From Cambridge to Essex and Kent to East Sussex:the best new-build homes in key commuter hotspots within 90 minutes of London

Flexible living spaces, well-thought out interiors and imaginative architecture aren't just limited to the capital. We go on a mission to find the best new-build homes within manageable commuting distances of London.

While new homes in London increasingly offer flexible living space, inspiring architecture and a high internal spec, hunting for an imaginative new build outside the capital can be depressing.

Commuters often face the narrow choice of a flat in a faceless block, with mean-sized rooms and no storage, or an identikit, boxy new house — perhaps with a faux-Georgian flourish to show it’s meant to be posh.

James Snell, a director of Snell David Architects, says that beyond the M25, developers often lack the confidence to build and sell contemporary homes. 

“They don’t think it would sell. They say buyers like traditional homes. Simple things, such as good storage space, even an entrance with provision for shoes and coats, is never thought about, and there is no basic flow to many new houses. I’ve seen rooms that are impossible to furnish because of where the windows, radiators, and fireplaces have been put.”

Bob Weston, chairman of Weston Homes, suggests some developers still use “standard house typing” and says designing a quality London home which will sell for £1,000-plus a square foot is easier than trying to achieve a similar result in an area where it will only fetch £250 a square foot: “But I do think every site deserves a fresh start and builders need to use more imagination.” 

So where can you find good design and a manageable commute? We’ve located some options:

1. Old Moulsham, Chelmsford, Essex
The Radio Factory
, the conversion of the historic Marconi HQ into flats, is in probably the nicest Chelmsford suburb, with great cafés and independent shops. Trains from Chelmsford to Liverpool St take about 35 minutes, with an annual season ticket from £4,748. 

The Grade II-listed former silk works, a fine brick building, became home to Marconi in 1898, and radio equipment for the Titanic was produced there. High ceilings and magnificent original windows make for elegant, well-arranged homes. Two-bedroom flats start at £390,000 (; 01245 262266).

2. Cambridge 
This beautiful city with trains to King’s Cross in 46 minutes isn’t a housing budget option, and an annual season ticket costs a hefty £5,012. But compared with similarly well-resourced parts of London it is excellent value.

A new-build choice is Ninewells, 162 modern, highly energy-efficient homes designed by architects PRP, named best large-scale scheme outside London at the London Evening Standard New Homes Awards last week. 

Ninewells has lovely views over the Gog Magog Downs but is only two miles from the station, and most of the homes overlook a central teardrop-shaped lake. 

They are well spaced with big windows, plenty of storage, gardens or balconies, and high-speed broadband. Two-bedroom flats are £440,000, with four-bedroom houses at £965,000 (; 01223 841842).

3. Snodland, Kent
For lakeside homes on an affordable estate, look at Holborough Lakes by Berkeley Homes, priced from £340,000 for a three-bedroom house.

With a hint of New England style amid the pretty North Downs, the scheme has its own primary school, a village hall, and an M&S Simply Food. There’s a gym, a watersports centre on freshwater lakes, and an estate manager. 

Snodland station, a couple of miles away, has trains to King’s Cross in 45 minutes, with an annual season ticket from £4,124. Ten minutes’ drive away is the cathedral city of Rochester, and Gatwick airport is nearby (

4. Margate, Kent
Overlooking Westbrook Bay, The Beach Houses, a modern terrace, is subtly nostalgic. The larch-clad, glass-gabled houses, inspired by beach huts have open-plan, light-filled  interiors. Eight out of 11 of these very smart homes by architect Guy Hollaway have sold, leaving three two-bedroom duplexes at £485,000. 

Trains from Margate take just under 90 minutes to St Pancras and an annual season ticket is £5,228 (; 01227 451123).

From £625,000: boasting a beachfront location, Bay is a boutique development of six flats

5. Hythe, Kent 
Also by Guy Hollaway, Bay is a boutique development of six flats with direct beach access. All have balconies or terraces and lovely light interiors. 

Two-bedroom flats start at £625,000 with three-bedroom penthouses at £950,000. 

Trains to Liverpool Street take an hour and 20 minutes and a season ticket is £5,908 (; 01303 473331).

6. Maidenhead, Berkshire
In the centre of town, The Landing, a £250 million project, has outline planning permission for 225 new homes that will be available to buy before the arrival of the Elizabeth line in 2019, plus offices and shops. 

Once the Lizzie line is running the commute to central London will be less than 40 minutes, and just under 50 minutes to the City (

7. Rye, East Sussex
On an infill site in this medieval town, Bewick Court, a boutique, timber-clad scheme of 10 homes, has scooped a RIBA award. The elegant outline is cleverly designed by architect Jonathan Dunn, with windows positioned to catch the best light. 

It’s 90 minutes to St Pancras and an annual season ticket costs from £5,172. Two-bedroom flats cost from £345,000, three-bedroom flats from £375,000 (; 01797 227338).

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