Welcome to the final of our London’s Commuter Town series, where we have been looking at the top places to live if you’re working in the Capital. Today we pitch the best of each county against one another and crown London’s best commuter town. Before we get underway, here is a reminder of our winning towns so far:
Canterbury, Kent: a beautiful place to live, with affordable housing, fantastic culture and high-speed trains that allow you to reach London in under an hour.
Staines-upon-Thames, Surrey: whilst only a stone’s throw from London, house prices in Staines are a fraction of its Surrey and Greater London counterparts.
Rye, East Sussex: a small, picturesque town by the sea that offers residents a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of London.
Chelmsford, Essex: this newly crowned ‘city’ offers quick access into London and is home to a youthful population with plenty of activities and entertainment for its residents.
Letchworth, Hertfordshire: as a Garden City, it offers residents a greener way of life and large, spacious housing making it perfect for families who love the outdoors.
Bedford, Bedfordshire: this town has great community spirit and a hub of activities from treasure trails to kayaking. Despite its distance from London (which reflects in its very affordable house prices), it has a surprisingly short commute.
To judge which commuter town is the best, we will be looking at the following five factors:
Travelling: a crucial issue for any commuter, we examine how long it takes to get to London and the costs involved.
Housing: one of the most attractive features of relocating from London is getting more for your money on the property market. What can each finalist offer residents?
Education: lots of commuters choose to leave London to begin raising a family; we’ll look at the quality of schools in each area.
Activities: the abundance of entertainment, restaurants, and nightlife in London can mean residents are reluctant to leave the Capital on a permanent basis. So, what is there to do in your free time in these towns?
Quality of Life: people often decide to leave London and relocate to a place with more space and a slower pace of life. We look at what it is like to live in each location.
Before we go into detail about how lovely it is to live in these commuter towns, we still need to remember that wherever you relocate to you’ll still need to travel to London for work. Some of the towns featured are a short distance from London (Staines, 18 miles) while other such as Canterbury (54 miles), Rye (53 miles) and Bedford (51 miles) are further out. But does this mean that their commutes are better or worse?
Subsequently, we considered travel time (via train), annual season ticket prices as well as overall distance from the Capital:
Many of our top picks have similar commute lengths of just under 40 minutes, apart from Canterbury and Rye which are nearer the hour mark. The shortest commute into London is from Essex’s Chelmsford (35 mins), however, this does come at a premium with the average season ticket costing £4,846 – the third most expensive of the finalists. The most affordable train ticket is from Surrey’s Staines-upon-Thames (£2,848) which is 64% cheaper than the second most affordable season ticket (Letchworth, £4,072).
What’s more, being just 18 miles from London Waterloo, Staines offers the second fast commute of our finalists (37 minutes) which is likely the reason for the low annual cost. However, does this option provide the best value for money? Interestingly, Bedford’s commute is only two minutes longer than Staines, despite being 51 miles away from The Big Smoke. This makes Bedford comparatively quicker in relation to how far it is away from London. The same applies to Canterbury, which boasts a high-speed train that can get residents into London in 54 minutes despite being over 50 miles away. Therefore, you can get a better value commute if you live further away from London in terms of how much you’re paying for the distance you’re travelling.
Overall, the journey from Staines is comparatively less economical and its location may not offer the detachment from London that many commuters are looking for (being so close to Gatwick Airport as well). On the other hand, with a journey time of under 40 minutes, Bedford offers residents a quick commute into London and countryside surroundings. While annual train fares may be more expensive (by £2,044 approximately), its distance from London means that house prices are significantly more affordable, mitigating the higher travel costs.
Thus, we feel that Bedford is the best commuter town from a travelling perspective as it is under 40 mins and you the cost of commuting offers better value than Staines-upon-Thames and other of our top picks.
Another significant factor when relocating from London concerns housing. With house prices outside of London more affordable, it allows many first-time buyers to get their foot on the property ladder. Moreover, if you have a home to sell in London, the price difference outside of the Capital means you can get a lot more for your money. This, of course, allows families to upsize to larger properties with more features, including gardens and spare bedrooms.
As the chart below indicates, unsurprisingly, finalists closer to London tend to have more expensive house prices:
At only 18 miles away from London, Staines has the most expensive average house price out of the finalists (£376,841). Meanwhile, properties in Bedford and Canterbury are more reasonably priced, with houses selling for less than £300,000 on average. Therefore, you can get more for your buck if you choose to relocate further out of London. According to Zoopla, the average semi-detached property in Bedford costs £301,566 which is over £16,000 cheaper than the average terraced property in Chelmsford (£284,907). This underlines the benefit of moving slightly further away from London as it can allow you to purchase a larger property and get better value for your money.
On a similar note, if you are looking to upsize, Letchworth may be a strong option. While its property prices are towards the more expensive end of the scale, as a Garden City, Letchworth was specifically designed to feature spacious housing with gardens – factors that are important to most relocators from London. Interestingly, the egalitarian conception of Letchworth ensured that every area of the town was as desirable as the others. This set up means you have many more options of where you can buy property in the town, making Letchworth a flexible choice if your budget permits.
Availability of housing is an important issue for commuters, especially when you consider a smaller town such as Rye. The town is unlikely to have lots of property on the market and suitable homes may be few and far between, which makes it a difficult place to easily relocate to. Moreover, Rye’s average house price is just shy of £320,000 despite being one of the furthest towns away from London, perhaps indicating that competition for properties is high as availability is limited. Contrastingly, a big selling point of Chelmsford is the level of property development in the area, with lots of new builds close to the station which would be attractive to commuters.
Overall, Bedford has the most affordable housing and a variety of properties, including several attractive locations near the river. Not only that, its affordability is attractive to first-time buyers, while the spacious town has several housing options for families too.
Many commuters decided to leave London to start a family, therefore it is worth considering the quality of each location’s schools and how accessible they are.
Canterbury has several acclaimed independent schools such as Kent College and The King’s School Canterbury, as well as many esteemed state schools such as the Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys and Barton Court Grammar School. It is also a place of cultural importance, with a plethora of museums (such as the Canterbury Heritage Museum) for out of school learning; Canterbury exudes an aura of education which is not the case for all finalists. For example, while Rye has an interesting history and local museums, its top schools are in nearby towns rather than Rye itself. This detail makes Rye less accessible from an education front as it would require living near a specific catchment area, restricting your potential property choice.
The ideal scenario would be for a town to have a variety of excellent educational options to suit all situations, which is why Chelmsford stands out from the competition. The town has a collection of strong grammar schools, from the King Edward VI Grammar School to Chelmsford County High School for Girls, as well the New Hall School which was voted Independent School of the Year 2016 by the Times Education Supplement. Chelmsford also has a selection of strong state schools too, such as The Boswells School and St John Payne Catholic School, giving potential relocators lots of educational options. Not to limit itself to secondary education, the town is also home Anglia Ruskin University Chelmsford Campus!
In this section, we look at leisure activities for inhabitants of each town, from restaurants and nightlife to sports and other outdoor pursuits. We understand that not every commuter will desire the same thing, so will base the overall winner on the town that incorporates the most. Some residents are unwilling to up sticks and leave London due to its vast array of entertainment and leisure options, while others welcome the proposition of moving to a quieter area of the UK. For those who would welcome the latter, Rye is a fantastic choice. This rural town is close to the sea with a wonderful harbour and a great literary history. Furthermore, the town is a short distance away from Camber Sands’ highly-rated beach as well as beautiful countryside in the High Weald. Likewise, people can enjoy pleasant riverside walks along the Thames in Staines; however, if you’re more of an adrenaline junkie, it is also close to Thorpe Park, Legoland Windsor, and several racecourses.
Naturally, the size of a town and its demographics will greatly affect the number of activities it can offer residents. For example, Chelmsford has two large shopping centres and is well known for its strong night time economy, with a variety of restaurants and bars. Nevertheless, for those who are keen to stay active, it also has an athletics centre as well as an abundance of parks too! If green space is important to you, Bedford features several great parks, particularly Priory Park, and the open space available in Bedford means that there is room for four rugby teams and activities such as kayaking on the River Ouse.
Perhaps the location which offers the best all round activities for its residents is Canterbury; firstly, it has an exciting range of museums, theatres and heritage sites to keep you entertained. Indeed, the town has an endearing medieval charm, including the Buttermarket area which is home to many independent shops, cafes and weekly farmer’s markets too. If you’re looking for local escapes and outdoor pursuits, Canterbury is close to several nature reserves as well as Whitstable beach. Not only that, it also boasts the Kent County Cricket Club for fans of live sport with its picturesque setting of St Lawrence Ground.
The biggest decision when choosing whether to move to a new area ultimately boils down to quality of life. Factors that constitute a good quality of life range from financial, time (commuting), environment and leisure. Interestingly, one of our finalists, Letchworth was designed with quality of life in mind. As a designated ‘Garden City’ the primary driver behind its conception was to ensure all residents have a good quality of life, including spacious housing, gardens, and large open areas. On the outskirts of Letchworth is its ‘Greenway’ which is a 13.6-mile circular green space perfect for walks and exercise. Overall, Letchworth is a very peaceful and environmentally conscious place – it even has a vegetarian independent school! Noticeably there are very few pubs in the area and nightlife is rather modest, therefore as Letchworth was created in the early 20th century, have our desires for quality of life developed?
Locations such as Chelmsford are becoming increasingly popular places to live in as they offer residents a varied nightlife scene whereas, in the past, locals would have to travel to London for bars and restaurants. An influx of students has also encouraged the creation of leisure facilities; however, this may not be ideal if you’re looking to leave London to find peace and tranquillity. While Rye can offer inhabitants just this, one of the bigger downsides to living in a picturesque town is that when summer comes around, so do tourists. Both Canterbury and Rye’s population can swell in the summertime, making it just as hectic as London.
Overall, we find Bedford to have the best set of combinatory factors that constitute a great quality of life. Firstly, from a financial perspective, it offers the best value to commuters along with affordable housing, meaning you can get a significant upgrade if you’re selling your home in London. This is particularly pertinent for young couples looking to get on the housing ladder who want a home with traditional features such as a garden. Moreover, the travel length for Bedford is especially quick despite its distance from London, meaning residents are not burdened with an arduous commute. The distance from the capital also means that it does not rely on the Capital for entertainment and activities. This helps create a strong sense of community spirit in the town, helped by its annual International Kite Festival and bi-annual River Festival. Interestingly, Bedford was voted the most generous town in the UK so it is definitely a place you would want to reside. Lastly, the large green spaces in Bedford are perfect for any Londoner looking to reconnect with nature.
And the overall winner of London’s best commuter town is…
The town is the perfect all-rounder, offering residents an ideal place to travel from, but most importantly the chance to start a new life away from the capital.