Milton Keynes is best known for a style of architecture that sharply divides opinion, but even those who hate its brutalist appearance acknowledge that its connectivity makes it the envy of most other parts of the UK.
MK, as it is known to locals, sits midway between London and Birmingham and between Oxford and Cambridge, making it perfect for distribution centres and other organisations reliant on road and rail travel. One train company has reduced the journey from Milton Keynes Central to London Euston to just 35 minutes.
There are three junctions of the M1 near the town, even if few residents drive the 55-mile, 90-minute journey into central London on a daily basis.
Yet despite the popularity of the town’s train services among daily commuters, most high-end buyers choose to live up to 20 miles from MK’s main station. This is a symbol of how this urban sprawl of more than 30 square miles, designed in the 1960s as a spillover new town to relieve London’s housing congestion, is something of a curate’s egg.
Compared with older UK towns and cities, MK is easy to drive through and benefits from spacious and low-cost, ground-level parking close to shops, offices, homes and public transport hubs. The population of about 230,000 enjoys carefully planned open space and fields, highly manicured with lakes and the occasional preserved period building. To describe the town as a “concrete jungle”, as so many people do, is inaccurate.
The housing, however, is a less comfortable mix. The oldest homes in the town centre, built almost 50 years ago, are predominantly low-rise apartments in a grid system appropriate for a time when the car was king. More recent estates on the fringe include a large proportion of houses plus apartments in taller blocks, with buildings fronting the pavements in line with planning guidelines of the past 15 years. The newest housing is in less formulaic patterns and while roads are still spacious they include bus lanes and are not in a grid.
Even so, most affluent buyers seeking larger traditional houses in locations with more character will head to nearby villages.
“The closest and most highly priced are to the south, such as Woburn Sands and Aspley Guise. For a less commuter-belt feel, head west for 20 minutes to Winslow and Buckingham – prices are cheaper as the commute is more onerous,” says Rachel Johnston of Stacks Property Search and Acquisition, a buying agency.
About 11 miles south of MK’s central station is The School House, a four-bedroom Georgian house with a courtyard garden, on sale for £895,000 with Jackson-Stops & Staff.
Nine miles west of central MK is The Old Latin School at Beachampton, a mid-17th-century house with 3,500 sq ft of internal space, including five bedrooms, 3.2 acres of land, on sale for £1.35m through Knight Frank.
A few buyers head over the border into Northamptonshire where property is about 20 per cent cheaper than in Buckinghamshire. On the MK side of market towns such as Towcester and Alderton – about 25 minutes from MK station – a five-bedroom house with a paddock or large garden will cost about £1m.
Sholebrook Lodge, a 10-bedroom 19th-century country house with 9,500 sq ft of internal space and 30 acres, is located near Towcester, 13 miles from MK. It is being marketed by Knight Frank and Savills, priced at £4.25m.
Some of these villages contain classic properties sought by high-end buyers moving from London in search of more space, better value and good education. “They look for a statement house such as an old rectory, manor or farmhouse, finished to a high specification with grounds of up to two acres and possibly equestrian facilities” says Nicky Quentel of Savills. There are also modern houses in these villages, too, some of which are rented by overseas executives working for companies based in MK including Coca-Cola, Suzuki and BP.
Buyers’ and renters’ choices are determined not just by transport needs but by access to good schools. Stowe, Rugby, Oundle and Uppingham are all private schools within an hour’s drive of MK.
Property prices in the area are 7.6 per cent higher than a year ago, according to property website Zoopla, while new-build homes – which were selling poorly during the downturn – are more popular again. For example, five houses built by Kebbell Homes in the Maryland development, 10 miles from central MK in Woburn, were sold off-plan earlier this year for between £950,000 and £1.69m.
Milton Keynes Council recently agreed to add another 5,000 new homes to the 28,000 it has already approved to be built within the next decade, resuscitating a longstanding plan to dramatically expand the town’s population and continue its historic role as a spillover destination for Londoners.
Now the town has received another fillip by being touted as the template for a new garden city proposed by the UK government 80 miles south of MK in Ebbsfleet in Kent.
In the 1960s some planners believed that one day every urban centre would become a little like MK. The fact that, until now, nowhere else has followed its example may be down to widespread dislike of the town’s order and uniformity. And yet it is these same qualities that have made MK so popular among its many admirers.
● 902 crimes were reported in Milton Keynes in January, mostly involving antisocial behaviour and thefts
● Some villages are close to the M1
● Up to six trains an hour to and from London at peak times
● The population is scheduled to grow to 300,000 within a decade
What you can buy for ...
£500,000 A four-bedroom, detached house, 10 miles from central MK
£1m A 3,500 sq ft modern, detached house in a nearby village
£2m A large, five-bedroom Georgian house in sought-after Aspley Guise