Basingstoke is no garden suburb, but it's not just commuters who are flooding there from London. By Robert Liebman
It is easy to jeer at Hampshire's answer to Croydon, Watford and other architecturally uninviting new towns, but for investors and residents alike, Basingstoke is blessed. A compact city surrounded by agricultural land, it allows fast and easy escape to the countryside or seashore. Commercially buoyant itself, it offers a fast commute to London and is also convenient for Bracknell and Reading in the southeast's Silicon Valley. Outsiders mock Basingstoke, and locals laugh all the way to the bank.

Centrally located within the M3 corridor, Basingstoke has been especially successful in attracting companies involved in finance and information technology. Sun Life, Sony, IBM, the Automobile Association, Digital, Wella, and De La Rue are headquartered or have a major facility in Basingstoke, and the area's excellent communications attract occupiers such as Sainsbury's distribution centre.

More people commute into Basingstoke than travel from it to London, says Mark Potter of Lane Fox estate agents. At least four trains per hour make the journey to the capital, with the fastest doing the journey in under 45 minutes.

Basingstoke's expansion, which began when it started taking London overspill in the 1960s, has been extensive but geographically constrained: "There is virtually no development south of the M3," says Terence Giblin of estate agents Simmons & Sons. "Away from built-up Basingstoke, some wonderful North Hampshire villages offer amenities such as shopping and a primary school. Villages to the east and south such as Rotherwick, Old Basing, Upton Grey and Greywell are slightly higher priced than Kingsclere, Sherborne St John and the other sought after villages to the north and west."

Thanks to the local economy, there is a buoyant lettings market which is attractive to investors and is a boon to would-be owner-occupiers: "We sold a house to a couple who don't need to live in it for another three years but were worried that if they didn't buy now, they would never be able to afford the area," says Potter. "We are now letting the property for them until they occupy.

"Basingstoke is not the most attractive place in the world, and it hasn't been planned well, but the planners are rectifying that, the schools are excellent, and the villages are beautiful." Newcomers invariably settle in a village, but Basingstoke is also enjoying a boom. Barratt, developing its fourth project in Basingstoke this decade, is currently erecting a block of flats in a converted school in the town centre.

The joint is jumping. "So far, we've sold 25 more homes this year compared with last year. Demand is greater than ever to move here. Surrey is full up, and this is the first area from London that is not too built up which has real countryside and still has a good commute. Prices are rising by 15 to 30 per cent per year.

Giblin at Simmons anticipates a 5-10 per cent rise next year. "The area is undoubtedly on the boil. Basingstoke has 21 estate agents. And plenty of banks."

The Low-Down

Transport: Basingstoke to Heathrow is 39 miles, mostly on the M3. Southampton is 31 miles, away and Bournemouth is 58. Basingstoke station handles 307 trains daily; Bramley has 71, and Overton and Whitchurch deal with 35 each.

Prices: Country estates can sell for millions, some three-bed semis are selling at closer to pounds 100,000. City-centre one-bed flats cost pounds 50,000 to pounds 55,000, but retirement and ex-council flats can sell for as little as pounds 30,000.

Properties: Many modern buildings are sublimely undistinguished, but every so often there is evidence of an architect using their cerebral parts. For example, some flats enjoy large sun terraces which are actually south-facing, while some modernistic buildings eschew box-like blandness in favour of being distinctively and handsomely designed. Thatched houses and cottages are available in small, medium, and larger sizes (a Grade II-listed Molesey Cottage has 2,699 square feet including a total of nine receptions and bedrooms), from pounds 190,000 to pounds 495,000 at Lane Fox, which is selling a three-bedroomed period cottage in Overton for pounds 162,500.

New-build: In Basingstoke: Regent Court (Barratt), 12 flats, from pounds 86,500; Cliddesden Mews (Bellwinch), four four-bed homes, from pounds 289,995. In Old Basing: Bramblewood (Beazer), three-storey detached and town houses, from pounds 149,950; Green Acres (David Wilson), three- and four-bed houses, from pounds 155,995. In Upton: Sheridan Grange (Bewley Homes), two of seven executive homes remain at pounds 470,000 and pounds 475,000. Of 22 Persimmon houses in Hook, only the show home remains, at pounds 149,950.

Housing associations: Abbeyfield heads a list of 19 housing associations noted in the Basingstoke and Deane A-Z Guide to Local Services distributed by the council.

Area attractions: Jane Austen's birthplace in Steventon; Highclere Castle (Lord Carnarvon's Egyptian collection); The Vyne (a 16th-century National Trust property in Sherborne St John); Whitchurch Silk Mill (a working mill and museum); Stratfield Saye House (once home to the Duke of Wellington); Watership Down in Kingsclere (made famous by Richard Adams' novel of the same name); Willis Museum (local history); Viables Craft Centre. The Milestone living history museum is due to open next year.

Area activities: Basingstoke has two theatres (the Haymarket and Anvil), while six sports centres cater for ice skating, short mat bowls and petanque (boules). Anglers get hooked on the River Test, the River Loddon, and the Whitewater.

Only nouns need apply: Conservative MPs Andrew Hunter and Sir George Young preside over Basingstoke and North West Hampshire constituencies respectively. The population of Basingstoke town is anticipated to reach 100,000 by next year, up from 85,800 in 1991. Council tax is set at pounds 499, pounds 749, and pounds 1,498 in Bands A, D and H for Basingstoke town centre. The levels of council tax varies according to parish.

Contacts: Barratt, 01256 352819; Beazer, 01256 327984; Bellwinch, 01256 352420; David Wilson, 0836 716553; Lane Fox, 01256 474647; Persimmon, 01256 766796; Simmons & Sons, 01256 840077.