Blink and you would probably miss the tiny town of Arlesey, famous for its bricks from five factories until their closure in 1992, and now with a claim to fame as the most popular commuter choice in Bedfordshire.
New analysis by Savills of the county’s commuter options — with rush-hour journeys to London of under an hour — finds Arlesey property prices have soared 48 per cent in the last five years to an average of just over £313,000.
Reputed to have the longest high street in Britain, with roads spiking off it, the town is best described as “long and thin”, says estate agent Steve Bunney, branch manager of Country Properties. “There is no real defined centre to it.”
Arlesey’s success lies in its house prices compared not only to London, but also to nearby Hitchin, and its convenience. A rush-hour commute to King’s Cross takes just under 40 minutes, and an annual season ticket costs £4,000.
Its Victorian houses were built from pale, clay-heavy local bricks. A two-bedroom cottage would cost about £250,000, while a three-bedroom house built in the Eighties or Nineties would cost £325,000 to £350,000.
And while light on amenities Arlesey is large enough to have two schools, Gothic Mede Academy for primary age, and Etonbury Academy, for seniors, both rated “good” by Ofsted.
Another option is the satellite village of Henlow. “It is really picturesque,” says Steve Bunney. “I think it is the most desirable village in the area and it is close to the train station.”
Henlow has a huge mix of property. Budget £375,000 to £400,000 for a modern three-bedroom house to £650,000 for a barn or farmhouse.
Today’s research suggests small town living is in vogue because Sandy, a mini market town between Cambridge and Bedford, has also performed strongly over the last five years, with price growth of 42 per cent to an average of just under £234,000.
Matthew Drew, office manager of Kennedy & Co estate agents, says part of the reason for the price growth is the lack of property for sale, and Sandy’s good commuter links. Anything that comes on the market gets snapped up, while a rush-hour journey from Sandy to King’s Cross takes 48 minutes, and an annual season ticket costs £4,528.
Parents have plenty of choice when it comes to schools, as standards in Bedfordshire are routinely high. Sandy Upper School, Potton Middle School and Sandye Place Academy are all rated “good” by Ofsted. For younger pupils, Wrestlingworth CofE VC Lower School and Everton Lower School are “outstanding”.
Adding to the appeal, Sandy is set in pretty countryside — the Sand Hills — with the River Ivel running through town. In terms of value, you get more for your money than in nearby commuter towns in more affluent Hertfordshire, such as Hitchin and Letchworth.
Period homes are few and far between in Sandy, and the most popular option is a home on one of the leafy private post-war estates, often in quiet no-through roads and with good-size gardens. An average four-bedroom detached family home on a street such as The Avenue or Swansholme Gardens would cost about £425,000.
On the downside Sandy is quiet, some would say dull, light on amenities beyond a few basic shops, restaurants and pubs. For more choice — and a posh dinner — locals head to the picturesque nearby town of Bedford on the River Great Ouse, about 10 miles away.
Bedford house prices are half those in London, and it’s a 40-minute train journey to St Pancras. Merchant Square is part of Riverside North, a town centre development bringing new restaurants, bars, a cinema, hotel and beautifully landscaped square, a 10-minute walk from the station. Here 46 spacious, light flats and penthouses have uninterrupted views of the river. From £199,000, with two-bedroom homes from £299,000. Call 0121 212 2459.
Bedfordshire’s larger commuter towns have seen slow growth since 2012. Leighton Buzzard won’t set the world alight but prices are up — just 25 per cent. However, the Luton suburb of Leagrave has seen price growth of 41 per cent as buyers flock to pick up its reasonably priced contemporary homes. The average property price in Leagrave is about £214,000.
Along with affordable homes, the secrets of its success are the other two key ingredients commuters crave: good schools and a painless commute. Leagrave to St Pancras International takes just 36 minutes, and an annual season ticket costs £4,032, while Leagrave Primary School and The Chalk Hills Academy, for seniors, get “good” Ofsted reports.