Byline: NICK CURTIS
Believe it or not, these houses on the Chafford Hundred estate make a commuter-belt village in Essex the country's most sought-after location.
Nick Curtis reports
ACRES and acres of near-identikit houses - 2,000 of them, and counting - each one with a regulation rectangle of lawn, a name-plaque and at least one car in the driveway.
This is the Chafford Hundred estate development in Essex, and it's officially the most coveted address in Britain. A survey published this week by information group Experian found that 23 per cent of properties in the postal area centred on the village of North Stifford had changed hands in the past year.
Chafford, separated from Stifford by the A13 and a world of difference, has turned this corner of Essex into a property hot spot.
At noon on a weekday, Chafford has an unearthly, deserted feel. It's as if someone has bought each mint mock-Tudor semi or neo-Georgian detached, parked their second cars (the wife's runaround) in the drive as a territorial marker, and then disappeared. This is not far from the truth: many Chafford residents work in London, and were attracted to the area by the good road and rail links, not to mention-its proximity to the Lakeside shoppingcentre.
We'll get to Lakeside later.
It's a place where everybody drives, unless they're pushing a pram or pulling a dog. Most of the population, too, are young, drawn out from the East End or in from wider Essex by the promise of more space. "There's hardly any old people," says Jane Rozee, 32, a mother of two, whose husband is a computer consultant in London. Indeed, the lack of a public bench in Chafford seems designed actively to deter the old from moving in.
The one retiree I found was a blow-in from Hornchurch, here to walk his daughter's dog. She moved to Chafford because it was handy for her work, in London. The people are young and so are the houses. Development started here in the late Eighties. "Before that it was a pit," says Peter Warner, the lone noon drinker in The Sandmartin, the only pub in Chafford itself. "I don't mean it was a dump: it was literally a chalk pit." Many of the early colonists took a financial pasting in the Nineties property slump.
Sheila Priest, who runs The Sandmartin with husband Martin, bought her house for [pound]80,000. It was a repossession. Now she lives above the pub, and lets the house to people who work in London.
There is a clear route up the property ladder here. Clare Patch, who worked in London until the birth of her daughter Molly, started out with her husband Nick in a one-bedroom flat, and lost 20 grand on it. Two moves on, they're in a four-bedroom detached house, which has increased in value by [pound]50,000 since November. (The cheapest of the new five and six-bedroom houses being built up the road will go for [pound]310,000. …