It's an East-West divide as smart money goes on holiday hotspots
The Times April 14, 2006
By Olly Kendall
A NEW divide is developing in Britain’s housing market as house price
increases in the West of the country outstrip those in the East.
The “West-East tilt” now rivals the North-South divide as the defining
character in the country’s booming housing market.
More than two million people have moved away from London in the past ten years,
whether to escape the frantic lifestyle or simply from a desire to retire to the
countryside. And the West Country is proving to be one of the most popular
Eighteen of the 20 counties that have had the biggest increases in property
prices since 1996 are in western Britain, according to figures from the Halifax,
the country’s biggest mortgage lender.
Wales has, on average, had the biggest gain in prices during the period,
accounting for 13 of the top 20 hotspots. The counties of Cornwall, Dorset,
Gloucestershire and Somerset in the South West and Shropshire in the western
Midlands also made it on to the list.
The Isle of Wight and East Sussex are the only regions outside western Britain
to feature in the top 20.
Cornwall had the biggest jump during the period, with the average price rising
by 268 per cent to £195,388, compared with £53,081 a decade ago. It is
followed by Anglesey, at 252 per cent, and Ceredigion, at 244 per cent.
At the top of the market in Cornwall, houses in prime locations with sea or
estuary views command prices comparable with those in London. It is a far cry
from the county’s postwar tourism boom, which brought a rash of retirement
Martin Ellis, chief economist at the Halifax, said: “Historically, house
prices in the UK have been characterised by marked differences between the North
and the South. This has clearly been the case over the past 30 or so years and
remains true today. The market, however, has taken on a distinct West-East tilt
in recent years. The last ten years has clearly been the decade of the West.”
Five of the best performers of the past decade are in Wales. As well as Anglesey
and Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire, Caerphilly and Powys helped house price rises
comfortably to exceed the 220 per cent mark. The cause is likely to have been a
result of lower starting prices combined with their attraction as holiday
In the East, the rises have been far less marked. Property prices in Norfolk and
Lincolnshire, for example, have experienced 200 per cent increases, considerably
less than their counterparts in the West.
Investors may be counting their profits but the steep house price inflation in
the West is causing consternation within local communities. “In Bath we have a
significant problem with affordable housing, which means many people who provide
services in the city cannot afford to live there,” said Don Foster, the
Liberal Democrat MP for Bath.
“We are now seeing a spread from the city into surrounding areas. This means
that a very large number of people have to commute in and out of the city every
day, significantly adding to the traffic problems. And it causes big
difficulties recruiting key public sector staff.”
It is those on lower incomes who suffer the most, according to Mr Foster. He
says that there are about 5,000 people on the waiting list for social housing in
his constituency alone. “Like many other places in the West, we are unable to
meet those housing needs,” he said.
But some things do not change. The difference between the most expensive and the
cheapest areas remains unchanged. In Surrey — still the most expensive county
in the UK — the average price is £298,835. Compare that with Blaenau, Gwent,
where you can snap up a house for just £92,000 — three times cheaper than
Surrey — the same gap as in 1996.
And, despite the move away from the city towards the suburbs and beyond, house
price rises in London show no sign of abating, increasing more than threefold,
by 226 per cent, over the ten-year period.
In the past year alone, London property owners have seen their houses increase
by more than 5 per cent, with Greater London property prices averaging over
£245,755, according to the Nationwide. This compares with £233,758 this time
last year. The £12,000 increase is equivalent to a rise of almost £33 per day,
compared with £21 for the rest of the country.