The coronavirus pandemic has led to more people working remotely in 2020, and as we found in our recent blog post, the demand for home office space is high on the agenda for prospective house buyers. While this may be true, Avison Young’s UK Cities Recovery Index has found that despite the government’s recent encouragement of people working from home, the number of people returning to the office has remained stable.
The Return to Office Index is calculated on a scale of 0-100, with 0 being no return and 100 representing pre-lockdown levels of people in offices. As of 11 October, London has stabilised at 58.2 following a gradual increase since May, which shows that there is an appetite among workers to work from the office and as we emerge out of the pandemic, this is likely to continue to increase further.
With this in mind, as well as the provision of a home office, it is still important to consider proximity and travel connections to London when buying property. Commuter belts are a great investment not just for connectivity, but also for the associated regeneration in those areas, maintained demand and the consistent appreciation in property prices.
Below, we have identified three commuter hubs – Peterborough, Ashford and Reading, which we have recognised as strong investment locations and outlined what they have to offer.
Cambridgeshire’s cathedral city of Peterborough has a lot to offer as a place to live with historic buildings and architecture, as well as strong retail and leisure facilities. Real estate firm, CBRE, recently conducted research which compared the house prices, season tickets and journey time to London of nearly 150 locations. Peterborough was top of the list of least expensive commuter towns, which shows the relative affordability of the city despite only being 46 minutes away from Kings Cross by train. Network Rail also recently confirmed the £1.2 billion East Coast Main Line upgrade, which is set to be complete by 2024.
The landscape of Peterborough is rapidly changing thanks to several major regeneration projects totalling an investment of £600 million in the city centre alone. These developments include Nene Wharf and Fletton Quays, the extension of Queensgate Shopping Centre, North Westgate, the new ARU Peterborough university and Station Quarter, which will include a major redevelopment of the train station and surrounding area.
When balancing the city’s offering, regeneration plans, connectivity to London and residential affordability compared to other commuter hubs, Peterborough is a great prospect as a place to buy property outside of London.
Around 60 miles from central London, Ashford is one of the fastest growing towns in the South East. Known for having a proactive local authority, the town centre has undergone significant regeneration with the launch of the £75 million leisure hub at Elwick Place, the opening of Curious Brewery and the £90 million expansion of the Ashford Designer Outlet in the past couple of years alone.
The combination of its high-speed rail links, reaching London St Pancras in only 38 minutes by train, and the affordability of residential property has made it a popular home for commuters. The Ashford Property Market Report found that the average house price in Ashford was just under £332,000 at the end of 2019, which is lower than the Kent average of £350,000. That said, average residential value in the town is up 22% over the last five years, showing it is an attractive option for commuters and investors alike.
Well-established as Berkshire’s commuter hub, Reading has long been a popular destination for London workers to buy property outside of the expensive capital. Reaching London Paddington in 22 minutes by train, the upcoming launch of the Elizabeth line will increase the connectivity of the town further.
As a company, we chose Reading as our first investment location back in 2008 and it continues to deliver for us and our investors. For example, our latest development in the town, City Tower, achieved 50% capital growth between Q1 2013 and Q4 2015. With smart city ambitions, ongoing regeneration projects and convenient transport links, Reading continues to set the standard for commuter towns.
GRE Assets has residential developments in Peterborough, Ashford and Reading.