Would you swap living in London for York? According to the latest survey on family-friendly city living, York tops the list. On a range of measures from childcare costs to average house prices and leisure activities, York is it. Unless your work or family ties take you there, I’m not convinced though. The three-hour train journey into London means a move there would more or less sever your links to the capital.
There's no denying that the capital's house hunters are being tempted increasingly further afield in their property searches. More space and lower prices makes it seem like a no brainer. But the jury is out on whether the pandemic will cause us to ditch the office for good. A survey by KPMG found that only 17 per cent of global executives are planning on downsizing their company's office space, signalling an emerging drive towards a return to the office - at least in partial form. So those moving out would do well to play it safe and not venture too far.
Moving to a family friendly 'satellite' city is a good compromise on the heady rural dream induced by the pandemic: it can safeguard future career options and provide you with the extra space that has become so desirable. Here are my top five commutable areas to consider:
At number two in the aforementioned survey of family friendly cities is Cambridge. But it would be my number one. The 49-minute train journey to Kings Cross makes it a reasonable commute. As a university city it's not short on amenities and yet, with one of Britain's most elegant rivers winding its way through the city centre and cows grazing on college fields, it's hard to feel you are in a city at all.
The range of activities suitable for children in Cambridge is off the chart. The varsity line linking Cambridge and Oxford will be put back in place too which is likely to create a boom for Life Sciences industries and business in general as tech and bio-business seeks to capitalise on the academic hub being created.
If you fancy a quieter lifestyle and lower property prices, you’ll find a range of towns and villages outside the city - Bishop's Stortford to the south is an attractive market town with great train links into London whilst Ely to the north boasts a breathtaking cathedral.
It may be number 12 on the survey’s list but, in my opinion, Oxford’s architectural charm and green spaces ensure that it will offer the sort of life worth leaving London for. It may be a little longer to commute by train to London but if you’re based in the West End or to the west of the capital for work, it's a manageable distance. The new Oxford parkway line gets you into London Marylebone in 50 minutes. The schools are top-notch with a plethora of strong state and independent options but, beware, this also has an impact on house prices, with the best areas up there with London for exclusivity.
Venture outside the city, though, and you'll find idyllic villages and countryside in the Cotswold borders - Woodstock, Charlbury, Steeple Aston and Deddington to name four, plus Boars Hill to the South West and Great Milton to the East. Perhaps the only downside is the council’s attitude to cars. However, if you buy a well-located property, this should be of little concern.
Really? Have I lost control of my senses here? Well, no actually. Surprisingly easy and convenient for a range of lifestyles, Southampton scores very well on house prices, with some of the lowest averages in the table. It also has a wide range of family friendly activities and restaurants too. If you’re keen on sailing or even popping over to the stellar beaches on the Isle of Wight this is the city for you. For those looking to be in reach of rural charm, the New Forest is on your doorstep. Yachties will appreciate the village feel of Hamble-le-Rice perched on the edge of the Solent and the city. Those searching for good schools will find excellent choices in Romsey - a handsome suburb town nestled between Southampton and Winchester with excellent train links into London from Chandler's Ford.
Two hours away from London on the train and only 46 minutes into Birmingham, Worcester remains surprisingly under the radar. It's a historic, small cathedral city with plenty of charm and period properties to boot. Those selling up in London will find their money will go a long way here. In the current market, £800,000 can get you an eleven bed farmhouse with land. There's a range of good local state schools, plus the Royal Grammar School, which is one of the oldest independent schools in the country with fees at £4,578 a term.
I make no secret of the fact that I am a fan of the east coast of England. The best bit about it is that Londoners have yet to cotton on fully to its potential, instead flocking to honeypot areas in the South. Whilst cities further north such as Ipswich or even Norwich are high on the family-friendly list, property prices in Southend are very reasonable given how accessible London is from here. Because it’s a destination town for coastal holidaymakers it scores highly on amenities and it’s by the sea. Less than hour’s commute into London, if work is on the eastern side of the City, you’ll be highly impressed by the lifestyle you can afford.