Commuters fleeing the city have to juggle a lot of factors when making quality-of-life judgements about where to live. Perhaps above all, they have to decide whether a cheaper house further away from the capital compensates for the hassle of a longer journey.
For Ian and Amanda Tomlinson and their three young children Lucy, Harry and Luke, the perfect mix of a manageable commute and a bigger, good value home also had to include a quick dash to the station and an easy school run.
Six months ago the family opted for a change of location and lifestyle by selling their Docklands home and moving to Bedford - not to a village outside the county town but to a conservation area right in the middle, within the catchment of highly-regarded independent schools and only a 10-minute walk to the station.
“We were crammed into our Docklands house and wanted to step up in size and quality. The challenge was finding a big enough property that we could afford and one where the commute was no more than an hour,” says Mr Tomlinson, 39, who works for American Express at Canary Wharf.
Preferring the northern Home Counties - Amanda grew up in Hertfordshire and Ian is from the Midlands - Bedford emerged as a favourite because of the lower prices and the 35-minute train links to St Pancras.
The couple researched the local property market and discovered Lansdown Villas, a tree-lined street of 18 handsome refurbished Victorian red-brick houses, formerly part of De Montford University campus, being redeveloped by Storey Homes.
Dominated by student digs and lecture rooms, the neighbourhood had become run-down but is now getting a makeover, including a new park, and is one of Bedford’s best addresses.
'Buyers can make their money go much further in unexplored areas outside the capital like Bedford'
The Tomlinsons bought a 3,561 sq ft six-bedroom semi for £495,000. “I couldn’t believe the price. Something similar in not such a nice part of London would be over £1 million.”
Indeed; the area has the look and feel of a prosperous tucked-away pocket in suburban Putney or Wimbledon - quiet and leafy, with architecture that is solid and aspirational. Already a pre-prep school has opened in the same road.
The houses sit in large plots, have off-street parking, a huge open-plan kitchen-cum-family room leading to the garden, high-ceilinged reception rooms and bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms, plus a wine cellar.
Internal finishes are one disappointment, and lack a bit of metropolitan glamour, but it is mainly about the space. Sizes range up to 6,500 sq ft. Prices from £549,950. Call estate agent Urban and Rural on 01234 272282.
“Buyers are realising they can make their money go much further in unexplored areas outside the capital like Bedford,” says Storey’s Gareth Jacob.
© Barry Phillips
“Often people prefer to live in a good neighbourhood in the centre of a town rather than in a pretty village outside because it’s more convenient for the daily school run and getting to and from the station. And as the kids grow older they can walk into town.”
Last week English Heritage unveiled a Blue Plaque at one of the houses, where Antarctic explorer Aspley Cherry-Garrard, part of Scott’s South Pole expedition, lived - a sign of the address’s old status, now being regained.
Storey has planning permission for 220 homes - a mix of houses and flats - on the campus site, while regeneration is improving scruffy parts of the town centre.
“Our belief is that the town is waiting to happen,” adds Jacobs. “It’s been overlooked by a lot of people coming out of London but is actually a sensible place to live, with easy access to lovely countryside and only a 40-minute drive to Cambridge.”
The market town has a big Italian community and is at the end of the Thameslink route from London. A 12-month season ticket costs £3,584. The £5.5 billion Thameslink upgrade includes plans for a new Bedford Station Quarter with improved station facilities and an office and residential hub.
Redevelopment of a commercial site in the town-centre will bring 330 new homes, a department store and 40 retail units. Plus there are plans for a residential and retail complex overlooking the River Great Ouse.