Barrow-in-Furness, in prime position on Cumbria's “Energy Coast”, is definitely having a moment. The buzz is coming from its proximity to Sellafield, the transformation of its former industrial port into “the Waterfront”, a £200million marina, business park and housing scheme, and its MP, John Hutton, Secretary of State for Business and Enterprise, who is well-placed to talk the town up.
Now comes the news that BAE Systems, a local employer, has won the contract to build two super aircraft carriers, creating at least 900 jobs. This is a prime example of the unusual regeneration process in “Barrow”. The comeback of the town is not happening through cappuccino bars and “lifestyle” hype, but with hard economic investment. Millions of pounds are being poured into the town; at BAE Systems, for example, a £40million “ship-building hall” will be created.
Although it is close to Morecambe Bay, Kendal, Lancaster, and the Lake District, Barrow, two hours' drive southwest of Manchester, is out on a limb. Because of its isolation, the decline of traditional shipbuilding, iron-ore mining and steel-making devastated its 72,000 population.
So it is ironic that cutting-edge manufacturing and the latest forms of energy are underpinning the turnaround in its fortunes; this marks Barrow out from other regenerating towns that have relied on financial services and retail to underpin their economies and are now suffering.
“Barrow is bucking the trend,” says Stuart Klosinski, industrial development manager at Furness Enterprise, which promotes and supports Barrow businesses. “What we have seen recently is a buoyant housing market affected by large-scale recruitment into the area. As well as BAE Systems and Sellafield up the road, we also have major companies such as Kimberly Clark based here and other firms that require technical, managerial and professional staff.”
Year-on-year, house prices in Barrow have risen 11 per cent, and are now on average £111,588; the national average is £183,626 (Land Registry). Terraced houses have had the most significant price rise at 33 per cent, but over the past year, the volume of sales across all properties has dropped by more than 50 per cent.
David Corrie, head of property at Poole Townsend estate agents, is optimistic. “Barrow-in-Furness has its own micro-climate,” he says. “It is at the end of the peninsula, and this means that the travel to work distance is relatively short, so there will always be people wanting to live here.”
Corrie says that the number of new properties will not overwhelm the local market, even if sales volumes do not pick up in the next five years. Most family relocators, Corrie says, want a brand-new property, and are willing to spend between £250,000 and £275,000. A good example of this, he adds, is Holbeck Rise, a new development close to Barrow town centre.
“A pretty cottage with roses round the door costs £250,000-£300,000 in Hawkshead, but in the villages around Barrow, half that,” Corrie says. He picks out Bardsea, for its golf course, Great Urswick for its fishing on the Tarn, and Baycliff, by the coast, as popular villages within easy distance of Barrow.
Steven Broomhead, chief executive officer of the North-West Regional Development Agency, and also head of Barrow's regeneration Task Force, says: “It is isolated geographically. This is its strength but also, potentially, its weakness. We need to make sure it sees itself as part of Cumbria. And Barrow needs to believe in itself again.”
The average price of a flat in Barrow in 2000 was £23,000. It is now £80,000 (Land Registry ).
The average price of a terraced house in Barrow in 2000 was £25,000. It is now £91,000.
In the past year, prices of semi-detached houses locally have fallen by 18 per cent to £130,000.
There are currently 581 properties for sale in Barrow: 219 are under £100,000.
Holbeck Rise , 01229 827852; Cumbrian Properties , 01229 430888
Richard Carpenter, 24, and his partner Ellena Spencer, 25, are typical of the young professionals attracted to Barrow-in-Furness. Carpenter, a mechanical engineer at BAE Systems, and Spencer, a commercial officer with BAE, bought a “larger-than-average” terraced house in central Barrow for £85,000 last year. Carpenter says: “The other choice was for me to go and work for BAE in Kent, but I'm glad we ended up here. There would be no way we could find something as affordable in Kent.”