Britain's price map - redrawn

The North-South divide has moved. So where are the bargains now? Jimmy Lee Shreeve reports
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The Independent Online

A study by Sheffield University has redrawn the social map of Britain. After studying wealth, health, property prices and education, a new division between North and South has been plotted. This is supposed to be the most accurate way of mapping the haves and have-nots.

But since it was unveiled last week, some towns have found themselves on a surprising side of the dividing line. Lincoln is in the South; Worcestershire is in the North.

But for property obsessives, the most intriguing aspect of the research is that a £100,000 house-price "cliff" has been identified. Travel north of this cliff and you can expect to pick up your bricks and mortar for considerably less money.

The line starts just above Bristol, cuts through Gloucestershire and rises above Leicester. Then it weaves below Nottingham and ends just south of the Humber. According to study leader Professor Danny Dorling, cutting the country in two is a more precise way of marking out the nation's health and wealth differences than having a "social midlands" or in-between area.

Traditional geographical principles were abandoned in favour of looking into each area's social make-up. "We looked at life expectancy, house prices, wealth and education," he explains. The conclusion was it really is grim up North.

But does that £100,000 property cliff mean that just north of the dividing line we can find real bargains? Yes.

According to the Halifax House Price Index, the average house price in the South is now £265,921 compared with the North's £158,636. In the first quarter of 2006 the difference between property prices in the South and the North was 56 per cent; now it stands at 68 per cent.

This makes it all the more tempting for families from the newly defined South to move North. Some places are cheap because they're not commutable from London, and because local salaries are low. But there are some very appealing locations – as evidenced by the growing exodus of Londoners to Yorkshire. Part of the attraction is its commutability – the train from York to London takes just over two hours. Many also see Yorkshire as a better place to start a family.

Ralph Shalom of Bairstow Eves in Darlington says they consider the area as a much safer and healthier environment to bring up kids. "The countryside is still unspoilt and the spirit of community lives on," he says.

One popular Yorkshire location is Calderdale. Here prices have risen by 11.3 per cent over the past 12 months to an average of £117,863. John Churchill of William H Brown says its popularity is down to it accessibility. "The location is perfect for Leeds and Manchester."

He says he sees a lot of demand from buy-to-let investors and those relocating from the South. "They are taking advantage of the North-South divide. It makes for a very affordable solution for some buyers."

Bradford came out top this year as the nation's "greenest city" in the Sustainable Cities Index, compiled by the charity Forum for the Future. Even the areas around the old mill city's ring road, which were once dilapidated, are making a comeback. British Asians have been buying up run-down, but essentially very sound, Victorian villas and lavishing cash upon them.

When given a choice, increasing numbers of people are choosing the North over the South. One couple – Lilian and David Driver – spent some 20 years travelling all over Britain as Caravan Club wardens. When it finally came time for them to settle down and retire, they chose rural North Yorkshire. "We didn't hesitate in putting down roots here," says Lilian. "Not only is property generally cheaper, but the people really are far friendlier up here compared with the South. We wouldn't live anywhere else now. And contrary to popular opinion there's not a flat cap or a whippet in sight."

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