Although not all of Michael Gove’s decisions are greeted with acclaim, his announcement last weekend that he plans to create a new wave of national parks appears to be a sure-fire winner.
The Environment Secretary is launching a review, conducted by writer Julian Glover, which will consider calls for more protected landscapes to join the list of national parks. Gove’s plans are bound to have repercussions on the property market. So who will be the winners? The answer is: homeowners.
National parks have more restrictive planning regulations, resulting in fewer houses being built, so demand is stronger. Consequently, homes in a national park often carry a considerable premium.
Homes with a view: The Seven Sisters cliffs in the South Downs National Park, which is popular with housebuyers
According to research carried out by Knight Frank last year, the average price paid for a detached house in the South Downs National Park, the country’s most recently designated national park — £674,268 — far outstripped the average (£487,926) in the rest of West Sussex. The story is similar in most of the 15 national parks. Stringent planning regulations also give the locals peace of mind.
‘They live without the uncertainty that someone may build a housing estate at the end of their garden,’ says Nigel Mitchell, of Knight Frank Home Counties, who deals with the South Downs. ‘That, too, makes owning a house in a national park desirable.’
There are, of course, disadvantages to living in a national park. Strict building regulations can be tricky for people with ambitious home improvements in mind.
Gove also wants to replace EU subsidies with a new system that pays farmers to improve access to their land — not a policy which will find favour with everyone.
The zones to be upgraded to national park status have yet to be chosen, but the review is likely to consider calls for areas such as the Chilterns, South Devon, the Forest of Dean and the Malvern Hills — all with vociferous locals campaigning for added protection.
These are some of the places that would become more sought after. However, although the Chilterns, especially the villages around Henley-on-Thames, are extremely expensive, there is an area north of the M40 and west of High Wycombe which some feel is shadowed by the coming of the HS2 railway.
Radnage, a scattering of hamlets and farmhouses, has bags of community spirit, centred around its two pubs and a church. Nearby Bledlow Ridge is similarly well blessed with amenities — including a refurbished grocery shop, an equestrian centre, youth club and cricket club.
National park status will offer these villages protection from over-development — rare for any settlement which is only an hour from London. As for HS2, Nick Mead of The Buying Solution property finders believes that people have over-reacted to the plans.
‘When it is up and running in 2027 only those in the very near vicinity will be bothered by the railway,’ he says.
In South Devon — notably Salcombe, which is beloved by yachties — prices have gone through the roof. A terrace cottage will set you back £450,000.
Yet five miles along the coast there is Hope Cove, which some say is equally desirable, in a less showy, more family- orientated way. There is also a year-round community. Doubtless the locals would welcome the added protection of national park status. A small bungalow next to the beach is for sale for £250,000.
Being made a national park would shine a spotlight on the Malvern Hills — the glorious countryside which inspired Elgar. The village of Colwall has excellent schools, a cricket pitch, pubs, a butcher, green-grocer and post office. Its crowning glory is its railway line which has a direct service to London, albeit more than three hours’ journey.
Estate agents like to sell the Forest of Dean as ‘the new Cotswolds’. It is no such thing. Whereas the Cotswolds, with its honey coloured stone cottages is traditionally pretty, ‘The Forest’ is less manicured. With its woodland, history of mining and wild boars, this is an unspoilt place and national park status would ensure it stays that way.
Ross-on-Wye, which is perched above the river, is the coach-tour capital of the area, visitors being attracted to the views and medieval houses. The average house price last year, according to Rightmove, was £279,000.
Places such as Cinderford, Blakeney, Newnham and Lydney should also prosper if The Forest gets an upgrade.