The Chalfonts, a trio of villages within London’s commuter belt, are perfect for buyers seeking a traditional slice of England – at least they seem that way at first sight.
Red-brick houses sit behind tall hedges on leafy lanes, interspersed with timber-fronted pubs, quaint shops and thriving cafés.
Only the local newspaper poster displayed in several windows – “Call To All Readers: Join The Fight” – hints at something amiss. For the Chalfonts, about 25 miles northwest of central London, are now in the eye of a giant planning storm.
The area, with its population of about 25,000 in Chalfont St Peter, Little Chalfont and Chalfont St Giles, is on the route of Britain’s High Speed 2 rail link. The highly controversial £50bn line is scheduled to run initially between London and Birmingham, eventually extending further north to Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds.
St Peter and St Giles in particular are close to the mouth of a proposed tunnel as the line enters and exits the Chilterns, a swath of chalk hills officially designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty. Construction on HS2 is due to begin in 2017 and will continue until 2026.
It sounds enough to kill any housing market stone dead. But against the odds the controversy has not yet deterred those wishing to move to the Chalfonts, according to Tracy Kellett of buying agency BDI Home Finders.
“It’s raised the Not In My Back Yard hackles of the existing population but it’s not causing disquiet with buyers who are overwhelmingly from west London . . . Interest isn’t waning,” she says.
The Chalfonts are in Buckinghamshire, one of the few counties in England to retain the academically-oriented grammar school system. Dr Challoner’s Grammar School for boys, Dr Challoner’s High School for girls and Chesham Grammar School are three highly respected state schools that attract families to the area.
The villages have excellent transport and communications. They are near the M25, M40, M1 and M4 motorways, making them under an hour’s drive from central London and just 30 minutes from Heathrow airport. There is also a 40-minute overground train to London’s Marylebone station and a Metropolitan Line underground service to the City.
“Very few villages offer this choice. We have London buyers heading to Buckinghamshire keen on a ‘country’ life but knowing they need to get to their desks by 7am. The Chalfonts sit in this magical one-hour commuting band,” says William Furniss of Knight Frank. He points out that one sale this year went for 25 per cent above the asking price.
Chalfont St Giles is the most sought-after village with larger properties and the closest proximity to transport links. The average sale price in the past year was £783,310, according to website Zoopla, compared with St Peter on £565,037 and Little Chalfont on £460,883.
Hamptons International is selling a six-bedroom house in St Giles with 6,200 sq ft of internal space although only a modest 0.6 acre of grounds for £2.49m. Nearby is a four-bedroom listed 17th century house with 25 acres of grounds, including a lake, on sale through Savills for £2.75m.
In Chalfont St Peter, a seven-bedroom house built on the private Chalfont Heights estate in 2006 is being marketed by the Frost Partnership for £2.15m, while on the same estate a five-bedroom house with two studies, an annexe and just over a third of an acre is on for £1.25m via Hamptons International.
Savills says that despite the threat posed by HS2, demand for homes in the Chalfonts has doubled during 2013 with an increasing number of inquiries from London residents. “We’ve seen demand surge for properties in the £600,000 to £1.25m bracket, where prices have gone up around 10 per cent in the past year,” says spokesman Nick Pounce. Although the attraction of higher-priced houses has been hit by increased stamp duty on £2m-plus homes, he says, “every now and then we get second-home buyers for the very prime properties in excess of £4m on the edge of the villages.”
The rarity of high-end, new-build homes and the old-fashioned nature of the Chalfonts means that, despite the good transport links, there are surprisingly few international buyers. However, there is a large overseas element to the villages’ strong rental market. “Chalfont St Peter is particularly popular with international tenants as the ACS international school in Hillingdon offers a door-to-door pick-up service,” says Claire Pincott, Savills’ local lettings manager. “There’s also good demand from overseas tenants relocating to work at the large oil and pharmaceutical companies nearby.”
“Many other renters come from London and want to know the area before committing to a purchase or to ensure the children settle at school,” says Pincott. The highest demand is for family houses – a four-bedroom property lets for between £2,000 and £4,000 per month.
These high rental and sales values appear to be resilient, despite HS2. This may be down to the uncertainty surrounding the project, with political arguments about the merits of the line continuing, and all-party support appearing to be weakening.
People already living in the Chalfonts, however, are alert to the potential pitfalls ahead. One woman in a newsagents says of the HS2 line: “It’s likely to run underneath my back garden – think of what that’s going to do for the value of my house.”
● Savills predicts that average property prices in the Chalfonts will rise 20 per cent by 2018
● 28 per cent of the population are aged 60 or above, and only 3 per cent are students
● Almost 42 per cent of households have an income of £50,000-plus
What you can buy for . . .
£500,000 A three-bedroom semi-detached house in Little Chalfont
£1m A five-bedroom house on a private estate in Chalfont St Peter
£3m A seven-bedroom mansion with at least 20 acres of land in Chalfont St Giles