Property: Hot Spot - A saint comes marching in

Bury St.Edmunds
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Indy Lifestyle Online
It's another case of spillover, and the usual suspects - Chelsea, Wandsworth, Notting Hill and Islington - are nowhere in sight. "Bury St Edmunds is feeling the influence of the UK's Silicon Valley, what I call the Cambridge effect," says Bidwells partner Tim Hayward. Priced out of the university city, would-be Cambridge residents look north to darkest Fenland and promptly turn around and head east. Some end up 30 miles away in Bury.

The inward migration promises to transform the quiet, attractive Suffolk market and cathedral town, but change will probably occur gradually and gently. The Bury-London rail link is slow and requires a change of trains. Economic migrants are not likely to flood in from the capital.

Improved communications are also a factor in Bury's boom. "In the last five years, the A14 was linked to the Midlands' motorways, the M1 and M6. Several distribution companies which use the ports at Felixstowe and Harwich have located here," says Mr Hayward.

"Bury was a sleepy market town until as recently as three or four years ago," he says. "Edinburgh Wool Mill, Cafe Rouge, Caffe Uno, and Pizza Express have opened recently. Their owners must have confidence in this area to be investing here."

Bury St Edmunds is well known for its medieval heritage but, as Michael Buck of Marshall Buck & Casson estate agents, notes: "It is really a basically Georgian or Georgian-fronted town on a medieval core. It has a Georgian appearance and is known as the Montpellier of England."

Mr Buck confirms the "Cambridge effect" and the growing number of young people buying flats and houses in the area, although he notes that the renewed interest in town-centre living appeals to all age groups. With good public and state schools in Bury, and many surrounding villages, the area also lures families.

In addition to town-centre flats, "a few large town houses are available, but they are scarce," says Mr Hayward. "Just outside the centre there are Victorian and newer houses built by and for professional groups from Victorian times to the present. Country houses are in short supply, and demand is particularly strong for well-located country houses providing privacy, good gardens, perhaps paddocks. Buyers of theses are bidding in excess of the asking price."

Large houses in towns and cities around Bury are being built by several brand-name developers, and also by local builder-developers who are constructing individual high-spec homes.

"Even developers like Wimpeys are going upmarket," Mr Hayward observes. Wimpey has developed a hospital site in Newmarket, 13 miles from Bury, containing new-build houses as well as units in the refurbished rectangular hospital building.

Converted barns and new barn-like houses are available, as are houses with indoor swimming pools, and lake or river access. The second-hand market includes oddities such as converted oast houses, one of which - more accurately, one-half of which - is currently under offer. This immense, circular, four-storey property was split in half, yielding two flats each with lounges and bedrooms to spare.

The Low-Down

Transport: Bury is on a branch line offering a sprinter service to Stowmarket, Cambridge and Ipswich, for connection to grown-up trains. Locals in the know journey to London by driving to Stansted and taking the direct fast rail service to Liverpool Street Station.

Oldy-mouldy properties: Two-bedroom flats in town (one-bed flats are scarce) start at pounds 30,000, and two- and three-bed terraces at pounds 50,000. Townhouses sell for between pounds 200,000 and pounds 400,000.

New-builds: Wimpey has new developments in Dickleburgh, Sudbury, Stowmarket and Framlingham as well as the hospital conversion in Newmarket. In Dickleburgh, 36 of the 68 houses are still available, with 3-bed semis with garage starting at pounds 63,995. The Willows is a Wilcon development in Thetford, Norfolk with four- and five-bed homes priced at pounds 99,995 and pounds 149,995. All six new Berkeley homes at Argent Place, Newmarket, are sold or reserved.

Shopping: Debenhams outgrew its premises and marched out of town altogether, depriving Bury of its only department store. The cattle market, closed late last year, is being redeveloped and a department store may yet resurface on a site that equals one-third of the town's retail space. Other possible tenants may be a hotel, conference centre, or various retail, leisure and mixed-use schemes.

Past and present: Bury St Edmunds dates to a 10th-century Benedictine Abbey and today's street plan reflects its Norman origins, as does Moyse's Hall, now a museum. The Abbey ruins are visible in the stunning Abbey Gardens. The beheaded Edmund became England's patron saint, and Bury's burghers pressed King John to accept the Magna Carta, hence the town motto, "Shrine of a King, Cradle of the Law".

Sights and sounds: The countryside is for horses, golfers and fisherpeople, and the town has several museums, Theatre Royal, and tours of Greene King brewery. Market days in Bury are Wednesday and Saturday.

Borough council: The local authority is St Edmundsbury - it exacts pounds 735 council tax for Band D. Its website has links for business, tourism, shopping, twinning, finance and other topics:

Page one lead: Bury Free Press, 7 May 1999: "Sorry for Swearing"- bus firm apologises after helpline woman swore at customer.

Contacts: Berkeley, 01277 222277; Bidwells, 01284 767338; Marshall Buck & Casson, 01284 705505; Wilcon, 01842 762680; Wimpey, 01379 741954 (Dickleburgh), 01638 661175 (Newmarket)