Look beyond the var­sity cities to the brain belt

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

Since the Boat Race be­gan in the 1820s, Cam­bridge crews have won it 82 times against Ox­ford’s 80. It is not the only arena in which the two uni­ver­si­ties com­pete, of course: the Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion World Univer­sity Rank­ings has placed Ox­ford in pole po­si­tion for the se­cond year run­ning this year. Its aca­demic ri­val – like in many other as­pects – lies just be­hind, hav­ing jumped from fourth to se­cond place in the rank­ings.

A sim­i­larly close ri­valry plays out in the cities’ prop­erty mar­kets. Both are blessed with his­toric ar­chi­tec­ture, plenty of job op­por­tu­ni­ties and lie around 60 miles from Lon­don. That con­nec­tiv­ity has made them at­trac­tive op­tions for Lon­don­ers wish­ing to move out of the cap­i­tal but still live within an ur­ban, cul­tural en­vi­ron­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to re­search by Hamp­tons In­ter­na­tional, nine per cent of those buy­ing homes in Cam­bridge are from Lon­don, whereas 19 per cent of Ox­ford buy­ers are from the cap­i­tal. The knockon ef­fect has been big house val­ues, and fire-pow­ered price rises. Re­search by Sav­ills shows that Cam­bridge’s av­er­age sale price in 2017 was £520,000 against Ox­ford’s £507,000 – both well above the UK av­er­age and mak­ing city cen­tre liv­ing in­creas­ingly un­af­ford­able for all but the very wealthy.

The only area where prop­erty val­ues in the cities are dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent is within their most ex­pen­sive wards: Newn­ham, Cam­bridge (£902,000) and North Ox­ford (£1.502mil­lion), which is prized for its large, Ed­war­dian vil­las within walk­ing dis­tance of some of the city’s most highly re­garded schools. Knight Frank has a six-bed­room house in Wood­stock Road for £2.65mil­lion.

Un­til re­cently, Cam­bridge had been mak­ing se­ri­ous gains on Ox­ford: prime city house prices have gal­loped over the past 10 years by 46.8 per cent, against Ox­ford’s 22 per cent, ac­cord­ing to Sav­ills. The rea­son, be­lieves James Bar­nett of Sav­ills in Cam­bridge, dates to the for­ward-think­ing col­leges which, back in the Seven­ties and Eight­ies, de­cided to chan­nel their par­tic­u­lar tal­ents for the sciences and cre­ate in­no­va­tion cen­tres.

Beyond the quads, the gowns and the tea rooms, to­day Cam­bridge is “a ma­jor Euro­pean cen­tre for biotech­nol­ogy and pharma,” says Bar­nett. With that growth, the city has be­come more cos­mopoli­tan and at­trac­tive, with an in­creas­ingly wide se­lec­tion of bars and restau­rants; the Ivy Cam­bridge Brasserie opened on March 14.

How­ever, house price growth in Cam­bridge tailed off dur­ing the last three months of 2017, demon­strat­ing that some of the froth has come off the mar­ket. “In com­mon with other places, we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced a lev­el­ling off of prices,” says Bar­nett.

“Buy­ers have got to a point where they will draw a line. If com­pe­ti­tion for a house gets too hot, they’ll now back away.” In­ter­est from Lon­don buy­ers has sub­sided a bit, he adds, “now that they can no longer sell their houses in a heart­beat.”

Nev­er­the­less, Richard Fresh­wa­ter of Ch­effins says that the best prop­er­ties in the city cen­tre – in­clud­ing ar­eas such as Newn­ham and De Fre­ville – are con­tin­u­ing to at­tract an av­er­age of of­fers from be­tween five and eight dif­fer­ent bid­ders and some are sell­ing by sealed bids. Prime Ox­ford prices have, mean­while, re­mained largely static, ac­cord­ing to Mark Smith of Strutt & Parker, with prices in line with 2016 lev­els.

Another area where the cities vastly dif­fer is in their ap­proach to build­ing new homes. Sev­eral years ago, Cam­bridge plan­ners de­cided to push back some of its green­belt land, mak­ing space for new homes and the ex­pan­sion of the science and tech hubs. There are cur­rently 68,000 new homes in the pipe­line within a 20-mile ra­dius of Cam­bridge, and par­tic­u­larly around the south­ern and west­ern fringes of the city.

Ox­ford’s green­belt, how­ever, has been de­scribed as some­thing of a de­vel­op­men­tal noose around its neck, and ex­pan­sion plans are more mod­est in size. When Sav­ills re­leased apart­ments for sale at the newly re­vamped West­gate Cen­tre they were snapped up by eager buy­ers, says the firm’s Ron­nie van der Ploeg. In both cases, funda- men­tal to th­ese ex­pan­sion plans are im­prove­ments to road and rail. This week, the Gov­ern­ment an­nounced a £215mil­lion deal to boost hous­ing and in­fra­struc­ture in Ox­ford. But de­spite the open­ing of Ox­ford Park­way sta­tion in 2015, and dis­cus­sions to rein­tro­duce the Cow­ley branch line plus a new sta­tion at Ox­ford Science Park, Cam­bridge nudges ahead of its ri­val in this as­pect.

Ma­jor im­prove­ments to var­i­ous trunk roads around the city are set to fin­ish in 2020; there are plans to in­tro­duce ru­ral travel hubs to con­nect vil­lages in south Cam­bridgeshire to public trans­port routes into the cen­tre, and there is talk about build­ing a Cam­bridge un­der­ground.

Such is the de­mand to live in this area of the coun­try, the Gov­ern­ment is look­ing to open up the route be­tween the two cities. By adding in­fra­struc­ture to the area, it hopes to sup­port the build­ing of a mil­lion new homes by 2050 in the so-called “brain belt”– the Cam­bridge-Mil­ton Keynes-Ox­ford cor­ri­dor.

Also known as “CaMKOx” or po­ten­tially “Oxbridge”, the Na­tional In­fra­struc­ture Com­mis­sion sees it as be­ing some­thing akin to Bri­tain’s an­swer to Sil­i­con Val­ley, sup­port­ing the hi-tech in­dus­tries such as biotech, driver­less cars and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence that al­ready line the cor­ri­dor and which make it one of the most pro­duc­tive ar­eas of the coun­try.

In days gone by, it was said that you could walk the 67 miles (as the crow flies) be­tween Ox­ford and Cam­bridge with­out leav­ing col­lege-owned land. Since the clos­ing in 1967 of the so-

A town­house in St Al­dates, Ox­ford, £2.65m with Sav­ills

The Boat Race; Storeys Cot­tage in Cam­bridge, £1.375m with Sav­ills, main

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