Saskia Murphy says the end of the north-south housing divide might not add up

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This may not come as a surprise but it looks as though London’s untenable housing situation is finally reaching tipping point. According to research by estate agents Hamptons International, the proportion of Londoners leaving the capital for the north and Midlands has tripled since 2010, with record numbers selling up to buy cheaper, larger homes elsewhere.

In some ways I guess we should welcome the news. For too long, brain drain to the capital has deprived the rest of the UK and its local economies of young talent, and London has benefited from levels of investment and spending the rest of the country can only dream of. Last month figures from thinktank IPPR North showed that over the last 10 years, people living in the capital enjoyed an annual average of £708 of transport spending per person, while just £289 was spent for each person in the north of England. Anyone who has found themselves a victim of Northern Rail’s recent tomfoolery will know all too well that the situation is grossly unfair.

And it’s not just transport where northerners are missing out. Based on stats published in 2016, schools in inner London spend on average £5,918 per pupil, whereas in Blackpool the figure is just £3,363. There is a huge disparity, and the most innocent people in society are falling victim to the north-south divide before they are even old enough to understand what it means.

It is about time the London bubble burst. Perhaps an exodus from the capital is what’s needed to secure the growth the north deserves, but there are reasons to be concerned. According to Hamptons’ report, the average Londoner quitting the capital will pay £424,610 for their new property. Almost half a million can buy a lot up north. The average semi detached house in Greater Manchester sold last year for £197,470, while in Yorkshire the figure was just shy of £169,500. The danger is that rather than making London more affordable, we risk shifting the problem of astronomical house prices and unaffordable rent north, and what happens to our communities then?

A £200,000 property is an expensive purchase for a first-time buyer who has spent the last five or 10 years working and saving in the north, but to a Londoner who has benefited from profits made in the capital it’s a bargain, and I worry about the effect migration from London will have on an already saturated housing market, where people are fighting to get onto the ladder and tenants are being exploited by rising rents.

Last week figures published by the Manchester Evening News showed the number of destitute families living in bed and breakfast accommodation has tripled in the last five years, while almost a third of Manchester homeless people are being housed outside Manchester.

The knock-on effect of the city’s housing boom is already in action. There are already tenants spending their Saturday afternoons showing upwards of 20 prospective buyers around homes that have almost doubled in value in the last three years. There are already families being pushed out of the communities they have lived in, worked in and gone to school in to make way for buy-to-let investors who are attracted by Manchester’s 7 per cent yield.

As Londoners pack up and put their houses on the market, we need to see some commitment from councils and government to protect communities from being forced out. We can’t let history repeat itself.

Saskia Murphy is a Manchester-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @SaskiaMurphy

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