Hot Spot: Chester

Good employment opportunities are bringing new life to this walled Roman city, says Robert Liebman
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The Independent Online

A choice blend of Roman, Tudor, Georgian, Victorian and Ethelflaedan has done Chester proud. Cheshire's county town has a vast set of Roman walls, which were rebuilt and extended in the 10th century by Queen Ethelflaeda, daughter of Alfred the Great. The Rows, the landmark half-timbered two-storey shopping arcade, is medieval, and the Cathedral is a few hundred years older. And, several centuries later, new luxury apartment blocks now adorn the Shropshire Union Canal.

Louis Hill, a press officer at Mark & Spencer's London headquarters, jumped at the opportunity to move to the company's financial services division in Chester. "We always wanted to leave London, and my wife's family is from this area. This is a beautiful city to live in, the only totally walled city in Britain. It has the restaurants, bars and clubs of a city and lovely countryside. We often go on fantastic walks in North Wales and go bramble picking with the kids."

A Chester resident for only 18 months, he already has intimate knowledge of several aspects of the local market. The Hills opted to test the waters by renting a house, but they hedged one risk by taking another. "We kept our flat in Elephant and Castle, bought two flats here, and are letting all three. Rather than jump into Chester with both feet and potentially get stuck, we took the tentative step of renting. We maintain our position on the property ladder, and the income from our flats more than offsets the rent we pay." Soon, however, this young family of four will move up a rung: "We made an offer on a house in Brown Knowle just outside town, and it was just accepted."

Each of his Chester flats has just one bedroom, but tenants are plentiful: "The market is extremely buoyant as the town has just about 100 per cent employment. The Chester Business Park is very successful, financial service companies like M&S and MBNA are solid and expanding, and it is an easy commute to Manchester and Liverpool."

David Bexon of SmartNewHomes.com has culled data from 400,000 visitor sessions each month on his website, combined with price information from developers. His findings should please the Hill family: "Chester has seen an overall increase of more than 14 per cent this year, with a 36 per cent increase in apartment prices," says Bexon. "The upper end of the market in the North is still showing good growth."

THE LOW-DOWN

Getting there

Near the M6 and M1, Chester is 28 miles from Liverpool, 40 from Manchester and 75 from Birmingham. Liverpool and Manchester airports are nearby, and Chester has a small airfield.

Shop till you drop

The city centre has Browns department store, M&S and BhS, and Grosvenor Shopping Centre has about 75 high street shops. Chartered in 1208, Chester Market has nearly 100 stalls and operates Monday to Saturday. Specialist shops are located in Godstall Lane, Rufus Court and St Michael's Arcade. The Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet is in nearby Ellesmere Port.

Culture club

The UGC at Greyhound retail park has six screens and the Odeon Northgate Street has five screens. The Gateway Theatre hosts drama, music, dance and comedy. Upcoming productions include Don Giovanni by Mid Wales Opera, Alexei Sayle, Linda Smith, Germaine Greer, and Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. Waterfront concerts are held at the Groves. Bluegrass and jazz are among the offerings at local clubs.

Get active

The area has eight golf courses, and fishing and barge cruises are an option on the Shropshire Union Canal and River Dee. For fitness freaks, the Northgate Arena Leisure Centre has a pool, and Total Fitness recently opened.

Attractions

The city has a zoo, a racecourse and a river that hosts an annual regatta. The castle houses a military museum, and the Blue Planet aquarium is outside town.

Prices

In Blacon two miles from the city centre, a two-bed flat needing modernisation is seeking offers over £45,000, and a three-bed terrace is priced at £72,000. Closer to the centre, small flats and houses are more likely to cost between £90,000 and £120,000. Large detached homes are available for about £400,000, rising to more than £1m for detached houses overlooking the River Dee.

Barn conversion

In Chorlton, four miles from Chester, an L-shaped 19th-century barn complex has been developed into five terraces, most with two receptions and small or medium windows (except one house, whose second bedroom is above the driveway and has six panels of wall-to-ceiling widows on the front and rear elevations). Prices range from £350,000 to £450,000, at Strutt & Parker.

Horses for courses

A spacious former stable is now a four-bed single-storey house in Higher Kinnerton with double garage and conservatory with potential for a teenager/granny suite in the rear. The property includes a paddock and partially constructed swimming pool; £475,000 at Humphreys.

New to view

Winchester House, by David Wilson Homes, includes four townhouses and 125 one- and two-bedroom apartments and penthouses in a conservation area; from £140,000 (01244 344699). One of three Redrow developments in or near Chester, Wharton Lock contains 124 flats, also from £140,000 (01244 315515). Local developers Dandara and Watkin Jones also build new flats.

Estate agents

Beresford Adams, 01244 345345; Humphreys, 01244 350450; Jackson-Stops & Staff, 01244 328361; Matthew's, 01244 346226; Strutt & Parker, 01244 320747.

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