Harpenden named best commuter town - and St Albans is fifth
PUBLISHED: 12:06 30 January 2017 | UPDATED: 12:29 30 January 2017
In news that will surprise many Thameslink customers, Harpenden has been named the best commuter area not served by Southern.
While the Thameslink network has won little praise from season ticket holders in recent times, Southern’s performance has been even more woeful.
In fact, commuters are so fed up with strikes and delays that they’re moving house to escape the beleaguered line, which has a punctuality rate of just 62 per cent.
According to property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), estate agents along the line say “buyers are pulling out of sales and residents are upping sticks to live anywhere other than on the dreaded network”.
Top of the list of alternatives is Harpenden, followed by Wokingham in Berkshire, Woking and Ewell in Surrey and, in fifth place, St Albans.
To compile the list of top 30 commuter locations, JLL looked at destinations from Zone 5 outwards with a journey time of under an hour. They then ranked them based on their scores in 15 criteria, including travel options, costs and time; affordability; schools; affluence; crime rates; shopping and potential growth in property value.
In the report published in the Sunday Times, JLL admitted: “There are no guarantees that the train service will be perfect, or that fellow passengers won’t hog the aisle seats – but all should make the daily grind less nightmarish.”
But is Thameslink sufficiently “less nightmarish” to justify St Albans and Harpenden’s high ranking? Laura-Jane Bortone of local campaign group the Train Suffererjettes, isn’t convinced.
She said: “Although we aren’t on the Southern line, so appear a more attractive option for commuters, the fact is that our franchise and the Southern franchise are owned by the same company so have similar problems with staffing. We haven’t directly been subject to strikes but have felt the impact.
“On top of this there have been massive issues with the new trains that were introduced last year, as well as problems with the London Bridge renovation project. Recent stats show that the service is the worst it has been in seven years.”
Most worryingly for Southern commuters considering moving in search of a more reliable commute is that many residents of St Albans and Harpenden are also so fed up they’re thinking about relocating.
Indeed, the Train Suffererjette’s protest outside St Albans City in December came following a series of Southern-style issues.
Laura-Jane said: “Our recent protest came after months of delays and cancellations and the feedback from families around our area has been that they are considering moving out or looking for local jobs.”
“Having said that, Thameslink have promised a new timetable at the end of the year with more trains running more frequently – now whether that works is a whole different story!”
What’s so good about Harpenden and St Albans?
The Sunday Times painted a vivid picture of Harpenden, acknowledging its village feel and describing it as “St Albans’s smarter cousin: Barbour jackets are as common here as they are in Gloucestershire, Godfrey’s chippie serves gluten-free batter and deep-fried halloumi, and two in three of households are ‘high-earning affluent achievers’.”
The education options are praised highly - notably the three secondaries, all rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted - though not without a sly dig at the upmarket area: “School gates are a sea of 4x4s,” the article continues, “and Mumsnet is full of discussions about catchment areas: ‘I hear Crabtree is now down to 400 yards’.”
As for St Albans, the broadsheet admitted that the city’s housing market can be “as cut-throat as a rush-hour station platform” but “the chattering classes love it”. Highlights include “an array of schools to make a tiger mum start purring” and “boutiques that you would never find in your average commuterland.”
But – season ticket holders, your eyes don’t deceive you: “Sweetest of all is the transport: as well as the capital, you can get to Gatwick in a little over an hour, Brighton in just under two hours and Luton in 11min. And in the morning rush hour, depending on which train you catch, you might even get a seat to St Pancras.”