Property: Hot Spot - Cardiff, Barry And Penarth: Posh and poor down on the waterfront

THE HARBOURS in Cardiff and Barry used to work for a living. Soon, they will mostly devote themselves to leisure pursuits.

Thanks to a new barrage enclosing the bay between Cardiff and Penarth, a large permanent freshwater lake will replace mud flats. A sizeable swathe of Barry's waterfront is being reclaimed. Like a fairy godmother, waterfront urban regeneration is transforming South Glamorgan almost beyond recognition.

This area has always blended posh and poor, and the popular villages in the Vale of Glamorgan will oblige you if you want to spend seven digits' worth of pounds. In urban areas, less than pounds 50,000 buys a new or not so new flat or, in some areas, even a house. New luxury three-bedroom flats and penthouses cost upwards of pounds 300,000.

Cyncoed, Llandaff, Whitchurch and Heath are among Cardiff's premier residential areas. "The top end of the market is very strong," says the man who gives his name to Kelvin Francis and Co. estate agents, "and the best houses can cost more than pounds 400,000. But three-bedroom homes are also available for as little as pounds 75,000. Heath is always a good investment. It's a barometer. If Heath is not selling well, the market generally is in poor shape. Heath is an ideal middle ground."

"A good place for a bargain in Penarth," says Victoria Bywater of John Leslie estate agents, "is the town centre where there are small traditional terraces, many in poor condition." She also recommends the area near Paget Road and Paget Place, where bay views come with houses, some very large. "People have already caught on to this. A year ago the mid-terrace four- or five-bedroom house you could have picked up for pounds 60-65,000 now sells for about pounds 90,000."

Cheaper still are ex-council flats, although the recent relocation of large numbers of problem families is plaguing some of these estates.

Even cheaper is Barry where, says Ms Bywater, "a two- or three-bed mid- terrace sells for pounds 35-40,000 and would go for pounds 55-60,000 in Penarth."

The countryside "contains many attractive villages but not many properties are available and access into Cardiff isn't good," says Mr Francis.

The schools in the area, in Ms Bywater's view, "are wonderful. Two comprehensive schools, Stanmore Road and St Cyrus, have excellent reputations, and there are many private and primary schools to choose from."

Ms Bywater believes that "with the barrage nearing completion and many businesses moving to the area, everyone needs homes but the limited supply means that prices are moving up quite rapidly".

Lowdown

Prices: Cardiff developer St David has just raised the prices on the 21 flats, penthouses and town houses in its Meridien development in Penarth, bringing them to between pounds 195,000 and pounds 300,000. In Penarth, new flats and period houses both return change from pounds 100,000. Ex-council houses are available for pounds 65,000, and flats for less than pounds 40,000. Cardiff is generally more, and Barry less, expensive.

Transport: The M4 skirts Cardiff to the north. Inter-city rail service serves London via Bristol and Bath. Local trains link Cardiff, Penarth and Barry. Cardiff International Airport is three miles west of Barry.

Seeing and Doing: Plenty of waterfront and open country mean plenty of boating and golf. The area has lots of attractions for all tastes and age groups.

Later this Year: Elections for the Welsh Assembly are due to be held in May. The Rugby World Cup is coming in June.

Judging by Travel Brochure: "It's an age-old adage, but it's true. People do judge places by the standard of toilet facilities."

Estate Agents: John Leslie & Partners, Penarth 01222 712266; Kelvin Francis & Co, Cardiff 01222 766538.

Shopping and Dining: In the Cardiff area there are four malls and plenty of quality restaurants.

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