Hot Spot: Haywards Heath, Sussex

With fast trains to the City and the South Downs on its doorstep, this former market town is popular with commuters, says Robert Liebman

Haywards Heath was once a market town handling 100,000 head of cattle a year, and beef trading is still practiced at the market ground. Nowadays, though, the meat comes in small portions wrapped in plastic - the erstwhile cattle market is a superstore.

Haywards Heath was once a market town handling 100,000 head of cattle a year, and beef trading is still practiced at the market ground. Nowadays, though, the meat comes in small portions wrapped in plastic - the erstwhile cattle market is a superstore.

Forty miles from London and only 12 miles from the coast, Haywards Heath is a bustling town with excellent transport links, but is also surrounded by beautiful countryside. New-build is boosting the population of 23,000 and raising its profile as a dormitory town for London, Brighton, Croydon, Crawley and Gatwick. "Our market is largely family-driven, because of the number of good local schools," says Guy Dixon of Cluttons. "In recent years, several wine bars and decent restaurants opened, and it is a vibrant place to go out in. Prices have risen accordingly and, over the past two years, we have seen a 15 per cent rise in prices for properties below £500,000. For property above £500,000 prices have risen by five per cent."

Property values vary according to type and size: "There is a good supply of three- and four-bed Victorian semis, but a shortage of larger family houses," says Dixon. "We recently brought a seven-bed Georgian-style house to the market at £865,000. It quickly had 20 viewings and went to best and final bids."

Simon Lewis of Lane Fox, which recently opened an office in nearby East Grinstead, confirms that "most of our potential purchasers are Londoners who want a speedy commute back into the City, or to Gatwick and beyond. Haywards Heath grew up as a market town but is very much a commuter town now, and it thrives on the presence of its station."

THE LOW-DOWN

Getting there

The fast train reaches London Bridge or Victoria Station in 45 minutes. The A23, five miles west of Haywards Heath, links the town with Gatwick Airport (17 miles) and Brighton. The port of Newhaven, 22 miles south, has a summer ferry to Dieppe in France.

Attractions

The Bluebell Railway steams into Sheffield Park, Horsted Keynes and Kingscote. Just north of Haywards Heath, the 19th-century Borde Hill Garden, Park and Woodland claims "Britain's largest collection of 'champion' trees in private ownership"; Borde Hill House itself dates from 1593.

Schools

Popular schools include Ditchling Primary School, Ardingly College and Hurstpierpoint College. St Paul's Catholic College is moving from Haywards Heath to Burgess Hill.

Prices

Simon Lewis of Lane Fox in East Grinstead says that prices start from £120,000 for a one-bedroom flat, £135,000 for two bedrooms, £200,000 for a three-bed semi and £650,000 for five-bed houses. Connells is selling a one-bed conversion flat a half mile from the train station for £130,000, and a two-bed flat in a gated estate with underground parking for £199,950. In Danehill, a two-bed end terrace is for sale at £154,950, and a three-bed bungalow with a conservatory and gardens on three sides is £299,950, also through Connells.

Villages

Victorian semis in Haywards Heath cost about £350,000, rising to about £425,000 in villages such as Horsted Keynes, Cuckfield, Ardingly, Ditchling and Hurstpierpoint. Near Ardingly is the large Ardingly Reservoir, which offers sailing, fishing and bird-watching, and the 500-acre Wakehurst Place, a division of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. In Chelwood Gate, Howard Cundey is selling an L-shaped, four-bed detached house in a semi-rural location near Ashdown Forest for £435,000. In Ditchling, Cluttons is selling an unusual, single-storey, five-bed detached house with semi-circular elevations; around £585,000.

Lets

According to Cluttons, rents have been constant, with one-bed flats letting for between £450 and £585 per month, and two-bed flats from £650. Three- or four-bed Victorian semis let for between £750 and £1,200. Larger houses with amenities such as a swimming pool or tennis court let for £3,000. Many agents, however, specify no pets, children or smokers.

New

Bolnore Village is a new "country village" south-west of Haywards Heath with its own school, shops and other amenities. Crest Nicholson is selling three-bed houses from £282,000 and three-storey, four-bed townhouses from £445,000 (01444 440052). David Wilson Homes has townhouses from £290,000 (01444 474450). At Bellway's 102-unit Hornbeams (01444 415076), two-bed flats are from £249,999, and three- and four-bed houses from £274,999. The five-bed houses are sold out. In the town centre, Persimmon has two-bed flats from £189,995 (01932 350555).

Estate agents

Cluttons, 01444 441166; Connells, 01444 441441; Howard Cundey, 01342 824824; Lane Fox, 01342 326326.

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