Property: Hot Spot - Guildford, Surrey The jam busters

Guildford boasts a historic centre, proximity to London and the coast, excellent schools - and a council dedicated to easing traffic congestion.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Is Guildford too much of a good thing? The county town of Surrey boasts a cobbled high street, a gilded clock, a picturesque river in the form of the Wey, panoramic rural views and excellent facilities and communications.

But there is a potential drawback. Such are the town's attractions that its population has soared to 60,000 - nearly half the total for the entire borough - and each man, woman and child seems to drive a car.

However, Guildford is doing more than most towns to combat the problem. It can even boast that rarest of breeds, a car-hating estate agent, in the person of Matthew Burns, who lives in Guildford. "We do have a lot of traffic," he admits. "But the council has launched a major drive to get cars out of the historic town centre."

And alleged traffic congestion hasn't done much harm to the property market. Turnover has been brisk, says Mr Burns, a partner in Burns & Webber.

"Values have increased about 10-15 per cent for cheaper properties and a minimum 20 per cent for family homes in the pounds 400,000 to pounds 500,000 range. Even in the 1980s recession, when other areas were suffering, Guildford was doing well."

A local resident for 30 years, Mr Burns also praises the area's educational system: "My children attend local schools. We have superb state as well as private schools. If a house just falls into the Guildford catchment area, it gets a higher price."

"This area attracts buyers moving out of south-west London areas such as Teddington, Twickenham and Barnes, where prices have gone sky high, and in relation to which Guildford looks very attractive," says Keith Remington, the manager of Curchods. "We have lots of investors, many of whom buy one-bedroom units which offer an opportunity to commit a smaller amount of capital. Being half an hour from both London and the coast makes it very attractive."

The town is also a great place to work in, as Michael and Marion Hardman can testify. They live in Bletchworth but have their business in Guildford and send their three children to school there.

The Hardmans, who run a public relations and publishing business, used to be based in Dorking.

"We moved our office to Guildford because it has a very vibrant centre, the shops and restaurants are magnificent, and the schools are bloody good," says Mr Hardman. "Our sons are in West Horsley, and our daughter is in Bramley."

Mr Hardman frequently attends meetings in London and motors to see a major client in south-west London. "It's faster to central London from Guildford than from many London suburbs. The train takes only 30 minutes to Waterloo, and the A3 is very fast to Wandsworth," he notes.

He's not altogether happy with the local council's attempt to tame Guildford's traffic congestion: "The traffic management system is not good. The high street is practically closed except for certain times, and the one-way system doesn't work. I park a half mile from the office. I could park closer but I enjoy the walk through the old town."

The soaring car population doesn't worry him. "Traffic is not that bad anyway," he says.

The Low-Down

Overview: For an introduction to the area, climb to the top of what remains of the castle for a panoramic view which reveals, among other things, rooftop flats atop a town centre shopping and car-park complex.

Transport: The A3 links London with Portsmouth and, via the nearby M25, Heathrow and Gatwick. Train services include the Gatwick-Reading line as well as the main London-Portsmouth route. London Road station links Guildford with major towns en route to West Croydon.

Prices: Flats are available for between pounds 50,000 for a studio, and pounds 95,000 for three bedrooms. Houses start at about pounds 140,000. Larger country houses start at pounds 500,000.

Properties: The range is from "modest to magnificent", says Michael Hardman, editor of the recently launched Living in Surrey magazine. "In the 1970s and 1980s many houses were converted into flats and bedsits, and many are now being converted back."

Wash-basin fetishists: Burns & Webber is selling a detached four-storey period house currently arranged as a B&B, with nearly two dozen rooms, car parking and a large, unused swimming pool for pounds 495,000.

Newcomers: Milford St James in Godalming, four miles from Guildford, has refurbished flats in a Georgian Grade II mansion and new-build cottages, town houses and flats. A few virgin and second-hand (but never occupied) flats are still available from developer St James (Berkeley Homes partnered with Thames Water), from pounds 175,000. Phase 2 of Crest's St Luke's Park has five-bedroom detached houses and three-storey townhouses with four and five bedrooms. Lampard is developing 10 luxury flats near the river.

Boomtown: Guildford businesses and employers include Cornhill, Guardian Royal Exchange, Ericsson, Colgate-Palmolive, Unigate, ARCO, the National Grid and the Government Office for the South East. The University of Surrey anticipates rapid expansion. Nearly half (47 per cent) of the population is professional, intermediate or manual skilled, against a UK average of 40 per cent.

Include me out: Yvonne Arnaud theatre features pre-West End shows. Organisations and events include the Rose and Sweet Pea Show, Ambient Green Picnic, charity duck races, model steam and canal boat rallies, and a folk and blues festival.

Estate agents: Burns & Webber, 01483 440800; Clarke Gammon 01483 880900; Curchods, 01483 458800; FPDSavills, 01483 796820.

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