The jaw-dropping beauty of the ‘blunt, bow-headed, whale-backed Downs’ enchanted Rudyard Kipling, and has bewitched property buyers for generations.But, soon, people will have one more reason to move to the area.
The opening of the Hindhead tunnel, scheduled for next month, is expected to cut journey times into London by an average of 20 minutes, according to Knight Frank, easing congestion around the infamous A3/A287 crossroads on the north-eastern border of the Downs. ‘Traffic between Farnham and Haslemere should be eased, and it’s hoped that there will be reduction in “rat running” through surrounding villages, as, currently, a lot of local people try to avoid the bottleneck of the A3/A287 traffic lights,’ says Darren Light of Keats in Grayshott.
The Hindhead bypass will also make it much easier to access some of the schools in the Haslemere area, according to Philip Harvey of buying agents Property Vision. Other buying agents, such as Rupert Coles of Prime Purchase, believe that the tunnel could ‘knock half an hour off the average commuter time into London, and there will then be greater pressure on the train line to improve if it’s to be competitive’.
Mark Crampton of Middleton Advisors adds that ‘it’s not only access to London that is a factor. Traditionally, buyers wanting to be within 25 minutes of Guildford haven’t looked beyond Hindhead. The tunnel may well open up a new section of the countryside.’
The villages that are most likely to benefit from this improved accessibility are those immediately around and south of the bypass: Hindhead, where Chris Hebert of Hamptons in Haslemere has noted ‘a marked increase’ in the number of valuation requests and enquiries for properties; Haslemere, which Knight Frank see turning into ‘a mini-Guildford’; Grayshott, where Mr Coles believes the removal of the A3 blight will fuel interest for prime country houses; and Liphook, Liss
Of these, Russell Hill of Haringtons property buyers thinks that the tunnel’s impact will be felt immediately in Liphook, and will then ripple into the South Downs, particularly to the Petersfield area and villages such as Froxfield, Steep and Empshott, which are already popular. Indeed, Knight Frank have already seen a surge in interest in Hambledon, Hawkley, Froxfield and East and West Meon, as buyers are no longer deterred by the fear of traffic jams.
Coastal locations will benefit, too. The tunnel could shave 20 minutes off the drive from London to Chichester, and appetite for the town, whose property market is already back to 2007 levels, according to Michael Cornish of Chesterton Humberts, is likely to see a further increase.
Ultimately, says Mr Hill, this will lead to a rise in prices, ‘rather like Winchester when the M3 was extended from Basingstoke: it took a year before people realised how much easier it was to reach, then house prices lifted accordingly’. Of course, this partly depends on the state of the economy. Mr Harvey says that demand for South Downs properties, particularly in the ‘gilded diamond’ between Haslemere, Petersfield, Chichester and Petworth, relies mainly on British buyers, who are ‘showing considerable apathy at the higher levels’. Even so, the tunnel is widely expected to lead to an increase in prices, especially as it comes right after last year’s creation of the South Downs National Park, which also gave the local property market a boost.
‘The national park status has enhanced values in the area largely through extra publicity and kudos, but also because the South Downs are considered to be totally safe from adverse development,’ says Mr Harvey.Other agents don’t believe the designation has yet had an effect on prices, but agree that it has made the area more desirable in particular, says Matthew Hallett of Carter Jonas, ‘it has been well received by London buyers’.
Although the park’s planning regulations may put off some people because they limit the potential to extend or alter a house, other buyers see them as a guarantee that their views will never be spoiled, making the South Downs more attractive. But, most of all, says Mr Coles, in an area that
already suffers from a shortage of country houses, strict planning limits can exacerbate the lack of stock, and ‘those properties that are already of good country-house size will become increasingly sought after’.