Perhaps surprisingly, it takes as long to travel to the City of London from Ruislip today as it did 20 years ago. Approximately 1 hour. However a number of towns further afield have become just as accessible through investment in road and rail infrastructure. So what is the donut effect, where are the hot spots and are there opportunities for investors in these towns?
Rail companies in many places across Britain have invested in longer trains, platforms and station car parks. As a result, outposts as far afield as Grantham, Bath, Brighton, Banbury, Didcot and Salisbury are all accessible within an hour’s journey. DFLs (down from London), who for many years bought second homes as weekend retreats in these locations, are now permanent residents. The benefits of improved communications and technology have also helped make that feasible.
The impact on these towns is exciting and earnings from London are creating two very different consumer spending patterns: the weekday shop, Monday to Thursday; and the weekend experience, Friday to Sunday. Market towns on the edge of large conurbations are particularly prospering. Ringwood is to Bournemouth as Lewes is to Brighton and Market Harborough to Leicester.
Taking advantage of this phenomenon are creative, independent businesses focusing on the nation’s great love of food, fashion and gifts. Trending shops, tradesman’s premises, galleries, delicatessens and cafes, are reinventing themselves in many towns an hour’s commute from London.
The coast of Kent is a good example – historically renowned for dilapidated piers, run down Victorian and Georgian parades and rusty railings along unloved promenades - Kentrification is emerging. Margate has proven to be one of the UK’s hot spots, witnessing a 24% rise in house prices during 2015 (Rightmove). Here you will find independent retailers, such as Roost, opposite a Danish furniture store and Haeckels, a skin care and fragrance maker, whose seaweed products sell to Selfridges. There is new life within these communities.
Nearby towns such as Faversham, Whitstable and Deal are beginning to share the experience and we foresee this spreading to locations such as New Romney, Rye and Tenterden.
Some of these ‘donut’ towns might be seen as sleepy backwaters, but they appeal to those wanting a different way of life to the mainstream commuter belts of Surrey, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. As towns prosper, boutique hotels, microbreweries, creative industries and tourism follows suit. Whitstable’s annual oyster festival draws over 40,000 visitors each year in July.
Whilst London continues to thrive and create disposable income, towns within an hour’s commute will experience economic growth and local initiatives will prosper. These towns offer investors long-term growth and there are plenty of opportunities for redevelopment and investment.
Rupert Guy is a partner specialising in retail investment and asset management. He has an extensive knowledge of all aspects of the property market and acts for AXA, Standard Life, Olim, Rockspring and Aberdeen Asset Management.