A COUPLE are threatening to sue their local council after claiming it is responsible for a dramatic drop in the value of their house.

Frank and Sylvia Bowe say the price of their house has almost halved in recent years and hold Wear Valley District Council responsible for allowing the area to deteriorate.

The couple bought the former council house in St Helen Auckland, near Bishop Auckland, County Durham, 13 years ago for £21,000.

Four years later it was valued at £32,000. But when they recently considered selling their Melrose Drive home, they were shocked to learn it was worth just £17,000.

Mrs Bowe, 56, said: "I cried. This used to be a popular place and driving through the village it still looks pleasant. But that's just on the surface. The estate is nicknamed Beirut."

Rows of boarded-up empty houses on the St Helen estate have become easy targets for vandals. Mr and Mrs Bowe claim the council should have prevented the estate falling into a state of disrepair.

Mr Bowe, 60, said: "I'm seeking legal advice and I am fully prepared to take the council to court, which could be the first case of its kind."

District councillor Sunny Douthwaite, who represents the area, said dozens of families were calling for action.

"I hope the council demolishes some rundown over-crowded terraces and revamps other houses so the people of St Helen get the pleasant surroundings they deserve," he said.

A spokesman for the council's housing department said it was working on plans to rejuvenate the estate.

He said: "We have started consulting residents over improvement plans.

"Older parts of the estate could be demolished and people rehoused in the new area, where Mr and Mrs Bowe live, if we can fund improvements to the buildings."