'We want a house to ramble from'

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The Independent Online

BOB STREETER OF BROOK GREEN WRITES:

My wife and I are retiring next year and want to move to a National Park to pursue our great love of walking. We calculate that if we sell our old family home in London, we can buy a small flat in a more economical part of the capital, and still have up to £500,000 to spend on our new main residence. Ideally, we would like a large house to accommodate any or all of our two children and their families when they visit.

We have not settled on any one park in particular, although we have visited many of them. Proximity to London is not important - we would only be visiting once a month at most.

We would welcome advice on what sort of house we could expect to get for £500,000 in the different parks, and what restrictions there may be for homeowners living inside their boundaries.

GRAHAM NORWOOD REPLIES:

Houses within National Parks fetch premium prices for three reasons. First, the parks are beautiful; second, most homes are period and have been well maintained; and third, most parks have long exercised strict controls over new building, so supply is always well below demand.

For this last reason, you may have to start looking now to buy in up to a year's time, as estate agents warn that turnover of properties within parks tends to be slow.

That said, because most parks are rural areas outside southern England, you will still get a lot more space and character for your money than in most parts of London.

National Parks are defined as "extensive areas of beautiful and relatively wild country" where landscapes, facilities for open-air activities and vernacular architecture are all strictly protected. Farming must also be a primary source of employment and land use. Once you live in a park, there is a strong chance of your area not being subject to new housing or industrial development, and the value of the property will appreciate well.

But National Park status brings restrictions, too. National Park authorities are charged by law with protecting "the economic and social needs of local communities". At least two authorities, Exmoor and the Yorkshire Dales, take that to mean restricting the buying rights relating to some properties. That means that only those with long-standing links to the area can buy certain types of home, in a bid to help local young people who risk being priced out of the market.

One less well-known restriction is over planning permission for extensions or substantial changes you wish to make to a property you own within a park. "The planning process has become more complicated in recent years as park authorities have flexed their muscles. Extensions can be difficult to get agreed - it's like trying to change something on a listed building in a highly regulated conservation area. The authorities are incredibly diligent," says a spokesman for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. In the New Forest, some local residents even protested against designation because they feared planning restrictions would be prohibitive.

Another issue is tourists. Depending on your location, you could be in an area at least as busy as a London suburb, with year-round walkers and substantial traffic.

The current National Parks cover a surprising 10 per cent of the UK's rural land area, with more than 250,000 permanent residents in all.

Within England and Wales there are 12 parks: the Peak District, Dartmoor, Yorkshire Dales, Brecon Beacons, Lake District, Pembrokeshire Coast, Exmoor, The Broads, Snowdonia, North Yorkshire Moors, Northumberland and the New Forest, while there is a public inquiry over whether to designate the South Downs on England's southern coast as a 13th national park.

There are also two Scottish parks: the first was Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. It was recently joined by the Cairngorms National Park.

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