In this series of articles we will be looking at those commuter towns in Essex, where properties are arguably affordable for the average working family. In Part 1 we focus on Basildon, Harlow, Braintree and Colchester.
Lying 32 miles east of Central London, Basildon has been hailed as the South East’s most affordable and value for money commuter town. Built as a new town after the Second World War, the majority of houses in Basildon are ex-local authority, it is this that enables Basildon properties to be so affordable.
With an average house price of £205,844, a train journey time to Fenchurch Street of 35 minutes with a direct road link to the City of London via the A127 and A13, Basildon is increasingly becoming a first choice for house buyers and investors alike, but with property prices rising 20% year-on-year, time is definitely of the essence when looking to buy in Basildon.
Basildon is now over 50 years old and rapidly losing its “new town” persona, as its rapid growth changes its nature from a relatively quiet low crime atmosphere to a strong Metropolitan feel, with a multi-million pound town centre makeover. Recent regeneration projects in Basildon, include a new “Sporting Village”, the creation of a health and education research centre near Basildon and Thurrock University Hospital, Investment in the “Basildon Enterprise Corridor” and the creation of a new wetland nature reserve in the Thames Marshes.
Another “Newtown”, Harlow was another post-war solution to the ravages suffered by London during the second World War. Like Basildon, a large proportion of the property in Harlow is either local authority or ex-local authority. One of the first new towns to be built under the New Towns Act 1946 to the masterplan by Sir Frederick Gibberd, Harlow boasted the first pedestrian precinct in Britain and the first modern style residential tower block.
With an average house price of £252,833, a travel time to London of around thirty-five minutes, Harlow ranks high in the league table of most popular commuter towns to London. There are two train stations that have regular services into the city as well as a bus service that connects directly with the London Tube system. Harlow offers a great quality of life with four cricket clubs, a rugby club, leisure and sports centre, together with a number of country parks.
With an average house price of £262,000-£340,000, and a slightly longer commute time of sixty-five minutes to Liverpool Street, Braintree, in North Essex, still ranks in the Essex league table of sought-after commuter towns. As well as being a relatively convenient base for city workers, Braintree also offers a wide range of recreational and leisure facilities for families in the form of “The Great Notley Country Park” and “Discovery Centre”, The Flitch Way walking, cycling and horse riding route, The old Bishops Stortford to Braintree railway line, and another Country Park of Cressing Temple-based in the nearby village of Cressing.
Braintree offers a mix of new and relatively recent homes with the surrounding villages, offering historic homes spanning mediaeval to Georgian periods with a mixture of cottages, farmhouses and converted barns. Sought-after new developments in Braintree include Great Notley Garden Village and Kings Park Village with most buy to let investors focusing close to Braintree station, aiming to attract young professional city workers and young families.
70 miles from London by road, commuters can find themselves in Liverpool Street within an hour using the fast train links from Colchester. Famous for being an army garrison town, Colchester is one of several towns laying claim to being Britain’s oldest town. Colchester is one of the country’s fastest-growing towns with major developments in its centre, along its old Port area of Hythe and on its northern and eastern outskirts.
Properties in Colchester are a mixture of Mediaeval, Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian and later with the Lexden area of the town, having a mix of Regency Georgian and Victorian properties, with examples of a five bedroom 1920s house selling for £1.17 million and early Victorian semi-detached villa for £950,000. Close to Lexden are streets of semi-detached Victorian houses selling for around £250,000.
Over the last year, flats in Colchester sold for an average of £129,000, semi-detached properties £213,000 giving an overall property price of £198,000, amounting to an overall house price rise of 5%.
Colchester has two state grammar schools being Colchester Royal Grammar and Colchester County high which were both judged “outstanding” by Ofsted, and are amongst the highest achieving schools in the country for A-level results.
Colchester benefits from several parks including the historic Castle Park in the centre of town and High Woods Country Park to the north. Colchester is considered to be the cultural centre of Essex with the Castle Museum, the Hollytrees Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Minories art gallery.
With the majority of house prices in London now out of the reach of the average working family, more and more house buyers and property investors are looking to the commuter towns surrounding London which offer more affordable housing within a reasonable commute of London. For those who work in London, purchasing a house in a commuter town is a necessity, whilst for property investors it is an opportunity as the “ripple effect” sees the biggest rise in property values, occurring within the commuter towns compared to anywhere else in England and Wales.
In this series of articles we will be looking at those commuter towns in Essex where properties are arguably affordable for the average working family. In Part 2 we are focusing on Southend, Brentwood, Thurrock and Chelmsford.
In 2013, Southend-on-Sea recorded the biggest rise in house prices in the country, of 15%. Southend-on-Sea has three railway stations which offer a commute into London’s Fenchurch Street and Liverpool Street in around forty minutes. In addition to excellent railway connections to London, Southend boasts an airport, renamed “London Southend”. Taken over by Eddie Stobart in 2008, London Southend airport and given a £100 million makeover and has been voted as the best airport in Europe by EasyJet with direct flights to Spain, Paris, Germany, the Balearics, the South of France and Portuga,l all within easy reach. European funding of a £300 million regeneration scheme for the town centre and seafront came as an added boost to the town.
Southend is steadily moving up the social ladder with a new campus for Essex University, being introduced to the town centre in 2012 and high performing grammar schools. Southend boasts four grammar schools and five private schools with the majority of the State schools achieving the Ofsted status of “outstanding”.
Property in Southend is predominantly Victorian consisting of three and four-bedroom terraced houses costing a third of the price of similar properties in London’s inner boroughs. Additionally there are the architecturally fine areas such as Clifftown conservation area. Properties in the Thorpe Bay area consist largely of detached and semi-detached Edwardian and 1920s properties. Leigh on Sea a more fashionable part of Southend with independent shops and cafes is quickly becoming a magnet for young metropolitan families from London.
Properties on the Thorpe Esplanade go for over £1 million, with properties in Bay Gardens in the Burges Estate in Thorpe Bay selling for between £600,000 and £700,000, properties in Clifftown conservation area selling for between £305,000 and £500,000. Looking at Southend as a whole, the average property prices range from £135,000 for a flat, £238,000 for a semi detached property, £199,000 price terraced properties giving an overall average price of £215,000 with house prices rising by 6% in the last year.
With 7 miles of coastal walks and the Southend Pier with the £300 million cultural centre, Southend also has theatres, cinemas, swimming pools, and leisure centres along with two shopping centres.
20 miles north-east of Charing Cross, Brentford has seen a 25% rise in property prices in the last year, with the average house price being £417,000. A major factor in the rise in property prices in Brentford is Crossrail, which is due to start operating in 2019, which will terminate around the Brentwood suburb of Shenfield. Brentwood is already popular with city commuters, because of its fast rail connection to Liverpool Street, however the new crossrail connection will reduce the commute time to 40 minutes to Liverpool Street and 50 minutes to Tottenham Court Road or Bond Street. As well as good train connections, Brentwood sits at junction 28 of the M25.
Surrounded by rolling countryside, Brentwood is where the Roman road from London to Colchester across the pilgrim routes from the Midlands and East Anglia to Canterbury, steeped in history with its 13th century chapel built in the memory of Thomas Becket, and a preponderance of mediaeval buildings in the high Street, Brentwood is renowned for its. Independent shops with farmers markets and craft markets. Along with convenient town living, Brentwood also is within walking distance of fields, woods and lakes in Thorndon Park. A prosperous town, Ford and British Telecom are amongst the main employers.
Another attraction of Brentwood for property investors are the schools in Brentwood including the private Brentwood School and a considerable number of State schools which have been rated as “outstanding” by Ofsted.
As one of the more affluent towns in Essex Brentwood, 80% of homes in Brentwood are owner occupied with the majority of properties having been built since 1945. Victorian properties and cottages are prominent in areas near Brentwood station and the conservation area of Ingatestone. The suburbs of Hutton and Shenfield are quiet suburban areas with 1920s houses and larger detached properties, whilst the town centre has town houses and flats in gated mews. Hutton Mount boasts properties ranging from £1 million and £5 million and is a highly sought-after area. The Tor Bryan estate in Ingatestone, close to the station consists of largely 1960s detached and semi-detached houses and bungalows, going for around £390,000 for three-bedroom and between £500,000 and £550,000 for four-bedroom detached house.
The borough of Thurrock is widely considered to be the most popular destination for people moving out of London with a 35 minute commute to Fenchurch Street. More than half of the area in Thurrock is designated as greenbelt, with an average property price of just under £190,000. The architecture of properties in the town of Grays in Thurrock, consists largely of properties built in the 1900s and 1930s (though there are a few modern developments) with three-bedroom houses starting at around £200,000, and two-bedroom flats around £135,000. The village of Orsett in Thurrock has a more parochial feel, a two-bedroom period cottage could cost about £275,000 with a three bedroomed house costing around £300,000-£350,000.
Big attractions in Thurrock include the Lakeside shopping centre, the Thameside Theatre, Chalford Gorges Nature Park, Langdon Hills Country Park and Grove House Wood.
Chelmsford is a 30 minute commute to Liverpool Street and has a rural atmosphere with pretty surrounding villages and good schools. Having acquired city status in 2012, Chelmsford is experiencing a big boost in housebuilding and town centre regeneration. Chelmsford was also the site of the first Marconi factory in 1899, it was from new Street that Britain’s first radio programmes were broadcast in 1920 being two years before the formation of the BBC.
House prices in Chelmsford over the past 12 months averaged £238,465 being a rise of 10% on 2014 (terraced properties averaging £250,000, semi-detached properties £300,000 and flats £167,000). In the centre of Chelmsford there are new waterside flats overlooking the River Can and River Chelmer, the Blackwater Canal with roads of Victorian two and three-bedroom terraced houses selling for between £180,000-£220,000. Over the past 40 years Chelmsford has expanded with Chelmer Village (to the south-east) being developed in the 1970s and 1980s with four-bedroom detached houses currently selling for around £350,000-£450,000. Chancellor Park (to the East) grew up in the 1990s with houses selling for an average £10,000 more than in the rest of Chelmsford. In 2000 Beaulieu Park was developed and is currently one of the more exclusive parts of Chelmsford with four-bedroom detached houses selling for between £500,000 and £800,000.
Chelmsford state schools are generally graded as “good” by Ofsted with one or two achieving “outstanding”.
Chelmsford has two shopping centres, the High Chelmer and the Meadows, together with a High Street with all the mainstream retailers and a good choice of restaurants. Chelmsford benefits from a full range of recreational facilities: There are two parks in the town centre being Central Park and Highlands Park, together with good riverside walks, cycle lanes and three swimming pools, an ice rink and several golf courses.