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Government / Local politics

Rent too expensive in London? Might as well commute from Hastings

Another year, another inflation-busting rent rise. Many of London’s workers could be forgiven for wondering whether it wouldn’t make sense just to up sticks and join the commuters vaulting the green belt every morning.

Well wonder no more. Generation Rent has looked at whether it is cheaper to rent outside of London and commute in by train every day, or if the capital is still worth it. The answer is the latter – just.

We researched the median rent on a one-bed for each local authority area in the South East, East of England and Greater London, then found commuting times and costs to central London from the main railway or tube station in each area.

There are indeed areas that won’t simply take your savings in housing costs and add them to your travel card price. But there’s still a cost.

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The cheapest place to live and commute to London is Hastings on the south coast. Rent there averages £420 a month (£5,040 a year), and it costs £5272 for a 12-month season ticket – £10,312 in total. The only snag is you’ll spend thre hours on a train every day, plus around 30 minutes on the Tube getting to and from your workplace. Still, that’s a bit quicker than the commute between London and Barcelona.

The London Borough of Bexley is a much more appealing proposition. Rent is higher, at £700 a month for a similar property, but travel costs are only £2,188 a year – at £10,588 in total, just a smidge more than Hastings (and the second cheapest area, Gravesend). The commute into central London is fairly quick at 36 minutes each way – so you might actually have a life and a good night’s sleep.

True, much of London is painfully expensive to rent in, but on the eastern edges it still makes more sense than quitting the capital if you want to save money. The boroughs of Havering and Barking & Dagenhamg both offer reasonable commutes and low rents, with the total costing less than £12,000 a year. And if you want to avoid public transport and cycle into work, the cheapest place in inner London is Lewisham, with annual rent of £11,400.

“Cheap”, “reasonable”, “low”: that’s all relative, of course – for Bexley to be affordable, you need to earn £30,000 or more. And equivalent rent and travel costs in Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Leeds and Sheffield won’t set you back more than £7,000 a year. Leaving London entirely is a compelling idea – as long as you can land a job.

And with London renters paying 4 per cent more than they did last year, it’s only a matter of time before it does become more viable to cross the M25. Bexley and Havering will both be on Crossrail when it opens in a few years, and those quicker commutes will caffeinate rents. Leighton Buzzard, a 47-minute one-way journey away and costing £11,412 in annual rent and travel, will be waiting with open arms.

A desertion of London by renters might be a little way off yet, but it should not be treated as inevitable or natural. It’s a case of tackling the housing crisis and reducing the burden it places on the transport network, families and our health.

Long commutes, squeezed leisure time and the impact they’ll have on our family life and our wellbeing are not a price London’s workers should be forced to pay. It’ll be the result of gross negligence on the part of our politicians.

The city has not built enough homes for years, and the resulting high rents are taking their toll on its 2m private renters. The next London mayor must make affordability their number one priority. Alongside this research we have published a housing manifesto for London, which sets out the policies that will help get the capital back on track. The mayor has to push developers to deliver more affordable homes. The mayor has to ensure any developments on publicly owned land prioritise London’s lower income households. And the mayor has to use his or her mandate to press Westminster for powers to control rents.

Generation Rent will be campaigning on this manifesto between now and the mayoral election next year. But we need your help.

We need to raise £60,000 by 31 August to continue our work. If you want to see a campaign focused on bringing sanity to the London housing market, please consider donating just £20 to get us closer to our goal. You can click here for more information.

Dan Wilson Craw is head of communications for Generation Rent.
This article is from the CityMetric archive: some formatting and images may not be present.