ANYONE searching for a bargain in the property market should look no further than the North-East.

Four of the region's towns feature in a new list of the top ten cheapest places to buy a house in the UK.

The County Durham towns of Stanley and Peterlee, Hebburn in South Tyneside and Ashington in Northumberland are at the bottom of the average property price index in the survey, by the UK's biggest mortgage lender, the Halifax.

The former mining town of Stanley has been in the top ten for bargain basement homes since 1988, but Peterlee in east Durham joins it for the first time in the latest figures.

The survey was produced to mark the 20th anniversary of the Halifax Housing Price Index. It outlines how demand and property prices have changed across the region.The biggest price increases in the North-East were in Houghton le Spring, County Durham, with 228 per cent.

The most expensive houses in the North are in Penrith, Cumbria.

In 1983, prices in Yorkshire and the Humber were lower than in any other part of the UK. Now the North is the cheapest area to live, followed by Scotland, Yorkshire and the Humber.

The North/South divide has widened significantly during the past 20 years. Prices in London are now 76 per cent above the national average compared with 28 per cent higher in early 1983.

House prices in the North have risen by 216 per cent from £24,538 in early 1983 to £77,458 at the end of 2002. This compares with a 306 per cent increase nationally, from £29,993 in the first quarter of 1983 to £121,742 at the end of 2002.