For many of us, city life in lockdown triggered thoughts of moving home to a healthier, greener space near good commuter links.
But where to move to? The London Outer Orbital Path — the “Loop” — is a compelling place to start your search.
It is perhaps the country’s least known long-distance footpath, a sort of M25 for pedestrians. This green ring route around the capital extends 152 miles and is conveniently divided into 24 sections, with clearly defined start and finish locations linked to Tube and train stations.
To walk it is an incredible way to discover the capital’s greenest pockets and corners, and to spot a place where you might want to live.
This week, we focus on a swathe of south-east London suburbia — eight sections on the Loop — stretching from the riverside regeneration area of Erith, through attractive villages such as Old Bexley on the Kent border, to Banstead Downs near Epsom Racecourse.
Online searches for suburban homes surged during lockdown, accelerating when the stamp duty holiday started on July 8.
Those enquiries are now translating into physical moves, says Simon Rubinsohn of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.
“The pandemic has accelerated decisions about trading up or down. Buyers are re-evaluating their lives. Many continue to work from home for at least part of the week, and are looking for a property that promotes wellbeing and better suits their needs now and during future lockdowns.
With a shift to Zoom meetings and remote working, living within close proximity of the office is less of a priority.
Suburbia is the obvious choice as it offers both town and country as well as quick commutes to central London when necessary, for work or pleasure. And the time seems ripe as suburbia is set for a post-pandemic renaissance.
Anticipating a drift from city centres, the Government has set up a cross-party Suburban Taskforce to address decades of decline.
The Taskforce’s first focus is on the London commuter belt. The aim is to revitalise suburbs with new transport and business initiatives plus imaginative, zero-carbon housing projects that cater for the mix of people living there.
Outer London is enormously varied in terms of wealth, jobs, ethnicity, education and culture but this diversity has not always been matched by the output of developers.
Together with a relaxation of planning laws, there will be a boost to housebuilding on large scraps of so-called “brownfield land” to preserve the green belt.
London’s south-east suburbs
London has 19 outer boroughs, stretching from Sutton in the south to Enfield in the north, from Havering in the east to Hillingdon in the west. Suburbs extend into the home counties, where commuter towns were created by railway expansion in the early 20th century.
In general, house prices decline steadily as travel times lengthen. Yet it is possible to cherry-pick good-value areas with shorter commuting times to central London.
Suburban south-east London is recapturing the allure it had in the Fifties, when an aspiring post-war generation moved from the bombed-out inner city to the avenues of villages bordering Kent and Surrey.
The Loop’s south London section is known as the Blue Group, due to the colour of the signs marking the route along public footpaths, parks, woods and fields. Visit tfl.gov.uk/modes/walking/loop-walk to download maps and details.
Erith, the starting point, hugs the Thames in Bexley borough. The area was a fashionable riverside resort in the mid-19th century, and still has London’s longest pier and awesome salt marshes.
Industry took over in the late Victorian period, and in the Sixties Erith was given a sweeping concrete makeover, with brutalist architecture that shaped its image during the following decades.
Family homes under £400k
Now another wave of regeneration is under way in Erith, promising better homes and neighbourhoods.
The district is a 40-minute commute to London Bridge or Cannon Street. But Crossrail’s southern spur to nearby Abbey Wood will slash journey times.
Currently, you can buy a new three-bedroom house for quite a bit less than £400,000.
The Quarry is a new 600-home Erith address with an eight-acre ecology area, plus village green, primary school, park and play areas. A new phase of homes launches later this month.
Prices from £455,000 for a four-bedroom house, with Help to Buy available. Call L&Q on 0333 0033 737.
Bexley borough has the lowest level of new-build homes in the capital, just 2.5 per cent of all stock, so there is sometimes a premium to pay for them.
Charming Old Bexley is an ancient parish beside the River Cray, with the “old” prefix differentiating the village from Bexleyheath, a new town built in the Sixties.
Petts Wood became a railway suburb in the Twenties but sustained heavy bomb damage during the Second World War.
A new wave of development followed and its rural setting and quick commute are being rediscovered by home buyers.
According to writer Keith Waterhouse in his book Streets Ahead, this Kent suburb was popular in the Sixties with late-working Fleet Street staff.
“The all-night train service gave them the heaven-sent excuse of one more drink for the road.”
Orpington is the main commercial centre in this bit of suburbia. In Travel Zone 6, it’s in Oyster card territory, with frequent trains taking 18 minutes to London Bridge.
Well-regarded schools and quick access to open countryside are bonuses.
Lockesley Chase is a scheme of 24 family houses to the north of the town. Prices from £540,000. Call Fernham Homes on 01689 660212.
The Bakerloo buzz
West Wickham railway station was built in 1882, though most local housing dates back to the Thirties. Trains to central London take 30 minutes, and it is a suggested stop on the proposed Bakerloo line extension through south-east London to Kent.
Wickham Grange is a gated development of Tudor-style houses ranging up to 1,604sq ft, with a garden and integral garage. Prices from £750,000. Call 020 8462 0360.
Hamsden Green lies on the plateau of the North Downs between the villages of Sanderstead and Warlingham in the affluent Tandridge district of Surrey.
Coulsdon forms part of the North Downs and it was here, on an elevated site, that the Victorians built an architecturally magnificent asylum set in 200 acres.
Prior to its closure in 2006, the hospital controversially escaped a heritage listing and was later ravaged by fire.
Developers acquired the hilltop site for Cane Hill Park, a new housing estate of 677 homes in a parkland setting.
Three heritage buildings, including a water tower, that survived the blaze have been refurbished. Five-bedroom houses at Cane Hill Park are priced from £797,995. Call 0333 3558 503.
From Coulsdon, trains to Victoria and London Bridge take just 21 and 28 minutes respectively.
Embrace nature near Epsom
Banstead Downs is a 313-acre Site of Special Scientific Interest and was once part of an unbroken expanse with Epsom Downs.
London Square Tadworth Gardens is an attractive development of houses and apartments built around a new village green. The homes also back on to Burgh Heath nature research and are close to National Trust-owned Hadley Heath.
The location seems a planet away from the central London yet falls into Travel Zone 6, with regular 35-minute trains to Waterloo from nearby Epsom.
Houses cost from £530,000, and flats from £299,950. Call developer London Square on 0333 666 4242.
Epsom: our quality of life is so much better
Lauren Casey and Jerome Guinde moved to London Square Tadworth Gardens near Epsom just before lockdown, and are delighted with their choice.
“Covid-19 has convinced us we made the right decision,” says Lauren, a performing arts teacher. “Our quality of life is so much better than when we were renting a small flat.
“We have our own garden and are close to woods and open countryside. We can walk to Epsom Downs in 20 minutes. It’s uplifting and the views are spectacular.”
Lauren and Jerome, a transport production manager in London, bought a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house, taking advantage of the low-deposit Help to Buy scheme.
- London Square: 0333 666 4242