Darlington - the only town in England where prices are down

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The Independent Online

The railway town of Darlington is hardly bereft of assets. Locals adore Train, the memorable David Mach brick sculpture of a locomotive entering a tunnel which sits alongside the A66, close to the historic Stockton to Darlington line. The Rhythm n'Brews Festival, combining jazz and real ale each autumn, is also legendary.

But Darlo, as some locals affectionately know it, is evidently not as appealing as the estate agents would like. Figures released this week by the Land Registry reveal it to be the only place in the country to have witnessed a drop in house prices over the past year. The average house in Darlington has seen its price drop by 0.4 per cent - or £458 - while the North-east as a whole has seen the lowest rise in property values in England and Wales over the past 12 months.

Those involved in an almighty battle to prevent a number of Darlington's old town centre buildings being overhauled to make way for a controversial refurbishment entitled the "Pedestrian Heart" might argue that potential homeowners are voting with their feet. But in fact, most estate agents are baffled that a town increasingly popular with commuters - by virtue of its place next to the A1 and on the main east coast railway line - should be struggling to attract buyers. Hurworth, Middleton St George and Heighington are among the villages which have been genuinely sought after, they say.

One explanation appears to be the abundance of newly built homes - which has made Darlington more of a buyers' market. "If a property's well valued, it will sell. I think the danger has been some agents have put optimistic prices on properties," said Chris Spence, of Charltons estate agents, who added that the local market was "fairly buoyant". Simon Bainbridge, at local agents Smiths Gore, agreed that Darlington's poor performance could reflect the fact that there was no shortage of homes. Craig Purdie, of David Oliver estate agents, said the slight drop could be down to Darlington's property boom about seven years ago.

Whatever the explanation, it is good news for the first time buyer in the North-east. It means that for £100,000 a good home is available in an unexpectedly green locality where car volumes are being reduced via a new A66 bypass and where cycling is encouraged with Darlington's being named as one of six cycling demonstration towns in England - an award that came with £1.5m.