A view backstage at Beverley Minster

A good investment

Neil Pickford plays the market

I know we’re coming up to Christmas and so it is bad form to talk about house prices, but sometimes the news agenda comes along and rudely kicks everything else aside. Given that my own musing was unceremoniously elbowed in the ribs last week by such an interruption I thought I’d share my thoughts on the subject.

And the subject itself is the cost of buying a house in a market town. Now I’m not going to debate whether having a ready supply of inexpensive housing to encourage new families to move into an area is a good thing (although it’s difficult to see how primary schools can keep going if they don’t) but let’s just accept the status quo for now.

A report t’other day said that market towns are becoming some of the most expensive UK destinations to live in and the cost of buying a house in a market town is higher than in the surrounding county. The report compilers speculated that market towns were popular because they allowed urbanites to escape to a more rural lifestyle, without losing most amenities such as shops.

I disagree.

When I looked at the list of the towns with the highest premiums over their near neighbours: Beaconsfield (west of London), Winchcombe in God’s own county of Gloucestershire and Tenterden in the stuffed-shirt county of Kent, my mind made a sudden connection – preserved railways.

Forget Beaconsfield for the moment because it doesn’t fit my argument (although it has no need or opportunity to create a preserved railway as it still has its original one). Instead look at Winchcombe, the northern terminus for the 12 mile-long preserved Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway: then Tenterden, the headquarters of the 11.5 mile Kent & East Sussex Railway.

Or take Bakewell in Derbyshire, which is the premium-priced market town in the county and currently the target for an extension of the preserved Peak Railway line from Matlock.

I think you can see where I am heading with this. For quite a few years there has been a small but persistent campaign to reopen the Beverley to York railway line as a modern commuter route, using most of the old trackbed which still exists – and I’m a member. However, things have gone a bit quiet this last year because, basically, it needs a big commitment from someone to persuade the government to put money into it.

However, as London tends to ignore northern transport apart from the Birmingham to Manchester axis it might be sensible to consider something else, something that can utilise local talent, energy, enthusiasm and resources. Something that doesn’t require someone in Whitehall to have endless meetings to debate not signing a cheque for millions of pounds for East Yorkshire; something that creates value locally and ploughs any profits back into the local community. Can you see what I’m thinking?

After all, the Yorkshire Wolds Railway restoration project has just received planning permission to create a centre at Wetwang, first step in a scheme to reopen at least part of the Driffield to Malton line for tourism and, frankly, what’s Wetwang got that we haven’t?  There’s loads of places where we could bung down a few bits of track and slap an old locomotive in place to get going.

And if we got a line up and running to Market Weighton and beyond maybe we could ultimately lease the track to an operating company who will carry on to York with a modern commuter service around or alongside whatever heritage locomotives are pulling in the tourists during the summer.

C’mon guys, let’s work together on this one. As you can see from the examples above, if you want to push up the value of your house forget investing in cutting edge plumbing or a new conservatory. Stick your money into some old railway sleepers and you’ll be quids-in.

I’ve got two in my back garden already.


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