House price divide is narrowest in eight years

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The gap between house prices in London and the rest of the UK has narrowed to its lowest level in nearly eight years, research showed today.

Prices in Greater London are now less than one and a half times the national average after being almost twice as high in 2001, says Halifax, the UK's largest mortgage lender.

Its survey of house prices in the second quarter of the year showed property values fell across southern England but rose strongly in Wales, Northern Ireland and northern England.

The biggest drop was in East Anglia, where prices fell 1.6 per cent over the three months to June, followed by the South-east (1.2 per cent) and London 1.1 per cent.

The average price in the capital was £238,950 at the end of June, a fall of 2.5 per cent on the same period last year. Prices in Wales leapt 4.2 per cent, followed by Northern Ireland on 3.9 per cent - which leads the annual growth league table on 27 per cent - and Scotland on 1.4 per cent.

Scotland and Wales dominating the list of property hotspots, where prices in individual towns rose as fast as 40 per cent over the last year.

The list was topped by Irvine on the western Scottish coast, near Glasgow, where the average house price has risen by 44 per cent, or £30,713, in average house prices to £100,249 over the past year.

Brian MacDonald, the assistant chief executive of North Ayrshire council, said Irvine had shared in a general "catch up" in Scottish house prices.

He said the former port town had benefited from the completion of a road scheme that put it within a half-hour commuting time of both Glasgow and two major airports. He said that despite the recent increase, Irvine and the surrounding area was still affordable. "We are trying to use that in presentations to ministers in terms of civil service relocation proposed by the Lyons review," he said.

"You can pick up a nice house for less than £200,000 so it is affordable. It is also a coastal town and has a quality of life that people in towns are learning to value."

Irvine was followed by Port Talbot in West Glamorgan (43 per cent), Motherwell in Strathclyde (41 per cent), Glenrothes in Fife (39 per cent) and Blackwood in Gwent (38 per cent).

Martin Ellis, Halifax's chief economist, said: "Areas outside southern England, particularly in Scotland and Wales, have experienced the most buoyant housing market conditions over the past year. It has been those areas where prices have, on average been lowest that have delivered the biggest gains in prices as property remained more affordable in those places."