Renting in Cambridge: why priced-out Londoners are choosing to commute from this city hotspot

The commuter hotspot of Cambridge is tempting priced-out London renters who are offsetting higher season ticket costs and a 50-minute commute with cheaper rents, bigger homes and good schools.
Many home owners have taken the well-trodden path from a central London flat to a suburban semi, and then on to a larger home in the commuter belt. Now renters — older and more affluent than in the past, but still unable to get on to the property ladder — are making a similar journey.
 
If you visit Cambridge railway station between 6am and 7am on a weekday, you will find it rammed with London-bound commuters, says Andrew Tucker, head of rentals at Bidwells. He estimates that one in five of his clients is escaping from the capital’s fraught rental market to live in the gorgeous, medieval — but also bustling — university city.
 
Cambridge is a gem — incredibly pretty, bike friendly and highly walkable, with plenty of open space, brilliant shops, cosy pubs and a thriving cultural scene.
 
Indeed, according to a recent study by the Centre for Cities think tank, Cambridge is the best place in Britain to live and work, beating more than 60 other locations, including London itself.

TAKE A TOUR: HOMES TO RENT IN CAMBRIDGE

 

Cambridge is also a distinctly commutable option. Trains from King’s Cross can take only 50 minutes which, as anyone who lives beyond Zone 3 will know, isn’t too bad.
 
An annual season ticket costs a painful £5,916, but this must be set against rents that seem like chicken feed compared with those in London. A typical four-bedroom house in Cambridge costs £1,634 a month to rent — a similar-size property in Camden Town, for example, would cost £5,925.
 
A typical two-bedroom flat rents for £1,153 a month, compared with £1,826 a month in Camden, according to the latest data from Zoopla. This means that even once train travel has been taken into account, living in Cambridge is cheaper than living in central-ish London.
 
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£2,000 a month: a five-bedroom house in Long Road, Trumpington

For families
The first of two prime areas that families should consider is the Kite — a network of streets close to Cambridge University Botanic Garden that is ideal for those wanting to be near the station and the city centre. It has good-quality Victorian terrace houses — expect to pay from £2,500 to £3,000 a month in rent for a three- to four-bedroom house, and from £3,500 to £4,500 for a four- to five-bedroom property.
 
Schools in Cambridge are another plus-point for families, and the Kite is close to many of the city’s private schools, as well as some good state schools, including St Matthew’s Primary and St Alban’s Catholic Primary, both rated outstanding by Oftsted, and Parkside Community College — for seniors — rated good.
 
The area has good shops, pubs and restaurants along Hills Road and Mill Road, and it is close to plenty of green space, including the lovely Lammas Land.
 
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£2,100 a month: this extended three-bedroom terrace house with an added loft conversion and glass-walled breakfast room, in sought-after Newnham

For urban villagers
Those wanting more of an urban village feel can head to Newnham, beside Grantchester Meadows, to the south-west of the city centre.
 
The village has a good array of shops and pubs, and properties are similar in style and price to the Kite.
 
Local schools include Newnham Croft Primary, rated good with outstanding features by Ofsted, while seniors go to Parkside Community College. “It is a beautiful, leafy, affluent area, which people seem to love,” says Bidwells’ Andrew Tucker.
 
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£1,400 a month: a two-bedroom cottage in the city’s Devonshire Road

Closer to the city centre, there is a choice of new-build developments coming on to the market, in addition to period houses.
 
Will Redmayne, head of lettings at Redmayne Arnold & Harris, says the Victorian workers’ cottages around Mill Road, which runs south-east from the city centre towards the station, are hugely popular with people leaving London for Cambridge.
 
“It used to be very run-down, but it has improved a lot and has been voted one of the best high streets in the country,” he said. “It has got a bit of a London feel, with some nice one-off shops, while trendy-looking restaurants have opened up.”
 
A two-bedroom house in this area is typically available for rent at £1,200 to £1,300 a month.

New-build boom
Cambridge has recently seen an explosion of new-build development and prices tend to be a little higher than for period property. “We have a lot of people coming from overseas and they want a modern property, which pushes prices up,” explains Redmayne.
 
Prime developments include CB1, right beside the station, The Marque, and Kaleidoscope. Two-bedroom flats rent for between £1,350 and £1,650 a month.

 
Cambridge: the lowdown
House prices:
the average property price in Cambridge is £347,354, which is 56.4 per cent above the low point of the market in 2009, and 29.7 per cent above the 2007 peak.
 
Price growth: year on year, house prices in Cambridge have increased by 7.4 per cent.
 
Education: there are fee-paying schools aplenty, but the state options are more mixed than you might expect for a city with such a reputation for higher education. Picks include St Alban’s Catholic Primary School and St Bede’s Inter-Church School (seniors), both rated outstanding by Ofsted.
 
Population: 123,900, up more than 13 per cent since 2001.
 
Events: Cambridge is home to at least a dozen annual festivals, from dragon boat racing to literature, and from science to film.
 
Nightlife: there are more than 500 licensed premises within the city.
 
Crime: levels are higher than average, at 84.28 offences per 1,000 head of population — but almost a quarter of offences in the city are related to bicycle theft.
 
Source: Hometrack; Ofsted; 2011 Census

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