Large sums are being invested in commuter belt towns, transforming them through new business opportunities and revitalised shopping centres with the aim of drawing young Londoners to the home counties to start family life. We find three well worth watching.
Gillingham: waterside Kent
If living by the water is your choice, flats at the Victory Pier scheme in Gillingham, Kent, offer a cost-effective way of enjoying a tranquil view of the River Medway coupled with swift links to London.
When the Berkeley First scheme is completed around 2019, it will include 775 new homes, shops, offices, a hotel and student accommodation. So far a block of student digs and 211 flats have been completed - and almost all have been sold - while a former lightship has been converted into an arts centre.
The next phase launches in late January, with two-bedroom flats starting at £172,000 and three-bedroom homes from £265,000. Visit berkeleygroup.co.uk for more information. Victory Pier is about a mile from Gillingham town centre and station, where trains to St Pancras take from 41 minutes. An annual rail season ticket costs £3,784.
The town centre is useful, although fine dining and cool bars are in short supply. But Bluewater is just 20 minutes away for retail therapy, and there is plenty of green space including the 114-hectare Capstone Farm Country Park.
In summer the outdoor pool at the Strand Leisure Park is popular, and there is an indoor ski and snowboard centre. Kent regeneration is not pegged to Victory Pier. Peel Land and Property recently won consent for a £650 million scheme to redevelop Chatham Docks with 950 homes, plus offices, shops and open space.
Average property prices in Gillingham currently stand at £203,709, up 5.54 per cent in the last year according to Zoopla. For £300,000 to £400,000 you could buy a four-bedroom period house or, for beneath the £250,000 stamp duty threshold, you could consider a three-bedroom period terrace house.
Redhill: save in surrey
The planned £50 million revamp of Redhill railway station will include a new town square, shops and 150 flats. Meanwhile, Reigate and Banstead borough council plans to spend £4.1 million on cutting congestion in the centre of this Surrey town and another £1.4 million improving Redhill Memorial Park. A further £4.1 million will go towards upgrading the Donyngs Leisure Centre.
The average house price in Redhill is £277,237, up 2.44 per cent in the last year, says property website Zoopla. With trains to Victoria in under half an hour and services to London Bridge taking from 34 minutes for an annual season ticket costing £3,352, the town clearly ticks a lot of commuting boxes.
Families are attracted by high-quality schools. Almost all Redhill primaries get strong reports from the Ofsted government watchdog and the two senior schools - The Warwick and St Bede’s - are rated “good”.
Redhill centre, though not very pretty and a bit of a clone town, is well-stocked with shops, a theatre and cinema. A regular street market adds a little atmosphere and Redhill Common is a great local resource.
Mike Chapman, residential sales manager of Connells, says value for money is driving demand, with three-bedroom Victorian houses in the town centre to be had from about £320,000, some 25 per cent cheaper than in neighbouring Reigate.
Harlow: star value in essex
This Essex town was recently named one of London’s best-value commuter choices. A study by property consultancy CBRE found that, with an average house price of £154,324 and monthly travel costs of £356.30, the typical monthly cost of mortgage plus season ticket is just over £900.
Harlow is very much a town of two halves. Pretty, picturesque Old Harlow is full of historic pubs and cafés and lovely houses, while the new town is an exercise in postwar dreariness, with poor-quality housing and some rough areas.
However, major improvements are planned in the shape of a £67 million scheme to bulldoze three council estates and replace them with 361 new homes in a development also featuring parks, play facilities and a community centre. Work is due to start next year with the first residents moving into their homes in 2016.
A key reason to move to Harlow is its excellent communications. Trains to Liverpool Street take half an hour, and the M11 and Stansted airport are nearby. Holy Cross Catholic Primary School is one of several locally rated “good” by Ofsted.
For older pupils Burnt Mill Academy is rated “outstanding”, while Stewards Academy, a specialist science school, and Passmores Academy are both rated “good”.
Harlow College is England’s most successful further education college. Its journalism training course has alumni ranging from Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger to newspaper man-turned-television chat show host Piers Morgan.
Paul Brooker, managing director of estate agents Howick and Brooker, said Harlow’s strength lies in its huge range of property to suit all budgets - town centre flats from £80,000, detached executive family houses for about £850,000, or period town houses with four to five bedrooms priced at about £400,000.