to £4 million on a country house with all the trimmings, but in town, £500,000 would buy a four- to five-bedroom, detached, modern family house.
Gravesend: £120 million plan for homes and businesses
The centre of this North Kent town is in line for £120 million regeneration creating 330 new homes and some 800 jobs. A hotel, cafés and restaurants are planned by developer Edinburgh House, and there will be a new market square and a community centre. Work is due to start this year and will add to Gravesend’s not inconsiderable charms, which include a swift commute and affordable homes.
The town centre already has a reasonable mix of independent shops and chains, a market several days a week and plenty of cafés and restaurants, although precious little nightlife. The recently restored Victorian town pier, reaching out into the Thames, is cute, and architect Sir Terry Farrell, who is advising the Government on the future of the Thames Gateway, wants it to be a stop on a new water taxi service.
£185,000: a two-bedroom flat at Melbourne Quay, Gravesend
Shorne Woods Country Park is popular for a weekend ramble, while for rainy days there’s the Paul Greengrass Cinema, named in honour of the director of Bafta-nominated Captain Phillips, plus two of the Bourne films, who lives locally. Gravesend benefits from Kent’s grammar school system. Mayfield Grammar School is “outstanding” according to Ofsted, while Gravesend Grammar School and Northfleet School for Girls are both rated “good”.
The town also benefits from Kent’s high-speed rail link, which means the commute to St Pancras takes just 23 minutes. However, high-speed travel doesn’t come cheap — an annual season ticket costs £4,284. This drops to £3,176 if you take regular services with a journey time of about 45 minutes.
The average Gravesend property costs £236,004, up 5.51 per cent in the last year according to Zoopla. For £450,000 to £600,000 you could buy a big period house with five or more bedrooms in the town centre, while a quality semi could be yours for £300,000 to £350,000. Modern two-bedroom riverside flats cost about £170,000.
Charlie Croft, a director of estate agent Walker Croft, reports growing numbers of house hunters from the capital. “They can’t believe what they can buy compared to London,” she says.
She recommends the Singlewell area of town, with its good stock of period homes. Expect to pay £650,000 to £700,000 for a five-bedroom Victorian villa, or just under £250,000 for a three-bedroom Thirties terrace.
Reading: £500 million for town centre regeneration
A project to rebuild this Berkshire town’s station ends next year. Five new platforms should reduce delays, as trains will no longer have to queue to get into the station.
The trip to Paddington, timetabled from just 27 minutes, is quicker than from many London suburbs, and an annual season ticket is £4,856.
In December, developer Stanhope won permission for a £500 million Reading town centre redevelopment scheme to include 300 new flats, shops, leisure facilities and offices. Work, due to start this year, is scheduled to take until 2024.
£320,000: three-bedroom barn conversion in central Reading
Reading’s existing facilities include two shopping centres, regular farmers’ markets, an annual beer festival, a concert hall and several theatres. Prospect Park is good for sports fans and nature lovers.
St John’s CofE (Aided) Primary School is rated “outstanding” by Ofsted and, for seniors, Chiltern Edge Community School and Reading Girls’ School are both considered “good”.
On the downside, the town centre is a bit drab, with some poor restaurants and many uninspiring chain shops.
The average property price currently stands at £236,004, up 5.51 per cent in a year, according to Zoopla.