First-timers get a lift as Boris discovers gold in the suburbs

Good-value homes in the new opportunity zones.
Suburbia is getting a design shot in the arm as regeneration brings renewed vitality and innovative architecture to streets and homes. Areas on the edge of London are more affordable for first-time buyers, and there are cheaper shared-ownership options. 
 
Bargain hunters can also find affordable homes in well-connected commuter towns such as Ashford, while the Government’s decision to extend Crossrail to Reading has opened a window of opportunity there.
 
Boris Johnson’s Outer London Commission has a remit covering 19 boroughs, from Sutton in the south to Enfield in the north, Havering in the east to Hillingdon in the west, with a brief to promote growth industries including green technology. The aim is for these new hubs to become major areas of employment and housing, served by joined-up transport such as the London Overground orbital trains.
 
The Mayor designated Bromley town centre and Harrow & Wealdstone as priority zones this year, and this new status is already kick-starting stalled housing developments.
 
St Mark’s Square in Bromley is expected to rejuvenate the tired town centre with new homes, shops and arts and leisure facilities. The £90 million scheme set around a new public square and performance space brings 200 private and affordable flats, a multiplex cinema, hotels and restaurants, while direct trains go to Victoria and Blackfriars from nearby Bromley South station in under 20 minutes. Completion is due in autumn next year. Register with Cathedral Group on 020 7939 0800.
 
At St Mary Cray, a Bromley satellite, Affinity Sutton housing association has launched The Ridge, a gated development of flats and houses on a wooded hillside. Show homes are open. Prices from £170,000. Call 0845 6000 787.

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From £170,000: homes at The Ridge in St Mary Cray
 
Harrow & Wealdstone, in Zone 5 at the end of the Bakerloo line, is united by a train station, but is two distinct places — the former a leafy, prosperous suburb famous for its public school, the latter a working-class district with a manufacturing legacy that is spawning sites for housing.
 
Essence in Wealdstone High Street offers shared-ownership flats, from £90,000 for 50 per cent, with monthly mortgage, rent and service charges from £857. Call Origin housing association on 0800 068 8990. Help-to-Buy is also available on 10 apartments priced from £215,000.
 
Hyde housing association is soon to unveil a development on College Road, Harrow (call 020 3207 2600), while The Spectrum, a 750-home makeover of Rayners Lane Estate, has flats from £200,000 and houses from £320,000. Call Home Group on 020 8582 2115.
 
In Ashford, Kent, property prices are 10 per cent below the regional average while new high-speed trains have slashed the journey to St Pancras to 38 minutes. The town’s population is forecast to double in the next 25 years as its importance as a business hub grows.

The Panorama is a modern mansion block remodelled from Ashford town centre offices, with 344 homes including duplex penthouses. There’s also a concierge reception, roof garden and ground-floor shops. Prices from £250,000. Call estate agent Mann Countrywide on 01233 639934.
 
Reading, regarded as the Thames Valley capital, offers a 26-minute train journey to Paddington — one of the fastest-growing commuter routes in the country, says the Association of Train Operating Companies. Crossrail can only boost the town’s credentials as a place to put down roots or invest.
 
The local workforce numbers 750,000, while the town is among the UK’s top 10 retail destinations and has a highly regarded education sector — the University of Reading is an affiliate of Oxford.
 
New housing estates are springing up on the edge of town, including 80-acre Dee Park. The latest phase, Plaza Square, launched last week. Two-bedroom houses are priced from £209,995 and qualify for Help to Buy, meaning a deposit of £11,500 and a mortgage of £172,500, with the 20 per cent government equity loan interest free for five years. Details from Hamptons International on 0118 942 0292.

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