Back on the map
NEARLY 10 years after Maidstone lost fast trains to the Square Mile, City workers can once again consider Kent’s county town as an affordable, convenient place to buy a family home.
Thameslink confirms that from next year, a new Govia Thameslink service will run between Maidstone East and London Bridge, Blackfriars and Farringdon, before continuing to Cambridge. It is thought trains to London Bridge will take about 52 minutes and run all day — a vast improvement on the current five rush-hour trains a day to Blackfriars.
While Maidstone has its flaws it also has some major plus points for a lifechanging move out of London. It sits on the River Medway and mixes beautiful historic sections and plenty of top-notch greenery in the shape of Penenden Heath and the Kent Downs, alongside mediocre post-war buildings strangled by ring roads and roundabouts. Homes are affordable but architectural standards are very mixed.
Traffic is awful, but the schools are brilliant, including Invicta Grammar, Maidstone Grammar, Maidstone Grammar School for Girls, and Valley Park, all rated “outstanding” by Ofsted.
Given that this is a large town, it has lost its sense of individuality under an onslaught of chain stores and predictable restaurant brands. But David Page, principal of Page & Ward estate agents, has plenty of London clients house hunting in Maidstone and believes the new train service will attract more.
“At the moment our train services are poor,” he says. “People drive to Ebbsfleet to get a fast train and that takes them 25 minutes which is ridiculous considering we are only 35 miles from London. The new service will turn that around.” Page takes issue with the idea that Maidstone’s 20th-century architecture is ugly, although he admits buyers need to move fast to pick up the best period property. “They always go very quickly,” he says. His greater concern is that although Maidstone is growing, the quality of new houses is “disappointing — they are just building box, after box, after box.”
Buyers might be better advised to seek out Maidstone’s streets of Victorian houses where you could pick up a three- bedroom terrace for about £300,000. Or shop for a four-bedroom Thirties semi for about £400,000.
Lovely villages on the fringes include Bearsted, Loose and East Farleigh, which have avoided being subsumed by urban sprawl and have the country looks most commuters crave. Better yet, a five-bedroom period house with an acre of garden would cost £750,000£800,000 — about the same as a semi in Zone 4 London. This must be balanced against commuting costs, with an annual season ticket from £4,492.
Beyond Maidstone and its satellite villages, and staying in Kent, it is thought the new train service will also
£425,000: a spacious three-bedroom family house in Curzon Road, half a mile from Maidstone East station. Through Ferris & Co (01622 922047)
County town of Kent: the River Medway runs through the heart of Maidstone
Gabriel’s Hill: scene of the 1648 Battle of Maidstone in the English Civil War