Comment: Why does the thought of commuting strike fear in the heart of Londoners?

PUBLISHED: 11:00 13 November 2015

Living outside London doesn't mean you live in the sticks

Living outside London doesn't mean you live in the sticks

Archant

London residents often can't grasp how anyone can choose to live in a property outside of the Capital.

Do you work in central London? Do you want to get out of it at the end of the work day?Do you work in central London? Do you want to get out of it at the end of the work day?

There’s a weird curse that comes with living just outside of London.

It’s nothing to do with the fact that you can’t nip into TopShop/Man on Oxford Street at 9:55PM on a Thursday night because you’re having some sort of shoe crisis; it’s not about the plethora of star-spangled theatre to choose from, should you have a hankering for a bit of Harold Pinter starring Kristin Scott Thomas or Lindsay Lohan; nor is it that Uber haven’t quite taken over suburbia yet.

No. The problem with living in a commuter-rich, less congested, tuk-tuk-free habitat is that no-one beyond Zone 4 can quite grasp it.

I grew up in Berkshire - a mere 15 minutes along the M4 from Heathrow airport. To prove how close that is to the city, I suggest you contact ITN Source and request copies of their back-catalogue of London Tonight from 1997. If you sift through this compelling selection of programming (who needs Game of Thrones?) you’ll see my middle school (now a complex of luxury apartments) featured on the show because the planes taking-off were interfering with double science with Miss Hussey. None of us could hear her explain spontaneous combustion, apparently.

But before you start Googling ITN Source’s email address, I’ll get to the point...

London can be a narrow-minded town either full of those that have never lived anywhere else, those that have relocated there from another area of the UK and now believe that it’s the centre of the galaxy, or those that have travelled from abroad, stayed there and never felt the need to visit, say, the Lake District.

My career has seen me work inside London and outside of it; and currently I work in St Albans. St Albans is a lot like the Berkshirian suburbs that I originate from. It’s megalopolitan enough to still know that Gordon Ramsay is opening a restaurant in Fulham next month, but municipal enough to dare to try out his spin-off bistro in that alien-sounding village on the outskirts of Guildford. For want of a better term - it’s the best of both worlds.

Perhaps this is why St Albans sits perennially on the list of ‘Best Commuter Towns’ alongside such names as Dartford, Maidenhead and Epping Forest.

Let’s face it - if you live in a suburb of our capital you can most probably get from your hometown to your desired London locale between about 20 minutes to an hour. This may indeed vary, and yes there is often traffic to battle with or train disruptions, but I wonder if there is any town or city in the UK that doesn’t come with its share of morning travel strife. Aside from those that perhaps live above the post office they happen to also work in, nowhere is immune to potential commuter drama.

At the end of the work day, those that commute out of the city get to watch as the grey fades away and the green re-enters their lives. Even if you stick around in town for post-work drinks and get the train home late at night, you’ve still spared yourself the despair of a 6 O Clock game of sardines on the Bakerloo line. If anything, it’s an excuse to wind down after a day at your desk.

Of course then there’s the cost of living - more specifically the price of property.

As of this week, the CBRE Regional Development Land report foretold that there will be a nine percent growth in London house prices this year, rising to 31 percent by 2019. Fine if you’re a seller, daunting if you’re a buyer.

Depending on your generational attitude and the tightness of your wallet, the property ladder is notoriously seen as being incredibly vertical with a few rungs missing just to terrify you further.

But if you’re still up for the climb, why wouldn’t you look to the suburbs? Who knows - you might be able to buy a house and actually afford to turn the heating on this Christmas.

In the South East for example, prices will rise 26 percent between 2015 and 2019, most considerably due to the gradual appearance of the CrossRail. Almost a year ago to the day, St Albans was named the city with the highest property price growth (the average house valued at £494,777) thanks to its popular commuter reputation and to families moving out of London - potentially having sold their homes in the city for a pretty penny.

Take that same £494,777 home in St Albans and search for the exact replica of it in Central London - probably impossible but stay with me for a second. I’ve had my glasses at the end of my nose and done some maths. By the most recent methods of house price calculation, you will be paying approximately £1,845,657 for the same property, based on the fact that there is reportedly a 272.86 percent increase between the two areas.

This is all based on internet reckoning, but you get the gist.

My point is that commuters can get from St Albans to London’s St Pancras in 20 minutes and our city is renowned for its good schools, rolling hills and Roman ancestry. Harpenden is it’s slightly ritzier little sister, offering long driveways and large back gardens to commuters and families. In Harpenden, there’s no need to schlep to Clissold Park to walk the dog.

I actually love London, but have always rolled my eyes when I’ve met someone who has become so enveloped by the instructive vortex that is TFL that they can’t possibly fathom the world beyond Tooting.

The fact is, commuter towns mean you can escape the big city if you want to and still be able to eat at a Prezzo near your house. Or you can stick around in the Capital and most probably catch a train to the suburbs way past midnight. It’s moderately cheaper to live and not so insular that stepping outside of Zone 6 causes you to choke as if you have just landed on Pluto and forgotten to turn on your oxygen canister.

So to those who stare at people who announce they live “just outside of London” as if they have just asked you to compute Pi to the power of 72, stop and think about how the other half actually manage to live. And remember that Reading isn’t as far as Durham, Windsor isn’t found in the foothills of Ben Lomond, and St Albans is not in the Outer Hebrides. Or on Mars.

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