Now a new survey has revealed the top 20 busiest commuter stations shipping workers into the capital from the suburbs, market towns and even historic cities.
Reading, only half an hour from London, is the unsurprising most popular commuter location with almost 4.7 million season ticket journeys made from the Berkshire town each year. It is also one of the most inexpensive areas in the top 20 — an average property costs a little under £243,000, though house prices have increased seven per cent in the past five years.
Chelmsford, in Essex, is nearly as popular — with almost 4.4 million season ticket journeys. At 38 minutes it takes a little longer but the pay-off is that average house prices are £10,000 cheaper. House prices have also grown seven per cent since the peak of the market.
TOP 20 COMMUTER STATIONS
|Station||Season ticket journeys||Proportion of all journeys||Season ticket price||Travel time||Average house price||5-year property price growth|
|1. Reading||4,697,307||33%||£4,516||29 mins||£242,526||7%|
|2. Chelmsford||4,351,322||59%||£4,300||38 mins||£232,897||7%|
|3. Woking||3,261,410||45%||£3,542||28 mins||£333,335||17%|
|4. St Albans||3,146,080||50%||£3,752||17 mins||£377,797||21%|
|5. Guildford||2,649,386||34%||£3,812||37 mins||£341,564||14%|
|6. Colchester||2,285,860||52%||£5,256||53 mins||£182,996||1%|
|7. Tonbridge||2,282,222||56%||£3,620||44 mins||£267,317||8%|
|8. Cambridge||2,276,890||28%||£5,400||52 mins||£292,145||14%|
|9. Sevenoaks||2,235,608||57%||£3,604||33 mins||£553,596||34%|
|10. Haywards Heath||2,209,852||54%||£3,476||45 mins||£292,185||15%|
|11. Winchester||1,967,080||47%||£5,096||58 mins||£371,195||23%|
|12. Tunbridge Wells||1,860,810||53%||£4,592||54 mins||£304,778||13%|
|13. Milton Keynes Central||1,859v222||36%||£5,280||41 mins||£193,175||7%|
|14. Billericay||1,849,914||67%||£3,880||34 mins||£347,550||23%|
|15. Basingstoke||1,805,658||37%||£4,500||45 mins||£211,778||6%|
|16. Slough||1,734,898||34%||£2,956||31 mins||£254,408||13%|
|17. Maidenhead||1,659,202||43%||£3,356||26 mins||£374,113||18%|
|18. Shenfield||1,652,502||56%||£3,600||28 mins||£372,082||15%|
|19. Harpenden||1,627,264||56%||£4,000||23 mins||£591,761||34%|
|20. Redhill||1,589,798||45%||£3,068||30 mins||£324,552||17%|
Source: Savills using Office of rail regulation and Land Registry
NET SPREADS BEYOND THE HOME COUNTIES
The two areas that have achieved the most impressive house-price growth could not be more different. Leafy, upmarket Sevenoaks in Kent, with an average house price of almost £554,000, has seen prices rise by 34 per cent over seven years.
The somewhat less polished Harpenden, in Hertfordshire, has also seen prices rise 34 per cent, but an average home there costs under £592,000. In fact, statistically, the only clear difference between the two areas is journey time: 23 minutes from London to Harpenden versus 33 minutes from London to Sevenoaks.
The data also shows how commuters are spreading their nets beyond the home counties. Cambridge, a city in its own right and 60 miles from central London, makes the top 20 with almost 2.3 million journeys a year. House prices here are appealing, at an average of just over £292,000, and they have risen a healthy 14 per cent.
The journey time is long — about 52 minutes — but this has not dented Cambridge’s growing popularity. Season ticket journeys have risen 30 per cent in the past five years, reflecting a willingness to look further afield for quality housing and a great lifestyle.
The research is based on detailed analysis of the use of stations beyond the M25 — but within an hour’s travel time of London — according to the Office of Rail Regulation.
Lucian Cook, director of residential research for Savills, says areas with the biggest price gains tend to be those that were already expensive and sought after.
It means that smart addresses, such as St Albans in Hertfordshire (up 21 per cent), which act as magnets for wealth coming out of the capital, are doing better than less aspirational dormitory towns such as Colchester in Essex (up a below-inflationary one per cent).
“There is also some evidence of larger increases in commuter numbers in the affluent commuter towns towards the edge of the 60-minute travel time, with Winchester and Cambridge both seeing 30 per cent increase in commuter numbers over the past five years,” says Cook.
Outside the top 20, areas with strong growth include Oxford, where sales of season tickets have risen by 34 per cent over the past five years, and Hitchin, in Hertfordshire, up 30 per cent over the same period.
The high-speed rail link via Ashford International has prompted a rise in season ticket sales of 21 per cent from the Kent town in the past year alone.
ASHFORD: IT’S TIME, NOT DISTANCE
One of the hottest up-and-coming areas for commuters is Ashford. The reason so many people are moving there is the same one that drew Graham Pontin and his girlfriend Camille Penrice.
“As a first-time buyer your money does not get you much in London and we basically looked at train times and saw where we could go with the shortest distance — it was not about distance but about journey times,” says Graham, 27.
Ashford, thanks to the high-speed rail link, is a 36-minute sprint to King’s Cross, which was enough to inspire the couple, both economists who work in central London, to start house hunting.
They had been renting a one-bedroom flat in Canary Wharf for £1,100 a month, and in December 2010 exchanged that for a three-bedroom terrace house on the Highfields Place development by Ward Homes (wardhomes.co.uk).
The pair paid £220,000 for the property, and their monthly mortgage costs, including insurance, come in at about £1,000. The high-speed travel requires a costly annual season ticket of £6,000 apiece.
Nonetheless, Graham feels the move has been a good one because they have a much bigger property than they would get in London and can afford to run it without feeling poor.
Job security being what it is nowadays, if either of them did get made redundant they would be able to manage the mortgage.
Ashford isn’t the most thrilling town but Graham and Camille, 26, take a pragmatic view. The high street “does what it needs to” and there are plans afoot for redevelopment.
They spend much of their time in London, of course, and Stratford, with all its shops and entertainment is only 25 minutes away.
They have evenings at the Riverside Inn and the Singleton Barn, and can be at Sandgate Beach, near Dover, within a quarter of an hour.