The charge of the spire brigade as we ‘escape to the city’

Stuart Harris, head of residential sales at the Cambridge office of national property consultancy Carter Jonas, notes the beginning of a new trend

There’s a new trend when it comes to a tier of housebuyers looking for property in the country’s cathedral and university cities.  Characterised as ‘escape to the city’ it’s the growth in popularity of living in the heart of a city centre and it’s a trend which is underpinning house prices in such ‘spire’ cities in contrast to formerly popular in-country locations.

There is a definite ramping-up of what has been a gentle drift back towards city-centre living and it’s being led by the type of buyers who once were the staple of the ‘escape to the country’ trend of past decades.

In ‘spire city’ locations such as Cambridge, well-heeled buyers are fixing their sights on the type of high-end, new build developments launching for sale this year in the city’s historic core and fringes, as well as more traditional terraced-type side streets.

The attributes of spire city centre living are convenience and sociability.  

These twin attractions are proving a draw for people who are retired or are baby-boomers on the verge of retirement, as well as affluent young families. 

The latter group, with both parents working, are short on time rather than cash and so to have the convenience of good schools, transport connections to London, leisure and cultural amenities within walking or cycling distance of the family home are the allure.

The affluence of these sets of buyers is seeing city centre prices in Cambridge outperform those in the surrounding areas.

A terraced house, close the railway station in Cambridge can command £497 per sq ft in contrast with a glorious rectory set in an acre of land in West Norfolk which costs £96 per sq ft.

It’s a price differential playing out more acutely when it comes to the brand new developments in the city and surrounding district areas – with prices well in excess of £500 per sq ft for new developments in central Cambridge where a two-bedroom apartment sells for considerably more than a brand new, five-bedroom detached house in a district such as Fenland.

There are sound reasons to expect this spire city phenomenon to continue, with some commentators forecasting prices in some historic cities rising by over 25 per cent in the next five years.

With colleagues in York reporting that London commuters are a factor in fuelling this escape to the city phenomenon given the direct link of the east coast mainline in to King’s Cross in less than two hours, you can see how well positioned Cambridge is with its 50 minute-connection. 

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