Lon­don­ers flee house prices, head for prov­inces

The China Post - - BUSINESS - BY OUERDYA AIT AB­DEL­MALEK

Ex­pen­sive hous­ing, an over­loaded trans­port sys­tem and a lack of space are driv­ing thou­sands of Lon­don­ers out of the hec­tic Bri­tish cap­i­tal to other, calmer cities such as Birm­ing­ham.

The short­age of af­ford­able hous­ing is a ma­jor theme of cam­paign­ing for the May 7 gen­eral elec­tion and the Na­tional Bureau of Statis­tics says a record 60,000 peo­ple aged 30-39 left Lon­don be­tween June 2012 and June 2013.

Rather than tread­ing the well­worn route of re­lo­cat­ing from the city to the coun­try­side, many have cho­sen to move to the cen­tral city of Birm­ing­ham, Bris­tol in the south­west or Manch­ester in the north.

“Rental prices (in Birm­ing­ham) are half of what they are in Lon­don,” said Kelly Con­vey, travel blog­ger for Ex­pe­dia. “Lon­don is be­com­ing ex­cep­tion­ally hard to be able to af­ford.”

Buy­ing a prop­erty costs an av­er­age of 500,000 pounds in Lon­don ( US$ 742,000; NT$ 23.0 mil­lion) com­pared to an av­er­age of 120,000 pounds in Birm­ing­ham.

De­spite the em­ploy­ment and life­style benefits of the cap­i­tal, not ev­ery­one is will­ing to spend ev­ery last penny on Lon­don life.

Jour­nal­ist Tom Cullen moved to Birm­ing­ham in 2013 af­ter living in Lon­don for 12 years, set­ting up an e-mag­a­zine, ichoose­birm­ing­ham. com, which re­views food, cul­ture and en­ter­tain­ment in Birm­ing­ham.

“Birm­ing­ham made me the best of­fer,” he said in a De­cem­ber ar­ti­cle for the In­de­pen­dent news­pa­per.

“Birm­ing­ham won through house prices, cul­ture, restau­rants and bars ... good schools ... space, and low start-up costs for new com­pa­nies.”

Chris Py­att, 29, chose Birm­ing­ham to launch his web de­sign com­pany be­cause it is cheaper than Lon­don while be­ing close to the cap­i­tal, which is un­der an hour and a half away by train.

“It has a big catch­ment area — be­cause we are in the mid­dle of the coun­try, we are ac­ces­si­ble,” he said in his of­fice on the top floor of a neo-Ge­or­gian build­ing, five min­utes’ walk from the main rail­way sta­tion.

‘Gen­er­a­tion who like cities’

With some 1.2 mil­lion res­i­dents, al­most half from eth­nic mi­nori­ties, Birm­ing­ham has long been lum­bered with a rep­u­ta­tion as gray and dull.

The city hit the head­lines ear­lier this year af­ter an an­a­lyst on U.S. TV chan­nel Fox News called it a “no-go zone” for non-Mus­lims, drawing de­ri­sion from many Bri­tons. But Birm­ing­ham has had some­thing of a re­nais­sance in re­cent years.

“It’s de­vel­op­ing into a more at­trac­tive city,” said Con­vey. “It’s very easy to get around.”

The UK’s sec­ond-big­gest city boasts four Miche­lin-starred restau­rants, a sym­phony orches­tra, high qual­ity theater, con­cert and shop­ping venues and prox­im­ity to two Pre­mier League soc­cer teams.

Mean­while, Colin Stan­bridge, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Lon­don Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try, said that de­layed com­muter trains into the cap­i­tal were hav­ing a “sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on busi­ness.”

“Lon­don’s trans­port in­fra­struc­ture is creak­ing at the same time as the city’s pop­u­la­tion is boom­ing,” Stan­bridge said.

Birm­ing­ham’s city cen­ter was al­most com­pletely de­stroyed by Ger­man bomb­ing in World War II and then re­built with heavy con­crete and high­ways im­pos­si­ble to cross with­out walk­ing through dark­ened un­der­passes.

But to­day the city is be­ing re­gen­er­ated.

High­ways have been re­designed and build­ings with cut­ting-edge ar­chi­tec­ture have sprung up in­clud­ing a new li­brary, the ren­o­vated Bull­ring shop­ping cen­ter and The Mail­box, a shop­ping and of­fice devel­op­ment.

The main

rail­road

sta­tion

is be­ing re­de­vel­oped and of­fice com­plexes are spread­ing rapidly.

The city added 6,000 jobs in 2014, ac­cord­ing to Neil Raimi, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Mar­ket­ing Birm­ing­ham, the city’s pro­mo­tional arm.

“Ten years ago, peo­ple in Lon­don would have moved pro­gres­sively a bit fur­ther and fur­ther out,” Raimi said, con­trast­ing that with the cur­rent crop of movers.

“There is a gen­er­a­tion of peo­ple who like cities, don’t want to go and live in the coun­try­side,” he added.

While con­ced­ing that Birm­ing­ham is “not ex­actly the most glam­orous of cities,” Con­vey said it still had a strong ap­peal.

“Ev­ery­thing is ac­ces­si­ble,” she added. “It is less stress­ful.”

AFP

(Above) Peo­ple are pic­tured on New Street in Birm­ing­ham city cen­ter, cen­tral Eng­land on March 14. (Right) A “stretch” limou­sine passes bars on Broad Street in Birm­ing­ham on March 14.

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