Commuting along the Fen line:Why record numbers of London homebuyers are heading to Downham - Norfolk's 'gingerbread town'

An explosion in the number of people moving out of London and its immediate hinterland and venturing into the Fens has prompted plans to upgrade commuter services between the capital, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.

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This autumn Govia Thameslink Railway, which runs the service between King’s Cross and King’s Lynn known as the Fen Line, will launch a consultation on proposals that include introducing new wi-fi-enabled trains capable of running at 110 miles per hour. It will also consider increasing the frequency of London trains to every half hour.

And when Cambridge North station is opened in May next year Fen Line services could be diverted through the new station, speeding up commuter times.

“More and more people are moving into the Fen Line area,” explains Andy Tyler, secretary of the Fen Line Users Association. “I should think they are moving further out from London because of the high property prices, and the main grumble and grouse they have is overcrowding — what I hear all the time is people saying they are treated like cattle. I think that is a bigger issue than journey time for most people.”

At present the journey from London to King’s Lynn takes almost two hours. From Downham Market, one of the area’s most popular market towns, it takes just over an hour and 20 minutes and the proposed upgrade to the service should bring this closer to the one-hour mark.


The cost of an annual season ticket — from £5,844 from King’s Lynn and from £5,564 from Downham — is unlikely to change.

However high travel costs must be set against the town’s average property price which, according to Rightmove, is £179,396 — almost a third of the price of a typical London property.

Ed Bennett, valuer at Wilson & Betts estate agents, estimates that a four-bedroom modern house in the town would cost from £220,000. A three bedroom Victorian semi would cost between £170,000 and £200,000.

And one of the town centre’s two-bedroom 16th-century sandstone cottages — which have earned Downham the nickname the “gingerbread town” — would cost between £130,000 and £160,000.

Benett says around a third of buyers moving into Downham, and into nearby towns like Watlington, are coming out of London and are not overly concerned by the journey time.

“For the money that they can save on property they are not that bothered,” he said. “They can always work on the train. As prices rise in London people are looking further along the train line. Downham traditionally has been made up of an older generation, because it has so many bungalows, but you are starting to see a younger demographic move in.”

As Bennett suggests, Downham is a sleepy sort of place, although it does have some useful shops and several pubs. It is also only half an hour by train to Cambridge, and around an hour’s drive to the beautiful Holkham beach and nature reserve.

Exactly when the proposed improvements will materialise is uncertain, and Tyler says “constant procrastination” over how to upgrade the service was another reason for passenger unrest. A spokesman for Govia confirms that a public consultation on the plans will take place later in the year.

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