North-South house price gap narrows

Scottish commuter town is property hot spot of the year but Bucks stockbroker belt is dearest place to live
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The Independent Online

A small Scottish commuter town best known for the prodigious number of footballers it has produced over the years has emerged as Britain's No 1 property hot spot in 2004.

A small Scottish commuter town best known for the prodigious number of footballers it has produced over the years has emerged as Britain's No 1 property hot spot in 2004.

House prices in Bellshill, six miles east of Glasgow, have risen 70 per cent this year, according to the Halifax Estate Agents annual property survey. However, you could still buy six houses in Bellshill for the price of one in Gerrards Cross, Bucks, which ranks as Britain's most expensive town to live in with an average property price of £627,660.

Among the famous footballing sons to have emerged from the backstreets of Bellshill are Sir Matt Busby, Billy McNeill, Gary McAllister, Ally McCoist and Andy Ritchie. A former manager of the Scottish national side, Craig Brown, once taught there.

These days, it is the home of Strathclyde Business Park, which, together with upmarket town house developments, has helped to push property prices up strongly this year to an average of £103,928. In 2003, the average property price in Bellshill was £60,988, making it the second cheapest place in Britain to buy a house.

The Halifax survey of 613 towns provides fresh evidence of the extent to which the house price gap between the South and the North is closing. For the second year running, none of the 20 towns reporting the biggest increases in property values was in the South. Nearly half the top 20 were in Scotland or Wales, and 13 of them were in the West.

In 2003, the average property in the South of the country was 1.9 times more expensive than in the North. This year, the ratio has fallen to 1.6 times, with an average house costing £213,617 in the South compared with £130,867 in the North.

Apart from Bellshill, other unfashionable towns to turn into property hot spots in 2004 include Port Talbot, home of the steel maker Corus, Ebbw Vale, Consett in County Durham and Bootle on Merseyside, all of which recorded price increases of between one-third and a half.

As well as boasting the hottest property spot this year, Scotland is also home to the cheapest place in Britain to live - Lochgelly in Fife, where the average price of a house is just £60,885. However, local estate agents are hoping that its proximity to Edinburgh will do for property prices what Glasgow has done for Bellshill.

The cheapest place in the South to live is Gosport, Hampshire, with an average price of £134,252.

The Halifax survey also suggests it will be a long time before prices in the North catch up with those in the South, if ever. The top 30 most expensive places to live remain in the South, with Gerrards Cross followed by Richmond, south-west London, and Weybridge, Surrey, and the Oxfordshire town of Henley-on-Thames in fourth spot.

The most expensive place to live in the North is Knutsford in Cheshire, with an average price of £320,593, putting it in 32nd place.

"Some things never change," Jane Pridgeon, the chairwoman of Halifax Estate Agents, said. "The same towns in the South of England are in an exclusive club of their own because they are the most expensive places to own a home in the UK."

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