EAST Lancashire homeowners have a massive ‘mortgage millstone’ round their necks, new figures reveal.

Owner-occupiers in Burnley have the highest proportion of mortgage debt as a percentage of the value their properties in the UK, at 80 per cent.

Close behind come mortgage holders in Hyndburn with 76 per cent and in Blackburn with Darwen at 72 per cent. The national average mortgage debt is 54 per cent of the home’s value.

Even in affluent Ribble Valley the proportion is 57 per cent, in Chorley it is 67 per cent, Rossendale 67 per cent, and Pendle 68 per cent.

Local estate agents and national experts see little sign of the problem easing, with a low-value property market in East Lancashire, cash-rich landlords buying up cheap homes, and a shortage of cheap or low- deposit mortgages.

They hope that efforts by local authorities to kick-start a rise in house values succeed in producing a ‘slow, sustainable’ long-term increase.

Lucian Cook, head of residential research at Savill’s estate agents, who produced the nationwide statist- ical analysis, said: “These high levels of mortgage debt are a millstone around the neck of East Lancashire homeowners caused by people buying houses cheaply with high levels of borrowing before the last price crash.

“It is unlikely to ease and they are at risk of repossession if interest rates go up.

“It’s made worse by landlords buying cheap housing in cash so people cannot downsize and some properties staying empty.”

Oxford professor Danny Dorling said: “This is caused by East Lancashire people on low incomes buying properties with 100 per cent or more mortgages.

“People think it is like a lottery ticket to make money on their rising house values but if the ticket loses, they end up with a mortgage millstone round their neck.”

Blackburn MP Jack Straw said: “These are worrying high levels of mortgage debt. It means people are stuck with houses they cannot sell and which are not going up in value.”

Charles Baker, of Burnley’s Falcon and Foxglove estate agents, said: “People were taking out 100 or 120 per cent mortgages and then the housing market crashed.

“We need to see the slow, sustained increase in house prices local councils are trying to kick-start.”