High Speed Rail helps housing market’s success

HS1, the UK’s only domestic high-speed rail service, is celebrating its 10th anniversary – and for rapidly-expanding Ashford, the 140mph train service has transformed its appeal as a place to live.

HS1 slashed journey times from Ashford International to London St Pancras by more than half to just 38 minutes when it launched in November 2007, boosting the Kent town’s appeal for home buyers who worked in London but craved more space, more affordability and access to the countryside. Today house prices in Ashford are on average 34% lower than Greater London.

Ashford has risen to the challenge, with a forward-thinking local authority keen to fast-track quality housing development, complemented by improved employment, educational and recreational opportunities. In just a decade, local estate agents have seen the district blossom into one of the South East’s residential relocation hotspots, and one of the few bucking this year’s regional trend of stagnating property prices.

Alex Davies, Managing Director of Hobbs Parker Estate Agents, said: “The arrival of HS1 has underpinned the local property market for the past 10 years and its impact can be seen for 15 miles around Ashford. We no longer have to convince people about the merits of Ashford, it now sells itself!”

He said: “In the past the area has appealed to older, professional families attracted by period country homes and good schools. Now we’re seeing younger couples coming in, buying apartments and pretty cottages.

“Most commuters are looking for journey times into London of no more than 45 minutes, which means Ashford is now seen as a regular commuter option with the added bonus of opening up less populous parts of the Kent countryside.

“Buyers recognise that living around Ashford can afford them more space and the chance of moving somewhere with a lot of future promise, as well as gaining them proximity to the coast, countryside and other transport links.”

Kevin Hall, a Director with Martin & Co, Ashford, agreed:

“Thankfully Ashford benefits from a forward-thinking local council, able to fast-track development to ensure demand for residential and commercial land is met.

“Property owners have seen rising prices, despite the additional housing, with typical increases of 50% to 60% since 2012 and rents for the average two-bedroomed home increasing by 20%. Indeed, despite a slow down in house price growth generally in the South East and London since the announcement of Brexit, there has been no abatement in the demand within Ashford. In fact, we are having record months for sales.”

Paul Sharp, Associate Director of Warner Gray independent estate agents, based in Tenterden, said many of the professional families moving to the area had previously been renting in London or North Kent.

“Since 2007 and HS1, the Ashford district has reinvented itself and is firmly on the map when it comes to property,” he said. “As an estate agent with 24 years experience it has been evident that when large sums of money are invested in a town, this has had a direct and positive impact upon house prices, job opportunities and always brings major retail stores and leisure brands to the area, not to mention schooling as well.”

Cllr Gerry Clarkson, Leader of Ashford Borough Council, said high-speed services had given Ashford’s commuters “two hours of their life back every day” to enjoy the benefits of a thriving, family-friendly town surrounded by beautiful countryside.

He’s quick to dispel any thought that Ashford is just a commuter town – it has been voted Kent’s number one business location, with 66 hectares of employment land and the creation of more than 11,000 new jobs included in the Local Plan.

Employers are flocking to Ashford, with huge investment in new retail, leisure and business facilities. Indeed the borough council is funding the construction of the town centre cinema complex at Elwick Place and contributed £3m to bring forward the opening of the £26m Ashford College, which opened its doors to 1,000 students in September.

New homes, built to exacting space and quality standards agreed with the council, are springing up to meet demand, in town centre and rural locations. Crest Nicholson scooped a Sunday Times award last month for its Finberry development of 1,100 homes, while around 13,000 people will live in the Garden Town of Chilmington Green once it is completed.

Work starts soon on a lakeside development of 300 homes at Conningbrook, while 1,000 apartments and houses are to be built in Victoria Way, just a short walk from Ashford International and its fast rail links to the capital and to Europe via Eurostar.