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The Berkshire market town of Newbury boasts an attractive centre, excellent links to London and proximity to some of southern England’s best schools. So why has demand for its finest homes dipped in recent years?
The answer is largely attributable to one company, according to Knight Frank’s Edward Cunningham. “In the late 1990s Vodafone moved its headquarters north of the town centre and became a driving force for demand for housing,” he says. “But with senior management moving back to London, demand for high-end property has diminished.”
Although the move of senior staff from Berkshire to London over the past three years has involved only 200 households – leaving 3,000 employees still based in Newbury, making it easily the largest employer in a town with a population of just 40,000 – the shift has nonetheless been enough to stifle growth in high-end house prices.
“We’re still below 2007 prices. Houses that have the ‘wow’ factor, with characteristics that drive price, could command more,” says Lucy Winfield of Strutt & Parker. This means that, for the moment at least, this small town and the scores of pretty villages within a 10-mile radius represent good value.
There are two direct rail links to the capital, a 45-minute service from Newbury to Paddington and another from Whitchurch, 13 miles south, to Waterloo lasting just over an hour. The M4 lies just to the north; the 60-mile drive into central London takes about 90 minutes, while the A4 and A34 connect with towns to the west and east.
What is thriving, agents say, is the market for homes priced from £1m to £2m – just below the values of the most expensive properties – while any rare equestrian estate that goes on sale is also popular. The town has some 20 studs within a short drive, plus a renowned racecourse. Estate agency Hamptons International estimates that equestrian facilities can add 20 per cent to a property’s value.
“Schools are also a significant draw, be they state or independent, so an easy school run is important” says Patrick Glynn-Jones of Savills. Independent schools include Horris Hill, St Gabriel’s, Cheam and Thorngrove while one of the strongest performing state schools is St Bartholemew’s.
Knight Frank is selling Nalder Hill House just northwest of Newbury at £2.95m. The main house needs work to restore its subdivided three apartments back into one home but there are three cottages included in the sale along with five acres. The firm is also marketing Frobury Farm, a 16th-century house and cottage with 17 acres near Kingsclere, eight miles from Newbury, for £2.65m.
Also popular with buyers moving from London, particularly downsizing 50-plus purchasers, are the villages of Ashampstead and Hampstead Norreys. Villages on the northwest of the Berkshire Downs like Brightwalton, Chaddleworth, Leckhampstead and those in the Lambourn Valley are also in demand. The driving force is their location on the edge of the rolling hills for which this area of southern England is renowned.
Indeed the countryside which surrounds Newbury – particularly to the east, where private estates protect the landscape against significant development – is one of the reasons why some buyers think it worth the extra 15 minutes by train or 30 minutes by car to live here rather than in better-connected Reading, a commuter town 20 miles closer to London.
But not every village is idyllic. “Thatcham and Woolhampton, which sit on the A4, and villages close to the M4 and A34 are less popular due to significant and constant road noise,” says Bobby Hall of The Buying Solution, Knight Frank’s buying division. Within Newbury itself, smaller properties predominate and prices are fairly modest. The average value here is £342,000, unchanged from a year ago, according to property site Zoopla.
There are many small Victorian terraced houses, ranging in price from £250,000 to £500,000, while larger three- and four-storey town houses (notably in the leafy Donnington Square conservation area) will go for £600,000 to £850,000, although such properties rarely come on to the market.
A short walk north of the centre, is Speen Manor, a five-bedroom, 18th-century house extensively modernised and extended with gated grounds, on sale with Carter Jonas for £875,000. South of the centre, Jones Robinson is marketing a 19th-century, four-bedroom house with a double garage and south-facing garden for £650,000.
The recent arrival of a John Lewis store and shopping mall has increased the attraction of homes within walking distance of the centre and have led to the development of small infill sites. The largest new-build scheme, however, is about one mile east of the centre, at the racecourse.
Some 1,500 homes will be built on the site purchased for £42m by volume builder David Wilson, part of Barratt Homes. The scheme – called Carruthers Court after the winner of the 2011 Hennessey Gold Cup at the course – consists of executive homes and apartments overlooking the course and priced up to £739,950.
These are perhaps unlikely to appeal to high-end buyers unless proximity to racing is key. For most families fleeing London, the classic combination of transport, schools and space will dictate what they buy and where. Newbury scores well for all three and has, for the moment, a fourth characteristic which is becoming increasingly rare: plain good value.
● There were 326 reported crimes in Newbury in November 2013, 40 per cent involving antisocial behaviour
● Homes and villages near the M4 suffer from significant road noise
● There are two mainline train services to London taking an hour or less, while driving takes 90 minutes
What you can buy for . . .
£750,000 A five-bedroom semi-detached house close to the town centre
£1m A four-bedroom house with gardens in a nearby village
£2m A five-bedroom house with grounds near a sought-after school