The appeal of historic market towns in the East of England

The beautiful Essex and Hertfordshire countryside has widespread appeal, with the thought of being able to live close to an unspoilt location with nearby facilities an appealing one for many property buyers. Market towns frequently offer this enticing mix of character and convenience.

Both Bishops Stortford and Saffron Walden are affluent historic market towns within the M11 corridor between London and Cambridge. They both also share the same train line between Cambridge and London Liverpool Street – Saffron Walden taking 55 minutes, whilst Bishops Stortford is both nearer to London and also benefits from being on the Stansted Express route so journey time can be as little as 38 minutes.

A key difference between the two in commuting/transport terms is that Bishops Stortford is situated at Junction 8 of the M11 and its train station is located in the centre of town. Saffron Walden relies on Audley End station which is approximately two miles out of town, and is located between junctions 8 and 9 so neither commuting option is quite as convenient as Bishops Stortford.

In terms of size, Saffron Walden has a population of 14,313 (2011 census) and has broadly reached its potential size due to geographic restrictions, being located within a valley. Bishops Stortford however has a larger population of 38,078 and has further plans to expand over the next five years. This growth is fuelled by the proximity of Stansted Airport and the excellent commuter links to London’s financial district, meaning many residents in Bishops Stortford work in the (financial) services sector.

Over time, Bishops Stortford’s character may well change and the population is likely to become more transient compared to Saffron Walden, which is more established, stable and has retained more of its historical character.

Both town centres have markets, a mixture of chain stores and independents with Saffron Walden having more of a traditional feel with more independent shops and Bishops Stortford with more chain stores and a modern shopping centre.

Similarly, both towns have cultural attractions with Bishops Stortford’s including the Rhodes Arts Complex containing a theatre, cinema, museum and gallery, Saffron Walden enjoying the likes of the Fry Art Gallery and Audley End House, a large mansion owned by English Heritage which hosts summer picnic concerts.

Saffron Walden County High School is a large co-ed academy rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted, whilst the larger Bishops Stortford has five secondary schools, many of which have special college status, as well as the prestigious independent school – Bishops Stortford College.

Both towns have a similar housing stock; a mixture of Victorian, Edwardian and more modern houses, along with converted and modern flats. Bishops Stortford has seen more growth in recent times and has a higher proportion of modern property. As a location, it probably appeals more to the first time buyer.

The £225,000 – £325,000 range will secure a first time buyer a two bedroom flat or a two or three bedroom house. Popular purchases in Bishops Stortford from £250,000 include Victorian terraced houses near the town centre and modern peripheral developments such as Thorley Park, Bishops Park and Bishops Gate. Modern apartments near the town centre/train station are also popular. However, stock levels are low and first time buyers are constantly competing against buy-to-let investors looking to satisfy the rental market.

If you are thinking of moving in 2015, do contact us for more advice on how we can help and latest market information on the area you are interested in.

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