The rich, famous and well-heeled have been moving to Tunbridge Wells since the 18th Century and it is easy to see why people fall in love with the town.
They are attracted by the high standard of homes, the lovely parks, excellent state and private schools, the mix of mainstream and independent shopping and a wide choice of restaurants. The crime rate is low and there is a relatively good train service to London which is just 38 miles away.
It also has great theatres and a vibrant live music scene.
Yet all this comes at a price. Tunbridge Wells is not the cheapest place to live and many local youngsters are forced to leave the town where they grew up to get on the property ladder.
So does the cost of living offer value for money when you consider the benefits of residing in Tunbridge Wells?
FAMILY CASE STUDY
Rebecca Randall lived in Sevenoaks for five years and felt it was a more expensive place to live than Tunbridge Wells.
The divorced mother of five now lives in Pennington Road and says Tunbridge Wells offers better value for money when it comes to housing and things to do with the family.
Although she admits the cost of leisure activities and kids clubs can soon add up.
“I spend about £50 on kids clubs which include netball and rugby for three children. The netball club subs are £9 per month for fees and £3 per match. The rugby club charges £150 per year for family membership and the other netball club is just paid termly at £40 for about seven sessions,” she says.
Rebecca says deals can be found on many leisure activities if you are prepared to spend time looking and choose less busy times of day.
“Odeon cinema runs great deals if you have a premier club card but can be expensive if you buy your sweets and drinks there, so take your own,” she says. “I use a parking app which gives a discount on the town car parks for paying over the phone and there are so many restaurants in town where you can use voucher discounts found online from the leading chains like Pizza Express.”
One of her favourite independents is Basil for healthy homemade food.
“It also ran the bar at the ice rink in Calverley Grounds Park but I would not say they are cheap.”
Rebecca runs her colour and design consultation company from home so the cost of doing business in the town is minimal for her.
“I have access to many professionals who live and work in Tunbridge Wells so this keeps my costs down.”
Interior Designer Nicky Percival is also married with two children and the family used to live in Hopwoods Gardens before moving to Speldhurst.
She agrees that the cost of living in Tunbridge Wells is high but the expense is worth it.
“You only have to look at the parks, the theatres and the low crime rate,” she says. “Running a business in the town is expensive which is why some independent retailers can struggle. If you can operate your business from home you can really take advantage of the town’s wealthy demographic and the reasonable connections to London.”
Nicky watches closely how much she spends on children’s activities. Eight years ago she was spending about £60 a week on clubs ranging from swimming and diving to karate and drama classes. Today her costs are around £42 a week to pay for maths tutoring and basketball. “The library runs activities for children that tend to be free or very reasonable,” she says.
Nicky’s husband Matt is a creative director of a design agency in London and used to commute by motorbike but now takes the train.
The family rarely eats out but its restaurants of choice are Wagamama, The Giggling Squid and The Hare in Langton Green.
“When we lived in town we used to meet friends at The Trading Post in Culverden Down because we could walk there,” she says. “We will move back to the town when we retire because we can capitalise on the value of our current home and move to a smaller property.”
Islay O’Hara who lives on Langton Road with her husband Arthur and two children says its can be frustrating to pay more to live, eat and shop but she understands why.
“The cost of living is offset by the fact we live in a beautiful town with historic identity and diverse architecture surrounded by lovely countryside,” she says. “It is a desirable and attractive place to live and this is reflected in the prices we pay.”
She would like to see a wider price range of restaurants: “Many of our eateries tend to be at the upper price range which makes it hard to eat out as a family.”
She adds: “Other towns play host to fabulous street food type cafes as well as the five star restaurants. Also sports facilities are expensive here.”
So how much are we spending to live here and how does that compare with other local towns? Here is a quick guide to why your money might not always go as far as you would like it to…
Last month the average value of a home in Tunbridge Wells was £462,061 (source: Zoopla) with many homes priced between £1m-£2m. The UK average is £287,000 (source: ONS).
The average valuations in the town break down as:
The average asking price early last month was £462,076. A three bedroom family house averages £392,588, a four bedroom house: £592,285 and a five bedroom house: £1,095,333.
Some of Tunbridge Wells’ more desirable Georgian and Victorian properties are sited around the parks, particularly Calverley Park, Grosvenor Park and Camden Park and within key school catchment areas.
For example, a four bedroom detached house in St James Road, within walking distance of St James Primary School was on the market in December for £795,000.
Cash buyers can still pick up a bargain with a studio flat in Grove Hill Road or Upper Grosvenor Road for just £80,000.
Rents in the town tend to start at around £700 a month for one and two bedroom flats.
Sarah Mott, associate partner at Bracketts Chartered Surveyors says the fact estate agents are busy even around the Christmas and New Year period demonstrates that people regard housing in Tunbridge Wells as good value for money. Many professionals looking to start a family continue to relocate from London.
“As always, it’s the schools and commuter links that affect the prices here and it’s the market that drives these valuations, not the estate agents,” she says. “Sometimes even older agents with many years of experience can be surprised by the prices some buyers bid.”
Hundreds of people commute to London every day from the town and the cost of train travel can make a huge dent in anyone’s salary.
The cost of a standard class adult annual season ticket from Tunbridge Wells is now £4,404, or £5,068 with a travel card. From High Brooms it is slightly cheaper (£4,300/£4,964), although you have less chance of finding a seat in the mornings.
A season ticket from Maidstone to London is lower at £4,220, from Tonbridge to the capital it is just £3,164.
One option adopted by some Tunbridge Wells commuters is to drive to Eridge where you can buy an annual season ticket for £2,844 (£3,776 for a Travelcard). This is a slower journey as the route is via Edenbridge and East Croydon to London Bridge.
John Leahy, a senior portfolio manager at EFG Asset Management, has been commuting from Tunbridge Wells for 18 years and says the rail companies exploit the captive market.
“For a commuter to London a train ticket is a forced purchase. There is little alternative and we complain about fare increases but pay up,” he says. “The rolling stock has improved but journey times have lengthened. I can’t recall the last time my evening train home arrived on schedule. Yet the town is a fantastic place to live and bring up a family so I’ve no regrets.”
Bus company Arriva offers a range of tickets and the more you travel throughout the Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells Bus Service Network the cheaper it is. The network stretches from Tonbridge to Broadwater Down and takes in Rusthall and Pembury.
A daily pass is £4.70, weekly £18, a four-weekly £57 and annual is £570 with tickets offering unlimited travel all day.
The cost of weekday bus travel for children aged 11-16 can be reduced if they meet the terms of the Young Person’s travel pass. They need to live more than three miles from their school. A full school year pass for the current year is £250 or £100 if you get free school meals.
If you prefer to drive then it can be worth shopping around for the cheapest petrol, especially as fuel prices are tumbling.
According to www.petrolprices.com the cheapest petrol within a two mile radius of Tunbridge Wells town centre in December was 99.9p at Sainsbury’s with the priciest £107.9 at the Esso garage on Eridge Road. So you could save 9p a litre by choosing your garage more carefully.
The average was 104.2p, lower than in Sevenoaks (104.7p), Maidstone (105.2p) but higher than in Tonbridge (103.9p).
Of course, some of that advantage will be lost through parking charges which are around
£1.40 for one hour and £2.40 for two hours (less if you pay by phone). By comparison, most town centre car parks in Maidstone are just 90p for one hour.
There are some cheaper options in Tunbridge Wells, including Torrington car park in Vale Avenue which is just 60p for one hour and £ for two hours.
Many families in the town choose private schools for their children because they prefer the smaller class sizes and are impressed by the academic results and extra-curricular activities.
A report by wealth management company Killik & Co in the summer claimed that putting a child through a 14-year private education in the UK now costs £286,000. Average day school fees are £13,194 per year and boarding fees cost an average of £30,369. Educational extras cost a further £3,000 per year.
In and around Tunbridge Wells there is plenty of choice of private schools and prices do vary.
Some Tunbridge Wells parents choose to pay for their children to attend Prep schools to prepare them for the Kent Test (11+) so they will not have to pay for private schools when their children are older.
Here is an indication of some of the term fees charged for day students for the school year 2015/16:
Holmewood House: Reception to year 8 £3,300-£5,800 per term.
Rose Hill Years: 3-8 £4,489.00 per term
The Mead School: Years 3-6 £3,395 per term
Beechwood Sacred Heart: Years 3-6 £3,775 per term
Tunbridge Wells has three excellent grammar schools. Skinners’ in St John’s road, Tunbridge Wells Girls’ Grammar, in Southfield Road and Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys.
We are also lucky to have three excellent comprehensive schools, Bennett Memorial in Culverden Down, St Gregory’s RC in Reynolds Lane and the all ability Skinners’ Kent Academy in Sandown Park with its new £21.4 million facilities which is part of the Skinners’ family of schools.
There is no shortage of things to do in Tunbridge Wells and the parks provide some great value for money options for families who can find trips to the cinema and theatre expensive.
A trip to the Odeon Cinema in Knight Park can cost a family of four almost £30 for tickets even before any refreshments have been bought. There are special offers at different times of the week including Odeon Kids (£2.50) and mid-morning Silver Cinema (£3.95). Tunbridge Wells’ residents are often asked to pay more to see films an adult ticket to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on December 23 at 7.30pm in Tunbridge Wells was £12.50. An adult ticket for the same film at the same time in Odeon in Blackpool was just £8.
It’s that time of year when Christmas indulgence leads to thoughts of New Year fitness and there is a choice of town gyms. Check the different packages and off-peak deals provided for each membership and be careful not to get caught out by one-off joining fees and lengthy contracts. Most gyms suspend these fees during the year to generate new business.
Pure Gym has replaced LA Fitness in the town centre with a no-frills package for just £22.99 a month.
The Gym in Rock Villa Road offers full membership for £49 and the Nuffield Health gym in Knights Park is a more pricey option of £68 a month but it does have a pool. Fusion Lifestyle at Tunbridge Wells Sports Centre offers single membership at £37.45 a month until the end of February when it rises to £49.95.
The town’s newest gym is Fit4less on North Farm Road which opened last month with a special offer of £16.99 per month.
According to review site Tripadvisor there are more than 200 restaurants in Tunbridge Wells with prices and a choice of cuisine to suit everyone.
The number one ranked restaurant is Rendez-Vous in Camden Road which has overtaken Kai’s Kitchen, located next to Hoopers, in the town’s league table.
According to Tripadvisor prices for a meal at the main chain and independent restaurants before drinks is between £12-£35 a head with top end outlets touching the £55 mark. Judging by the reviews few townsfolk seem to be disappointed with the fayre being served up and feel they are getting value for money.
The IL Vesuvio family-run Italian restaurant in Camden Road, Tunbridge Wells, has been awarded the Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence Award five years in a row.
Looking for a bargain? The Robin Hood Hungry Horse serves cod and chips or gammon and chips for under £5.
Prices and costs were correct at the time of writing.