A new North-South divide has opened up in the UK's flatlining property market, and this time London and the Home Counties are coming off second-best. Bury, the former Lancashire mill town previously renowned as home of the world's finest black puddings, was yesterday afforded the accolade of being named top hotspot with sales of homes rising 44 per cent year on year.
The research by Halifax found five of the top 10 best-performing areas in England and Wales were in the North. Nine of the bottom 10 areas were in London, the South-east or the South-west including the Prime Minister's constituency, Witney, in Oxfordshire, which recorded a fall in sales of 29 per cent.
Worst of all was Hoddesdon in leafy Hertfordshire, where just 107 homes were sold in the first half of 2011, down 39 per cent on 2010.
The growth in the North reflects a rise in the level of activity at the lower end of the housing market, particularly for flats and inexpensive terraced homes which now account for nearly eight in every 10 properties sold.
Suren Thiru, a Halifax housing economist, said: "The relatively favourable levels of affordability in many of the top-performing Northern towns have helped to support housing market activity in these locations, albeit from historically low levels." News of Bury's elevation came as surprising news to Bryn Weale, an estate agent who has been working in the town for the past 21 years. Although he said its four-bedroom detached homes starting at £220,000, rolling countryside and thriving retail centre were proving popular with commuters from Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester, business could at best be described as "steady".
He said: "We have seen this before in the 1980s and early 1990s but never to the same extent. Then prices fell but there was still a volume of transactions. There are always going to be the deaths and divorces and families will always expand and contract so there will always be an underlying demand but I am prepared to see 2015 go by before we see any major improvement."
The research found transaction levels in the 10 top performing towns in the survey were still 42 per cent lower than a decade ago compared with a national average of 49 per cent from 532,709 in the first half of 2001 to 271,113 in 2011.
And a new study shows that families who cannot afford to move are squeezing into homes they have outgrown. Finance firm LV said one in eight children now live in overcrowded homes while hard-up families were forced to make potentially unsafe modifications to create more space. After decades of overcrowding declining, the trend had now reversed, with the average family losing 11 sq ft of living space in the past three years, the survey of 1,000 households found.