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Tuesday, Jul 07, 2020

Britain's surprise property hot spot

It may be best known for its giant smoking steelworks but Port Talbot proved to be Britain's property hot spot last year, figures show.

The industrial town saw average house prices rise by 7.5% during 2019 - almost five times the national average.

Cheap seafront houses and removing the Severn bridge tolls helped fuel the rise, according to estate agents.

Four Welsh towns made the top 10 while Aberdeen, Witney in Oxfordshire, and Woking in Surrey saw the biggest falls.

For 70 years the sprawling steelworks - among the largest in Europe - has dominated the Port Talbot landscape, both aesthetically and economically.

In a town where "nearly everyone has a family member who is affected by the works", house prices are inextricably linked to the factory's fortunes.

The gradual decline of the steel-making industry brought dereliction to the town, a far cry from the Hollywood glitter of its most famous sons - Sir Anthony Hopkins, Richard Burton and Michael Sheen.

However those living within this "resilient" community are quick to point to the town's natural beauty. Surrounded by hills and parks, and overlooking three miles of golden beaches, it is easy to see why.

"Port Talbot has always been known for the steelworks but it's actually one of the most beautiful places when the sun is setting over the beach," said Adriana Coombes-Owen, 28.

"It's really improved since I was younger, a lot cleaner. I'm proud to bring up my children here and wouldn't leave."

Now house-buyers from the rest of the UK are cottoning-on, not only to those charms, but the investment potential.

For many, Port Talbot offers the chance to buy a house with a sea view for a fraction of the price of a property on the other side of the Severn Bridge - and be mortgage free.

The removal of tolls on the Severn Bridge has sent a "ripple affect" westwards, opening possibilities along the M4 motorway.

Julia Evans, senior valuer with Clee, Tompkinson & Francis, has lived and worked in the town for 20 years.

"It may sound silly but the toll-removal has made a real difference, first to Newport, then Bridgend and now here," she said.

"We have buyers coming from Bristol, Devon and even as far as Kent and Essex.

"You can buy a big house in a nice area for £175,000. Take that house over the bridge and you would at least double the price.

"So people are moving here, perhaps choosing a new life and can be mortgage free.

"In quite a few cases, the main salary earner is able to work from home or spend a few nights away. Then come home to our beaches, parks and community."

Amy Zwart, 29, has moved back to the area after working in the Middle East and said the town had changed "for the better".

"Quite a few people from London have moved here because they like the area and find it so much cheaper," she said.

"It's nice to know people are interested in moving to the area but it does make it harder for young people to buy houses.

"Saving for a mortgage is hard enough, but now it's getting harder."

The growth also brings extra challenges, not least for the council to increase local amenities and facilities, such as school places.

Last year saw the third of three new schools - the £19m Welsh medium secondary school Ysgol Bro Dur - open.

Neath-Port Talbot council also won a national housing and regeneration award as part of a £35m regeneration programme in the town centre.

Among the projects to earn praise was the redevelopment of Port Talbot's old police station, now housing the Banksy artwork which caused a stir in the town throughout last year.

The total value of the British housing market increased by £124bn in 2019, an increase of 1.6%, according to property website Zoopla.

Wales saw higher growth over the 12 months between December 2018 and November 2019 than any other region.

Port Talbot's neighbour Neath saw a 4.8% rise. Cwmbran, in Torfaen, saw the second highest increase (6.9%) in the UK while Merthyr Tydfil (5%) was sixth.

At the other end of the table, values rose lowest in south-east England (0.6%), and by just 1.1% in London.

"There is no single UK housing market and trends vary, driven by local economic factors," a Zoopla spokeswoman said.

"Affordability levels remain attractive in many areas outside of southern England. Rising employment and low mortgage rates have led to improving values in many regions."

Councillor Annette Wingrave said Neath Port Talbot had undergone an extensive programme of regeneration which had led to improved transport links, modern housing and new business space.

She said funding had also been secured for school improvements and to redevelop the beachfront at Aberavon and to improve roads to the harbour.

"The council also has a renewed focus on promoting the local tourism and leisure offer, with attractions such as Margam Park, Aberavon Beach, Afan Forest Park and Waterfall Country, which are enjoyed by both visitors and residents alike," she said.

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