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Last Updated: Friday, 29 July 2005, 05:25 GMT 06:25 UK
Plans to keep hotspot on the boil
By Doug Kennedy
BBC Scotland's news website

Irvine is a hotspot. In the past year the town has seen the biggest jump in property values in the UK.

Irvine Harbourside/Undiscovered Scotland
Irvine Harbourside has already seen housing regeneration

Prices have climbed by 44%, from an average of less than 70,000 to just over 100,000.

A former new town, Irvine has seen its fair share of economic problems, but, like its new town roundabouts, it seems to be coming round again.

But just what makes it so hot?

I went out onto the town's streets to ask some of the locals what it was like to live in Irvine, but no-one seemed keen to tell me.

Perhaps they were rushing home to calculate just how much their bricks and mortar had increased in value?

It's a fantastic part of the country
Brian MacDonald
North Ayrshire Council

Perhaps they were rushing off to the Scottish Maritime Museum, or the massive Magnum Leisure Centre?

Or perhaps they wanted to keep historic gems, such as the restored cobbled streets of the Glasgow Vennel, a secret?

In any case, value for money is clearly a factor in Irvine's turnaround.

This has been helped by improved communications, making it more attractive to buyers wanting to commute to nearby towns or north to Glasgow.

Tim Crawford, an economist for Bank of Scotland who carried out the price survey, said the best performing towns in recent years had all made jumps in the magnitude of 30% to 40%.

Glasgow Vennel
Robert Burns is one previous resident of the Glasgow Vennel

He explained: "Quite often it is a sign of a ripple effect from cities, buyers are looking further afield for places with good commuter links, increasing the demand among first time buyers.

"With Irvine it's a combination of general trends, a degree of regeneration and good road and rail links."

There has been a settlement on the coast at Irvine for centuries and it was once a centre for shipping coal, making it one of the most important ports in Scotland.

A decline in coal production in the 1930s continued through until the eventual closure of the Ayrshire coalfields.

Regeneration plans

The new town designation gave Irvine a boost but it has been hit by setbacks like the closure of the Volvo factory in the 1980s and the winding up of the landmark Millennium project Big Idea science centre.

Brian MacDonald, the assistant chief executive of North Ayrshire Council, said the loss of The Big Idea was a blow.

But he is convinced the bounce in house prices can be a springboard to greater things, marking the town out as no longer a backwater.

He said: "Irvine is an area which has had a few ups and downs and it's something the council is concerned about, that we have to do more to regenerate the economy.

We're finding there's a lot of commuter clients now, people moving from Troon, Prestwick, even the south side of Glasgow
Aileen McLaws
Allen and Harris

"We're currently working with Scottish Enterprise and a number of other partners to build a case to present to the Scottish Executive for creating an urban regeneration company in the bay area.

"Against that background, people are recognising it's a fantastic part of the country, access is good and people are realising that there's a housing mix that perhaps wasn't there before."

Mr MacDonald said it was good to see people identifying Irvine as a place to live, as well as being encouraging for home-owners to see a return on their investment.

Aileen McLaws, branch partner of estate agents Allen and Harris, said such a large increase in house prices did create a feelgood factor.

Scottish Maritime Museum
A seafaring past is reflected in the Scottish Maritime Museum

But she cautioned that it was only a levelling out for the town in relation to other locations.

She said: "It's affected only certain price ranges, the bottom price range of the market.

"For first time buyers, unfortunately they're struggling to get onto the property ladder because the prices have increased.

"We're finding there's a lot of commuter clients now, people moving from Troon, Prestwick, even the south side of Glasgow - even though the house prices have gone up they are still cheaper."

Irvine no more?

She said that Irvine was essentially a family town which had seen the construction of a lot of quality housing over past years, not just in the town centre, but creating nicer outlying areas.

The council's regeneration plans could mark out continued prosperity.

The authority is currently waiting for ministerial approval for creating the Irvine Bay Regeneration Company, to develop a variety of projects extending from Ardrossan to Irvine.

The 10m proposals are aimed at providing a focus for employment, reviving urban areas in decline and achieving a "prosperous, healthy North Ayrshire".

In Letter From America, the Proclaimers once sang "Irvine no more", in the not too distant future it may be a case of "Irvine again".


SEE ALSO:
Coastal town is property hotspot
22 Jul 05 |  Scotland
Owners predict house value rise
16 Jul 05 |  Scotland
House price rise leads rest of UK
12 Apr 05 |  Scotland
Bellshill tops house price table
29 Dec 04 |  Scotland


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