Scrapping the Severn Bridge tolls has put Wales in the spotlight, as buyers consider hopping over the border to get more for their money. Madeleine Silver explores.
When the first Severn Bridge was opened by The Queen in 1966, it was hailed as the dawn of a new economic era for south Wales, slashing what had been a 12-hour journey to London’s West End.
Although removing bridge tolls in December 2018 – saving commuters up to £1,400 a year – might not have felt quite as momentous, agents say the change has fuelled a spike in interest in Welsh property.
‘It’s noticeable – there’s definitely more activity,’ says managing director at Stacks Property Search James Greenwood.‘There’s also a lot more traffic on the roads and a lot of people talking about it. The question is: is that because the tolls came down or because the pressure on price on the English side of the Severn is so great that people have been squeezed west?’
Dan Rees at Savills Cardiff responds: ‘For people who don’t know Wales and didn’t perhaps grow up there, I’m sure the scrapping of the tolls has widened their search. If they’re commuting, they haven’t got to worry about that extra cost.’
Most new activity, say agents, has been focused towards the middle to lower end of the market. ‘We’re talking about the sub-£300,000 level, especially new-builds,’ says Anthony Clay of Fine & Country Monmouth.‘What will cost you £350,000 in Bristol will cost you £250,000 here, and it’s also beneath the raised tax levels of Wales. People who work in Bristol in the middle end of the market will commute, bridge tolls or no bridge tolls.’
‘If they’re not Welsh, I think people are surprised by how beautiful south Wales is,’ muses Leah Mullin of Knight Frank Cardiff. ‘If I wanted to go and walk in the Brecon Beacons one weekend, it only takes 40 minutes to get there; if I want to go for a swim in the sea, it’s 30 minutes away. The mix of amenities is a massive pull.’
For buyers willing to widen their search, tempted by the new ease of the bridge, budgets will still stretch further across the border. ‘There will always be a bit more value for money in Wales compared with England,’ says Mr Rees, with Savills research showing Welsh properties are nearly £100 cheaper per square foot than on the English side of the bridge.
‘Initially, there was a bit of a surge and a scramble for properties and I think the values did go up a little bit. But, as time has gone on, things have flattened out.’
Monmouthshire, often considered ‘Wales light’ – ‘not too Welsh,’ explains Mr Clay – boasts the popular market towns of Usk and Monmouth; the latter is home to the Haberdashers’ Monmouth Schools, a major draw. Crickhowell, the other side of Abergavenny, is also in high demand, with its high street enlivened by independent shops.
Agents advise sticking near to the bridge for a daily Bristol commute; the realistic commuter belt is between Chepstow and Newport near the motorway, including popular Caldicot. ‘You also have the Severn Tunnel Junction or Newport train stations on your doorstep here, and can be in London in two hours on a fast train,’ adds Mr Rees.
Why not take the plunge? ‘It’s a bit of a cliché, but people can be surprised by how warmly they’re made to feel at home in Wales,’ says Mr Greenwood. ‘There are slightly different attitudes and values to money on the other side of the river. It is a more relaxed place.’ Take me to the river… and beyond.
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