Country houses for sale

A list of England’s 50 best cities for families that misses the mark — but still makes for fascinating reading

A bold piece of research aims to name the 50 most family-friendly cities in England — and throws up all sorts of anomalies as it does so. Toby Keel takes a look, and sees what you could get for your money in the top five.

Producing a list of the ‘best cities for families’ is a bold move. It also seems something of a strange one — how, for example, to compare Manchester with Leeds? Southampton with Norwich? Winchester with Durham? So many different factors come in to play that any such list will be fairly arbitrary — not least because, when talking about family, proximity to the rest of yours will likely be a key factor. Whether that means sticking close or getting away from is something we’ll leave up to you.

That’s not to say that it isn’t an interesting exercise, and a bit of fun to see what criteria are dreamt up — and that brings us to a new piece of research commissioned by (somewhat surprisingly) a maker of electric cars for kids called electricrideoncars.co.uk. They looked at schools, housing costs, childcare, safety, air quality, family-friendly attractions and restaurants to come up with their list.

There are plenty of surprises — not least seeing the likes of Blackpool and Harrogate, which are definitely a towns and absolutely not cities, in the top five. (The reason: the research took the 100 most-populous places, rather than splitting towns and cities.)

Numbers one and two, however, are far from surprising to those that know them. Top of the list was Lincoln, with its modest house prices — a three-bedroom home for an average of £205k — and, er, excellent air quality helping it beat off competition from Norwich. The latter was the best of the entire list for its number of local schools rated outstanding by Ofsted.

The beautiful streets of Lincoln.

The aforementioned Blackpool is in at number three thanks to a ranking boosted by the cheapest property on the list (£128,000 apparently buys a three-bed house) and, as you might expect, the highest number of child-friendly attractions. Yet it had the worse crime and safety rating of any place in the top-15; we think we’d much rather pass that by and go down to Harrogate, in fourth place, which was the safest place on the list.

St Albans finished off the top five, and might very well have won if it weren’t for the outrageous cost of property — something which is inescapable for a beautiful and historic place with excellent parks, schools and some terrific pubs and restaurants, yet just 20 minutes on the train from Kings Cross. The highest three-bed house price (£665,439) and steepest childcare costs were its undoing.

Somewhat undermining the credibility of the entire exercise was the fact that Liverpool, Plymouth, Newcastle, Leicester and Portsmouth rounded out the top 10 — that’s not to say anything against any of those fine places, but they were immediately followed by Bournemouth, Bath, Cambridge, Worcester and Exeter in spots 11 to 15.

 

It’s also a surprise to see Southend (16th) beating Brighton (21st), and York way down in 41st place, trailing behind the likes of Hull (32nd), Milton Keynes (29th) and Bradford (37th). London doesn’t even make the top 50 — no doubt all those £14 million apartments in Belgravia just gave it too much catching up to do. Even more surprising is Winchester not even making the top 50 — Country Life’s Giles Kime will not be pleased.

You can see the full ranking (and methodology) here. While it’s far from definitive, these lists are always a talking point — and even when they miss the mark they still help clarify what really is and isn’t important to you. So by way of adding further to that clarification, here’s a look at what you’d get in the top five cities (and towns) with £400,000 to spend on property:

Lincoln

This four-bedroom semi-detached home has been converted from a former schoolhouse on The Ropery, a gated development in the city centre.

It’s an open-plan home with a patio and wonderful views of the city that’s on the market at £399,950 via Savills.


Norwich

Situated in woodland just west of Norwich city centre is this very smart and relatively new townhouse with four bedrooms.

The paved back yard might not seem family friendly but there is a green space immediately opposite and plenty of nearby walks. It’s no1on at £390,000 with Gibson Bailey.


Blackpool

£369,950 via Hunters in Blackpool buys a five-bedroom detached house that’s been quirkily decorated but clearly loved.

It’s a five-minute walk from Stanley Park and Blackpool Model Village, close to the hospital and several schools and yet is still less than a mile from the pier and seafront.


Harrogate

Harrogate is relatively pricey, and while a £400,000 budget will stretch to town centre grandeur, this flat for sale via Nicholls Tyreman will probably not hit the spot for families.

In the nearby village of Bishop Thornton, however, it’s possible to find a four-bed detached house via Verity Frearson.


St Albans

Unsurprisingly, it’s just not possible to find a family-friendly house in St Albans at this budget — but an eye-catching flat is a possibility, as this one shows.

It’s in the very heart of the city centre and is full of charm… but it’s above a shop, with a pub next door. Strutt & Parker are marketing this at £400,000.

Think you can push the budget? That’s great, but you’ll need to push it a lot — Fine & Country have a five-bed terraced house close to the station and across the road from Clarence Park, up for sale at £1.25 million.


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Catch up on the best country houses for sale this week that have come to the market via Country Life.