LOVE THEM OR LOSE THEM; Conservation Areas with Caring Communities Are Becoming Increasingly Rare. as English Heritage Flags Up the Villains, James Phillips Finds the Villages That Commuters Will Love

Article excerpt

Byline: James Phillips

INGATESTONE AND FRYENDEN, ESSEX

ENGLISH Heritage, the country's conservation watchdog, is shocked by the number of the country's 9,300 conservation areas that are now at risk.

In a recent survey it found that one in seven of these areas, where local councils have powers to protect whole neighbourhoods, are in serious decline, offering a street scene of shoddy replacement windows and doors, neglected road and pavement maintenance and street clutter.

Urban and suburban conservation areas were twice as likely to be at risk as rural ones.

Homes& Property went in search of best kept conservations areas for Londoners to live in.

BLETCHINGLEY, SURREY

Bletchingley derives its character from the rich red brick and tile that are the dominant building materials.

The busy A25 runs through the village but fails to detract from its old-world charm. These include an island of early buildings, which may have replaced earlier market stalls, and traditional rural shop fronts. The village is a local centre for the antiques trade. There are five pubs including the picturesque Red Lion and Whyte Hart.

When Anne of Cleves' marriage to Henry VIII was dissolved the ex-Queen lived at now-demolished Bletchingley Place.

Commuting: morning rush-hour trains from Oxted to London Bridge take between 34 and 42 minutes; two trains to Victoria have a journey time of 42 and 45 minutes.

Annual season ticket: [pounds sterling]1,740.

The parish of Ingatestone and Fryenden has three conservation areas.

The high street area was designated in 1969 and was one of the first in Essex. Station Lane, a residential area near the station followed in 1981, and the rural village of Fryenden in 1991.

Ingatestone is an old coaching town on the London to Colchester road.

The A12 now bypasses the town centre, which has a mix of brick and pastel coloured buildings and a good range of shops, restaurants and old coaching inns.

Ingatestone Hall is a fine Tudor house which is open to the public. It was built by Sir William Petre in 1548 and the Petre family still live there.

The Anglo European School is a popular comprehensive school and is the first state school in the country to introduce the International Baccalaureate.

Commuting: there are two morning rush-hour trains from Ingatestone to Liverpool Street with a journey time of between 32 and 35 minutes.

Annual season ticket: [pounds sterling]2,760

HORNDON-ON-THE-HILL, ESSEX

This is not the most attractive corner of the Thames estuary but this Essex hilltop village is the exception. There are views over the Thames to the sea and the village itself, which has been a conservation area since 1969, has many quaint half-timber medieval buildings and some fine Georgian houses.

In medieval times, the village was an important centre of the wool trade and the old wool market building is a local landmark, as is the Bell Inn, a pub with a fine dining restaurant.

Commuting: there are four early morning rush-hour trains from West Horndon taking about half an hour to Fenchurch Street.

Annual season ticket: [pounds sterling]1,824. …