Boom on Horsepower Highway

Hot Spot: Banbury, Oxfordshire
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Indy Lifestyle Online
BANBURY BOASTS nearly 250 villages embodying the essence of quaint, quiet English rural life. The area is also home to so many motorsport and motor component companies that its nickname is Horsepower Highway. Banbury is booming.

When Peter Appleton, now 31, was growing up in the area's villages, "Banbury was still a sleepy rural market town full of small family-owned shops where all the shop assistants knew you." Those days are gone. A motorway came, businesses were attracted to the area, Banbury itself grew up, and Mr Appleton, now a busy estate agent, isn't altogether nostalgic for the old days.

"Banbury is equidistant between London and Birmingham, so the area has many distribution parks and attracts companies with large sales forces," he says.

Mr Appleton says many property professionals expected prices to rise sharply when the M40 reached Banbury a decade ago, but, he points out: "that is when the recession started, and it kept prices down." Even recent price rises have been moderate.

Banbury is less than an hour from Heathrow if traffic is light and, says George Philip of the estate agents Lane Fox, "with the trains now going non-stop, it takes just over an hour to London, but the trains go to Marylebone. Areas such as Hampshire and Berkshire are traditionally better for commuting; trains go direct to the City." Increasingly, Banbury's transportation weak link may be within the town itself, in the morning queues that form en route to the train station.

Banbury is getting overspill from other, more expensive regions. "Buyers are struggling to find satisfactory properties in the over-trafficked and overpopulated south," says Mr Philip. "Banbury is becoming fashionable; the area is unspoilt and has good schools."

His agency specialises in village properties, which are primarily in the pounds 200,000 to pounds 500,000 range. With a population of 40,000, Banbury offers plenty of housing in town itself.

According to Mr Appleton, "being on the edge of the Cotswolds, this area has a wealth of very old stone period cottages and country houses as well as stone or brick Georgian, Victorian and 1930's properties. In the 1980s, many plain, modern homes were built; more recently developers constructed more individualised properties".

Johnson & Gaunt is selling a one-bedroom, front-garden starter home for pounds 43,500, and two-bedroom flats or houses for about pounds 55,000. New two- and three-bedroom homes, some built within the last seven years, sell for pounds 60,000 to pounds 90,000. Large three-bedroom houses with conservatory and garage sell for less than pounds 100,000.

Halifax has recently advertised properties ranging from a one-bedroom ground-floor flat in Banbury for pounds 29,950 to a four-bedroom detached corner house in Twyford for pounds 160,000.


The Low-down

Prices: According to Cherwell District Council, pounds 35,000 buys a one-bedroom starter home in Banbury or Bicester; pounds 85,000 buys either a two-bedroom 18th-century cottage in a village near Oxford or a new three- bedroom semi in Banbury; and for pounds 300,000 you can own a six-bedroom period stone house on a one-acre site in a village.

Council tax: In Banbury, Band A is pounds 476 and Band H is pounds 1,427. Villagers pay slightly less: Band A is pounds 444 and H is pounds 1,331.

Transport: Non-stop service to London Marylebone takes 67 minutes (stopping trains used to consume 97 minutes). InterCity trains link with Birmingham, Scotland and other regions.

Eat your heart out, Bakewell: Banbury gives its name to a cake, cheese, a cross, an ale, a medicinal rhubarb, and a rhyme. The current Victorian cross replaced the original one that was destroyed by the Puritans in 1602.

Historic nearby villages: Adderbury; Bloxham, Broughton, Charlton-on- Otmoor, Cropredy, Deddington, Hook Norton, Kirtlington, Wroxton.

Shopping: Castle Shopping Centre has Somerfield, Boots, Marks & Spencer, Miss Selfridge, Next, Laura Ashley, Our Price, Monsoon, Mothercare, Cargo, Dixons, Littlewoods. The upcoming extension will include Debenhams, Bhs, Dorothy Perkins, Burton and others. In out-of-town developments you will find Currys, Powerhouse, Office World and many others.

Things to do and see: Banbury sports centre; Blenheim Palace; Althorp House; Cotswold Wildlife Park; sailing and windsurfing at Grimsbury reservoir; canoeing and narrowboating on the Oxford Canal.

Estate agents: Halifax 01295 271199; Johnson & Gaunt 01295 272703; Lane Fox 01295 273592.