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Market analysis: Is the North-South divide outdated?

The notion of a North-South divide in the UK has been around for as long as I can remember – certainly as long as I have been working in the property industry.  

Whether used in relation to trade and economics, culture, political leanings, health and life expectancy or, indeed, property prices, the hypothetical line that sits somewhere above the Watford Gap has been used to explain, and in many cases, justify, a multitude of statistics over the years – not to mention providing sub-editors with headline fodder!

Just recently, Rightmove reported on a ‘new’ North-South divide whereby second-stepper homes in the North are predicted to sell quicker in the pre-Christmas period than those in London and the South.  

Given the credibility of Rightmove’s data, it’s hard to question this. I do, however, believe we need to start thinking more laterally and not simply view the UK as a country with a divide through its middle from West to East.

Reports focusing on a cooling in the London property market have been in abundance in recent times and yet, like the data from Rightmove, often choose to draw comparisons with how the North stands to benefit from this. Government-backed creations such as the Midlands Engine and Northern Powerhouse only serve to keep our focus in a northerly direction.

But what about elsewhere in the UK?

As a business with its Head Office firmly in the South West, but with a branch network that extends across the whole of the South of England, I am of the opinion that it’s time to start considering a growing South West/South East divide. And I have good reason on which to base this.

Whilst adjustments have been on-going in the overinflated London and South-East market, property prices across the areas in which Andrews operates in the South West, not only continue to see steady price increases but, encouragingly given the current issues of supply, year-on-year volume increases too.  

However, whilst average house prices in the South West continue to steadily increase, in comparison to the South East, they remain very much more affordable - £312,000 in Bristol compared to a whopping £510,000 in London or £428,000 in Surrey.

Indeed, our own data shows that in the last year, just over 7% of the property we’ve sold in our South West region, has been purchased by people moving from London and the South East.  

Whilst this may not sound significant, when compared to the fact that the trend in the opposite direction was just 1%, the lure of the South West becomes more apparent. 

But it’s not just the housing market that makes the South West such an attractive alternative to London and the South East. Recent research highlighted how the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) region, outperformed other combined authority areas in terms of productivity, earnings and skills and employment.   

When this is coupled with the many other attractive attributes that the region has to offer - good schooling; great cultural and leisure destinations; a vibrant workplace economy and, for those who feel their careers remain wedded to the Capital, enviable commuter links too – the South West is proving to be pretty unbeatable!  

And, of course, that’s before you consider the rise of home working which has opened up locations outside of the South East as increasingly feasible bases from which to run successful careers that might have previously been considered London-centric.

I am firm in the belief that whilst the North-South divide has been a mostly useful point of comparison for a long time, its usefulness has expired.  

Instead, we need to better recognise the diversity of the distinct regions of the UK for what they are and celebrate their own unique selling points…and yes, I do believe it’s time we all took more notice of the South West!

*David Westgate is Group Chief Executive of Andrews Property Group

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