Spring Property Survey: Tyne is the vital artery in reviving Newcastle region - Regional Guide / In the North-East, the market is steadily improving and house prices are strengthening as the regeneration of the area continues, writes Malcolm Pithers

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The Independent Online
PEOPLE walking along Newcastle's quayside on a clear, crisp morning no longer gaze out across the River Tyne.

Instead, they peer inwards, back to the city and the waterfront that is being changed out of all recognition. New office blocks, hotels, civic buildings, wine bars, restaurants and, more recently, a bold development of waterside houses, now dominate the waterline.

The new buildings are as striking as the dark sides of ships that used to demand the attention of youngsters or men leaving the yards. Nowadays though, there are few passing ships or launchings to catch the eye; just an increasing number of pleasure boats berthed in calm waters near to new homes.

Despite the demise of the north-east's main industries along the Tyne, it is the river itself which is helping to revive Newcastle and Tyne and Wear, like a main artery that has been restored to reasonable health. The architecture is attractive too; massive buildings mesmerise, like the new Law Courts' mixture of darkened glass and mellow stone pillars.

The quayside is a focal point for the re-development of the area with new riverside villages being built along its banks. Barratts, the north-east's most famous housebuilders, have six new developments in the Tyne and Wear area at prices between pounds 45,600 and pounds 94,500 and are creating a new 'riverside community,' the St Peter's Marina Village.

The 31-acre site is now a pounds 30m development of 300 homes, mostly grouped around a 110-berth marina. Mike Norton, Barratt's northern regional chairman, says they are now achieving sales in all sectors and people seem to be realising that it is a good time to buy. He says: 'We believe that house prices will continue to strengthen over the next two years in what is a steadily improving market. The local market has been getting better for some time and we do think the prospects are encouraging.'

This is an uneasy period of flux for Newcastle and its surrounding region. Unemployment remains high and few people believe the area's regeneration will lead to instant or automatic prosperity. Swan Hunter, one of the world's most famous shipyards, used to produce around a quarter of the world's maritime fleet on the Tyne. But the traditional industries of the north-east - shipping, steel and coalmining - have either been severely depleted or have vanished completely.

There is no doubt that the regeneration is having an effect on local property movements, if not directly on prices. The North-east and Newcastle in particular have many advantages for home buyers, not least the range of properties, choice of differing areas to live in and an impressive commuting network which now includes the city's transit system, the Metro.

Newcastle also happens to be a very friendly, bustling city. There are over 100 different restaurants, a vibrant Chinatown, wine bars, nightclubs and, of course, the Theatre Royal in the rejuvenated Grey Street forever now linked with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

It is also easy for people living out of the centre - north to Morpeth, south to Durham or to the west out as far as Hexham or Corbridge, beautiful towns in their own right - to be in the city within half an hour. The Tyne Valley away to the west has had a five per cent increase in population over the past few years. People who live on the north-east coastline, at Whitley Bay or many of the other popular coastal towns, can commute into the city well within that time.

Because of these easy journey times many people chose to live in country towns away from the city - usually higher earners who can cope with extra travel costs.

The prime spots, near the city, are in Gosforth and Jesmond, barely a couple of miles away, or slightly further afield at Ponteland, Darras Hall, then on as far as Morpeth. To the west, Hexham, Corbridge and Riding Mill still command higher prices. The price spread of houses in the north-east is considerable, from as little as pounds 15,000 or pounds 20,000 up to over half a million.

Overall, the property market is just beginning to stumble out of the recession and estate agents are certainly optimistic about future prospects. Keith Pattinson, one of the north-east's leading estate agents, says: 'I am a great deal more optimistic but it is true that people are more cautious. They are looking acutely at prices but there is movement throughout the market.

'The north-east is doing reasonably well although it certainly has not been easy for people. We have done particularly well in certain areas recently and although there is caution in the air, people are making the moves they have been waiting for.'

Nick Lansberry, a chartered surveyor and agent at Sanderson, Townend and Gilbert's, says there is slow improvement. 'Buyer confidence can be dented by political moves or monetary moves but things are getting better and the confidence is building its way through the market. The bottom end, the pounds 50,000 to pounds 100,000 sector, has been really active and that is now just beginning to move up to the pounds 200,000-plus market.' Gosforth has long been a favourite area, partly because of its grand old properties and its proximity to the city. Ponteland, barely seven miles to the north-west of the city, is another popular and generally expensive spot. One property with four bedrooms, a billiards room, study, dining room, drawing room, snug, three bathrooms and a modern stable block, has recently gone on the market for pounds 495,000. That price level is by no means unusual and properties usually sell.

At the other end of the scale, The Tyne and Wear Development Corporation is developing a new social housing strategy in partnership with the Housing Corporation so that local people can have access to affordable homes. The aim is to provide more than 600 new low cost but high quality homes for rent or shared ownership or for people with special needs such as the elderly or the disabled.

Royal Quays is the largest single urban redevelopment site outside London, with around 1,200 houses for sale, rent or shared ownership. It is being built by private sector housebuilders, Bellway Homes, Cussins Property and Leech homes. Prices are around pounds 27,000 for a range of flats up to pounds 60,000 for detached homes. The climb out of recession at this level is, however, slow and depends greatly on improvements in local employment.

Yesterday, a new report on Tyne and Wear's economy and labour market shows that the local economy is producing an annual output of over pounds 8.7m but the setbacks of the decimation of what remains of the coal and shipbuilding industries have still to be overcome. Out of a total labour force of 528,000, around 100,000 people capable of working still have no jobs. Getting that group back into work will be crucial if a full recovery in the property and housing market is to be sustained in the north-east.

(Photograph and map omitted)