A Focus on Luton

For many years, saying that you lived in Luton was usually greeted with a chuckle as Luton was considered a town with poor housing. In recent years, Luton has been quietly undergoing a transformation and is becoming smart and stylish with some attractive new housing developments and a larger and completely revamped international airport.

Luton is situated in south east England, about 60km (30 miles) north-west of London and lies in the county of Bedfordshire. Luton lies on the edge of the Chilterns amongst some very attractive areas and has a population of 214,109 – compared to 202,748 in the 2011 census. Luton is one of largest towns in the UK not to have city status.

Luton was founded in the sixth century as a Saxon outpost on the banks of the River Lea. The settlement was recorded in the Doomsday Book as 'Loitone' and 'Lintone'. For many years, since the 17th century it was famous for its hat making which was at its height in the 1930s. 

The industry used straw grown locally that was plaited to be used for making boaters. Even today, a handful of small millinery companies can still be found in the town. The town's football team still has the nickname of 'The Hatters' in recognition of the town's fame. 

In the pre-war years, the town enjoyed an economic boom as new industries grew and prospered and Luton Airport was opened, operated by the town council and used by the RAF. Both private and council housing flourished during the 1920s-1930s and the town grew, absorbing several local villages including Leagrove, Limbury and Stopsley.

The biggest change in the town took place in 1906 when Vauxhall Motors opened the largest car plant in the UK in the town. During the Second World War, Churchill tanks were built there and because of this, Luton became a target for bombing raids by the Luftwaffe. The factories were well camouflaged but nevertheless 1,500 houses in the town were destroyed. 

Large new council estates were built in the postwar years to replace them and to supply quality homes to returning servicemen at Farley Hill, Stopsley, Limbury, Marsh Farm and Leagrove. Marsh Farm was further developed into a larger council estate in the mid late 1960s as overflow housing for London. The estate soon gained a bad reputation for crime, poverty and unemployment and tensions rose and it was the scene of terrible riots in July 1992.

In the 1960s, Vauxhall Motors employed 37,000 people in its Luton factories but by March 2002 the decision had been made to close. Commercial vehicles bearing the Vauxhall logo are still imported there and the company Head Office remains – but that's all. The Vauxhall closure had a huge and negative impact on the town which suffered high unemployment.

With morale at its lowest following the Vauxhall closure, there was only one direction for the town and that was up!  Luckily, the town was already home to Monarch Airlines and as the airport developed so did the number of jobs there. Today, Thomson TUI and easyJet alone employ 4,000.  Printing remained important in the town and in 2011, The Daily Express Group moved to Luton where it employs 500+ people. Another major employer is the University of Bedfordshire as it has two campuses in the town and the Luton & Dunstable University Hospital has a staff list of 4,000.  

As well as trying to develop the town and encourage new businesses into the area, the town council had to recognise the challenge of planning and delivering services in the town with so many different ethnic communities and also had to find ways to engage with them. There are many different events held in the town to try and bring the different communities together and the biggest one is Luton's colourful annual International Carnival which is the largest one day carnival in Europe. 

Luton Airport has continued to grow in importance as London's airspace continues to be particularly busy and there is increasing pressure on London Heathrow. As part of the national airspace change programme, Luton Airport – now known as London Luton Airport (LLA) – is having a major upgrade to help meet the demands for air travel and to help alleviate the ongoing pressure on Heathrow. 

The main focus of the airspace change programme is on making it environmentally efficient. Airport planners are particularly sensitive to the noise impact that comes with aircraft operations and are ensuring these will be kept to a minimum as the airport expands. Currently, the airport handles 14,500,000 passengers each year with flights to Europe, North Africa and Asia. The airport is a major employer in the town and at present the airport is in the middle of its £110 million transformation that will see the number of passengers it handles increase to 18 million by 2020.

In tandem with the expansion of the airport, a £1.5 billion regeneration programme for the town itself was announced in 2016. The programme will last 20 years and it includes creating a thriving community with good cultural and sporting facilities. 

The regeneration programme also includes the construction of a number of quality private housing projects including the one already underway by Redrow which consists of 223 apartments priced between £192,500 - £272,500. This project, like several others, is aimed at first time buyers as a £10,000 deposit will secure one of the apartments and first time buyers are exempt from the added expense of stamp duty.

An ambitious part of the town's regeneration programme is focused on the seven acres of cleared wasteland where a Vauxhall Motors factory once stood. In May 2020 Strawberry Star developers will be starting work on the construction of 785 apartments on the site, which will be built in several phases. The development with have a piazza with bars, restaurants, a gym and a supermarket and there will be terraces of attractive roof gardens.

Matt Leitch the Sales Director of Strawberry Star explained to members of the press recently that the company does not want the properties to be used purely by London commuters, as just somewhere to sleep, as they really want to encourage buyers to spend their time locally in Luton. The price for studios on this development will be £185,000 with a two bed/two bath apartment costing £350,000   

Another interesting housing project is the Foundry Development of 59 one and two bed micro flats that went on the market recently. Another exciting part of the renovation project is the enlargement of the Cultural Quarter which is situated near the town's main railway station. The £3.9 million upgrade is primarily aimed at visitors to the town as it will provide a theatre space, studio and several arts venues.

Even the town's football grounds are being given a makeover and planning permission was recently granted for the exciting new design.  A new commercial area is also being built called New Century Park and this will create 4,000 new jobs. A new £25 million shopping centre is planned for the Marsh Farm area and this will create more jobs and Bartlett Square is another development that will create a further 2,000 jobs.  

Although the property market across the UK has been difficult in recent years, in Luton house prices have continued to rise as the town has become popular with young professionals working in London. In 2015, according to Lendinvest, house prices in the town rose by 18.5% - one of the highest percentages in the UK. 

People working in London are attracted to Luton as its property prices are comparatively low. Whilst the average house price in the capital is currently £500,000, in Luton it is almost half the price at £253,998 - which offers a great alternative to first time buyers and also helps families climb the property ladder when they need a larger home. 

Another huge bonus for people working in London is that the excellent rail network makes commuting easy – just 23 minutes into King's Cross. Luton also has good motorway connections via the M1. Estate agents Jackson-Stops named Luton London's top commuter hotspot for 2019 – for the second consecutive year.

There are also a high number of properties for rent in the town and landlords have successfully divided Victorian terrace houses into studio apartments for solo occupants as many who work in the town are young individuals. Rental prices have also been increasing in the town and in 2014 there was a 10.4% growth – the biggest in the UK. 

Buy-to-Let investors named Luton as one of the most sought after areas in March 2019. In a recent survey conducted by Experience Invest, 11% of landlords and real estate investors are now looking at Luton mainly because it is proving so attractive to London commuters and because of the stagnating rate of price growth in the capital and the greater affordability of property in Luton. 

Luton is proving popular with property investors too because of the current regeneration programme. Property experts predict that there will be a noticeable growth in the town's property market during the next few years and the town will prove to be increasingly popular with buy-to-let landlords.

With so much work currently taking place in Luton, the town will soon be transformed beyond recognition and will prove a great place to call 'home' for so many people.

Image Credit - Steintec

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