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The Peak District covers 550 square miles of northern England and is surrounded by several of the north’s biggest conurbations: Manchester, Sheffield and Stoke-on-Trent. The district is mostly in Derbyshire, but stretches into Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Staffordshire and Yorkshire. Despite this, the park itself is largely open space, consisting of hills and escarpments up to 2,200ft above sea level.
Its status as a national park (Britain’s first following its designation in 1951) means there are planning restrictions to deter insensitive designs for new or refurbished homes. But for the 38,000 people who already live there – making it one of the least densely populated parts of the UK – the area is as unspoilt as almost any part of rural England. Even so, much of the district’s property market has endured a slow year, serving as a reminder that the recovery has not yet extended to the entire country.
Most people live in modest but high-value houses in highly attractive and well-preserved small towns and villages like Bakewell, Hathersage Castleton and Matlock Bath. In these locations three-bedroom, terraced houses can cost up to £400,000.
Larger houses and estates can be found on the edge of villages and towns, such as Bubnell Hall, a 17th-century, 11-bedroom house set in three acres of land with four garages and outbuildings, including an “entertainment barn”. The property is four miles from Bakewell and is on sale for £2.95m through Caudwell & Co and Strutt & Parker.
At the southern tip of the district, just north of the town of Ashbourne, sits The Green Hall. This is a nine-bedroom house believed to date back to the 15th century, with 70 acres of grounds including landscaped gardens and a green. It is priced at £2m with Knight Frank.
Grand houses like these appear relatively good value. They are 160 miles north of London and would cost 50 to 100 per cent more if they were within commuting distance of the capital.
“Supply has been low and demand hasn’t generally increased this year. Funds are limited. There are a few £1m-plus houses which have remained on the market for some time,” says Chris Charlton of Savills estate agency. He says that high-end buyers generally come from three main sources: Peak District residents moving within the national park, those from nearby urban centres like Nottingham, and occasional buyers from London or overseas.
A deterrent for some buyers is the high number of tourists. Park authorities estimate that the district receives 10m visitors annually, with walking and hiking popular throughout the year, plus the attraction of new cycle routes and artisan food festivals.
Discerning property purchasers, therefore, target less well-known spots like the village of Eyam, which has several large houses that have sold to high-end buyers in recent years. “It’s not a tourist trap and is within commutable distance of Sheffield and Manchester, which is a key consideration,” says Crispin Harris of Jackson-Stops & Staff, another estate agency.
There has also been a slowdown this year in holiday-home purchases by Britons, which typically involve small stone and slate cottages costing up to £500,000 and located in more remote areas of the national park, hitherto popular with London buyers. “Historically some people bought second homes to enjoy holiday letting income but there’s been a depression with buyers selling to free-up assets,” says Harris.
His agency is marketing a 17th-century, three-bedroom house with 360-degree views of the Peak District, in six acres of land. The property, which also has previously-agreed planning consent to convert a two-storey barn into holiday accommodation, is priced at £1.15m.
Despite the sluggish market, interest from overseas has been stronger than many local agents say they have experienced for some years, with inquiries reported from potential buyers in Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai.
One difficulty that international investors face is access: Bakewell, one of the Peak District’s better connected towns, is a three-hour drive from Heathrow and more than an hour from Manchester airport.
Another drawback for foreign buyers, who traditionally prefer modern property, is the absence of new homes, largely due to the park’s strict building controls. These are much more draconian than those that exist outside its boundaries and include recommendations that house owners should consult the park authorities even when undertaking minor work such as digging a pond in a field or employing a builder.
The park authority has stoutly rejected requests to install wind turbines in the Peak District and is now applying to the UK government to be exempted from new nationwide planning regulations, which would allow farm buildings to be converted to housing, often without requiring planning permission.
“Traditional farm buildings are an integral part of the landscape and heritage, which we and other national park authorities were set up to conserve,” says Tony Favell, chairman of the Peak District National Park Authority.
Although new-build homes are allowed in special circumstances, strict rules on designs and the sourcing, type and appearance of materials mean usually only high-value properties see the light of day.
Frustrating as that may be to developers and estate agents, it adds to the natural quality of the area. It also means that in an age of population growth and homogenous housing, the Peak District remains distinct and desirable – and high-priced.
● There are 18,368 homes in the Peak District National Park; 43 per cent are detached houses and 6.5 per cent are apartments
● About 15 per cent of households are made up of residents aged 65 or over
● There were 37.6 incidents of crime per 1,000 people in 2012, down from 42.4 incidents in 2011
● Average summer temperatures are about 19C, but during the winter it can remain below 0C all day
What your can buy for . . .
£1m A period four-bedroom detached house with a large garden
£2m A period house with five bedrooms and 20-plus acres of land
£3.5m A rarely available estate consisting of a farmhouse, cottages for letting and up to 75 acres