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The beauty of England’s Lake District has for centuries been recognised in poetry and literature, and its 885 sq mile national park is the most visited in the UK. Now that park, located in Cumbria, has been nominated for Unesco world heritage status, with a decision on the bid expected in 2017.
If the Lake District gets the nod – joining other UK world heritage sites such as Liverpool’s waterfront, the city of Bath, and the so-called Jurassic Coast in Dorset and east Devon – what impact might there be on the local housing market?
A recent report from the UK’s National Commission for Unesco found that the economic benefits of world heritage status “include regeneration and stimulation of new investment [and] house price rises”. One specific consequence is likely to be the arrival of more high-spending tourists, particularly from Asia.
There is already a hefty 18 per cent premium for homes within the boundary of a national park and an 8 per cent premium for properties within three miles of a park, according to research on housing in 10 of the UK’s national parks released by Nationwide Building Society last December. The average house price in the Lake District park stands at £253,000, says Nationwide.
David Benjamin, managing director of Fine & Country estate agency in the Lake District, doubts whether Unesco recognition will inflate house prices across the board in what is now a stable, if rather quiet, market.
“But if the Lake District secures world heritage status, the award could push up the prices of cottages and other houses suitable for holiday lets,” he says. “There has traditionally been a big demand for nice houses in attractive villages – whether inside or outside the boundary of the park – from people living within a couple of hours’ drive of the Lake District: Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and as far south as Cheshire. Then there is a big gap until you get to London and the southeast, with people often cashing in their high-value homes to buy into a quieter lifestyle here, sometimes working partly from home.”
An example of a property with rental earning potential is a four-bedroom, two-bathroom house at Loughrigg, a hamlet two miles west of Ambleside. The stone-built home has a traditional slate roof and has been run as a holiday let since 2008. It has a guide price of £500,000 through Michael CL Hodgson.
The prospect of larger numbers of big-spending tourists travelling outside school holidays might encourage more property owners in Lakeland to commit to the kind of investment that Stephen Hargreaves has made at the Hideout, a lavishly decorated, one-bedroom home on a quiet street in Bowness-on-Windermere that opened for holiday lets in April last year.
The Hideout’s pièce de résistance is a combined bathroom and screening room. “It has a Jacuzzi with underwater lighting and its own cocktail bar. Next to it there’s a big mirror that can be turned into a cinema screen. That room alone cost about £65,000 to design and kit out,” says Hargreaves.
The Cumbrian property market is fragmented. Some of the UK’s cheapest homes can be found in the industrial belt around Workington and Maryport in west Cumbria while holiday lets can prosper even if they are far from the M6 motorway or at the end of one of the narrow, winding country roads typical here.
But for high-end homes, the focal point is the town of Windermere and the adjacent lakeside settlement of Bowness (with a combined permanent population of about 12,000 people). The area has a large stock of comfortable detached houses with large gardens in the £1.5m to £3m price range. Some date from the end of the 19th century when – thanks to the opening of a railway station in Windermere – industrialists from the cities of northern England built homes (some inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement) on the east side of the lake, often with glorious views of the Lakeland fells across the water.
In a way, things haven’t changed: the attractiveness of the Lake District as a place to commute to London once or twice a week hinges on ease of access to the mainline stations at Oxenholme – serving Windermere and the south Lakes – which is two hours and 38 minutes from London Euston, or at Penrith, a pretty red-sandstone market town handy for Ullswater and the north Lakes (three hours journey from London).
A five-bedroom, late-Victorian stone-built house in Bowness with 190ft of lake frontage, a boathouse and private pier is available for £2.95m (through Fine & Country, again a guide price). The property has an oak staircase, billiards room and a basement that could be converted to accommodate a swimming pool.
Lake views and access carry a premium, however. In the village of Staveley, between Windermere and Kendal, a three-storey, eight-bedroom Edwardian home in 12 acres of wooded gardens and grounds, including paddocks, stables and a vegetable garden, is available for £1.19m through Carter Jonas. The house has some decorative stained-glass windows typical of the Arts and Crafts movement and has remained in the same family since it was built in 1905, according to the agent.
Over the past decade the Lake District has also gained a reputation as a foodie destination, especially the village of Cartmel, once best known for its racecourse, located five miles from the southern tip of Windermere (and just outside the national park’s boundary).
“It’s a magical medieval village in a beautiful setting,” says Simon Rogan, a Michelin-starred chef who runs three restaurants in Cartmel, including the celebrated L’Enclume.
Rogan, from Southampton, is due to take over the restaurant at Claridge’s hotel in London next month but plans to keep his home and farm just outside Cartmel. “The Lake District is a safe and unpolluted environment for bringing up a family,” he says.
● Seathwaite in the Lakes is the wettest place in England, with 3,552mm of rainfall a year on average
● 15 per cent of properties are holiday or second homes
● Visitors to the Lake District spent almost £1bn in 2012
● Just over 40,000 people live within the national park
What you can buy for . . .
£100,000 A one-bedroom apartment in a new development in Penrith
£1m A seven-bedroom, detached house in Glenridding
£5m A nine-bedroom house on a 14-acre estate with a coach house on the shore of Windermere