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Last Updated: Friday, 23 February 2007, 00:10 GMT
Dream commuters cross borders
By Rob Neil
BBC Money Programme

Albas, France
Heaven awaits the daring traveller
Britain's commuters have the worst deal in all of Europe. We spend longer in our cars and trains than anyone else.

But now there's a revolution going on among the workforce as more and more people are moving to mainland Europe and still keeping their job in the UK.

It's all being made possible thanks to cheap air travel, the growth of flexible working and an increase in communication technology.

And the trend is likely to gather pace later this year when the new high speed Chunnel link comes into operation.

Cross-border commuters

What was once the preserve of the rich and famous is now a possibility for many.

Budget flights to France are full of British commuters

Such as Justin Saunders who used to live with his wife and two daughters in a two-bedroom house in West Sussex.

Fed up with the cost of living and his one-and-a-half hour each way daily commute to his office in Hampshire, they sold up and moved to France.

They bought a beautiful five bedroom house with a pool in the idyllic village of Albas, South-West France.

Included in the 180,000 price was a separate cottage that was the same size as their old place in England.

"It's amazing," says Mr Saunders.

"We're still pinching ourselves. We've transformed our lives completely."

Mr Saunders believes his improved surroundings justify his weekly five-hour commute by budget airline back to Hampshire.

And he is not alone.

The Money Programme was keen to find out how many passengers on the Gatwick to Toulouse flight were regular commuters and a show of hands suggested that at least one in three of the passengers were.

Inspired move

John Powell was inspired by Mr Saunders' example.

Average commutes in Europe
Britain: 45 minutes each way
France: 35 minutes each way
Italy: 25 minutes each way

Source: Foreign Policy Centre

They work together for an online mapping company.

Mr Powell has exchanged his cramped house in Kentish Town and a daily dose of M4 road rage for a hillside house in Barcelona.

He thinks he's more productive at work and he spends more time with his wife and family, all thanks to a decent broadband connection.

And when he does commute back, as he does once a month, it's only to get his fix of water-cooler conversation.

"The technology is there that allows people to work from wherever, whenever they want to if they're doing information work," observes Peter Thompson from Future Work Forum, Henley Management College.

Growing trend

But the best of both worlds - living in Europe while still earning a living in the UK - is not just the privilege of the dot-com whiz kids.

Powels' lunch
John Powell's move to Spain was inspired by a colleague

Gary Wheeler is a farrier who has upped sticks from Herne Bay, Kent and bought a farmhouse with an acre of land in Pas de Calais for 60,000.

Mr Wheeler, his anvil and his van, make the daily trip to Kent on the train through the Eurotunnel.

"I've added half an hour in the morning for the trip from France to England and the same for the evening," he says.

"The travelling I do over there from my home is ever so easy. There's not any real traffic."

Mr Wheeler may soon find himself part of a new commuter belt, predicts Trisha Mason who runs VEF, a property consultancy based in London that specifically helps Brits buy property in France.

Ms Mason's firm's research for 2007 showed "a significant increase in the people wanting to live in France and at least one in five are wanting to commute back to Britain to work while keeping their families in France.

It's a trend that looks set to grow when the St Pancras high speed rail terminal opens in November.

Will a new Brit-belt of commuters emerge in northern France?

Simon Montague from Eurostar thinks so.

"The commuter time between Lille and London will be just one hour twenty," Mr Montague says.

"That's less than commuting from places like Eastbourne or Salisbury or Margate.

"The idea of daily commuting from Northern France suddenly becomes very practical."

Could taxes on cheap flights turn the Euro-commuting dream into a nightmare?

Travel expert Simon Calder thinks not.

"Once you have told people like you and me, as opposed to the rich and famous, that you can fly off anywhere at the weekend, that transforms society and we are only just discovering that."

Money Programme: Dream commuters, broadcast BBC Two on 23 February at 1900.

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