Hot Spot: Chinnor, Thame and Princes Risborough

Riches in a poor man's Bucks
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The Independent Online

Losing a bank branch is a common misfortune these days, but losing a bank, a building society and a cement factory looks like card-carrying carelessness.

Losing a bank branch is a common misfortune these days, but losing a bank, a building society and a cement factory looks like card-carrying carelessness.

"In fact, Chinnor had two banks and two building societies," says local resident and estate agent Lindsey Simpson. "Now we have none, although the town has grown."

"Chinnor is a poor man's Buckinghamshire and phenomenal value for money," says Lane Fox's Jonathan Crellin of the obscure part of Oxfordshire that deserves a higher profile - and will soon get it.

The cement works is closing, and although relatively few residential units may rise on site "new developments generally bring whoosh to an area", says Mr Crellin. "The original housing estates were rushed for the cement workers, but today planning is more thoughtful and the cement work redevelopment will be better handled."

Chinnor forms the base of a V, with Thame branching off about four miles to the west and Princes Risborough roughly equidistant to the east. "Chinnor has the cheapest villages and offers the best value for money in our area, which is between High Wycombe and Oxford in the M40 corridor," says Mr Crellin. "It is cheaper than Thame and Watlington by about 20 per cent but it is catching up." Thame-based Simon Lazaruk, of Aitchinsons, adds: "Thame is between 5 and 10 per cent more expensive, but it is much larger and has more properties of all types than Chinnor."

Housebuyers can play these towns off one another to move up the housing ladder. "Thame has more starter homes. My son first bought a house in Thame and then moved back to Chinnor," says Ms Simpson, herself a 26-year resident.

Ms Simpson says Chinnor "is quite attractive for people commuting to London and has become upgraded over the years, but outsiders don't realise it. Prices have rocketed over the last few years and have already gone up further knowing that the cement works are closing".

Symptoms of the generally cooling property market are evident in Chinnor. "Properties are not selling so quickly, so our stock is going up and we are starting to get price reductions on the harder-to-sell houses," says Mark Griggs of Simmons & Lawrence. "We have more properties on our books than we've had for about a year now."

Local estate agents have put their soothsaying skills in abeyance:"Once we know the future of the cement works, we will have a better idea about property values," says Mr Griggs. "There are no firm details yet. I expect it will be a mix of commercial and residential. It will bring more people into the area but I can't see prices going up too much more in the near future."

The Low-Down

Transport

Oxford, 19 miles, Reading, 20, and London, 40, are accessible via the M40 and M4. Bus services to and from Chinnor are timed to co-ordinate with rush-hour services from Princes Risborough to London Marylebone. A season rail ticket costs £2,444.

Prices and properties

Simmons & Lawrence has a one-bed flat in a former school house for £79,950, but flats and small houses are rare in Chinnor. Three-bed semis are around £135,000 to £140,000. Aitchisons has a four-bed detached house for £325,000. Outside Chinnor, Lane Fox has detached houses with several acres for more than £500,000.

Smart villages

Long Crendon, Haddenham and Cuddington villages, just over the border into Buckinghamshire, "are popular because they have grammar schools, are pretty and have a lot of period property", says Mr Lazaruk.

Thame

Aitchison's Lea Park says a 1970s estate, encompassing about half of Thame, has homes ranging in price from £60,000 for a small, rundown maisonette "to £750,000 and higher, even more than £1m".

Buyer bewairy

Simmons & Lawrence is selling an ex-council "airy house" for £30,000. These concrete units were built after the war, were not supposed to see their 10th birthday and are not mortgageable unless a brick outer skin is applied.

Cement works today

The 75-hectare site, previously owned by Rugby Cement and now owned by Ready Mix Cement, is at the foot of the Chilterns. Parts of the site are within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and an Area of Great Landscape Value.

Cement works tomorrow

Rugby Cement has proposed employment units, 130 to 210 housing units, new roads and the possible revival of the railway line. Chinnor Parish Council says this scheme is too large, the water pits are unsafe, and "the major need in the village is for employment rather than further housing".

Contacts

Aitchisons, 01844 215371; Lane Fox, 01844 342571; Crendon House, 01844 353573; Simmons & Lawrence, 01844 353155.

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