In our other article on expat destinations and neighborhoods across the UK, we have focused on London, Northern England, and Edinburgh. Despite the importance of Greater London, there are plenty of attractive destinations in the southern half of the UK. We are going to introduce some of them here.
First of all, there are such urban centers as Birmingham: heart of the English Midlands, former hotspot for manufacturing and engineering, and now an essential location for the service industry, in health, education, and finance. However, new overseas residents are settling increasingly in smaller cities, particularly those with jobs in the UK for foreigners working in IT, academia, or the creative industries.
When you mention “academia” and the UK, lots of people think immediately of Britain’s most famous university towns: Oxford and Cambridge. Indeed, these two cities have a fairly international population. Part of this residential diversity is due to the foreign students and visiting scholars flocking to “Oxbridge”. But the two towns are favorites among expatriate employees as well.
Situated in central southern England, 80 km northwest of London, Oxford is home to the UK’s oldest university (only slightly older than its rival Cambridge, but still). While the town’s academic tradition goes back to the Middle Ages, its present-day economy doesn’t rely on education alone.
The University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes University are large employers for teaching and administrative staff. As the seat of academic publishing houses OUP and Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford is of interest to those working in the publishing industry. Tourism in the “City of Dreaming Spires” provides numerous jobs, too.
However, Oxford is equally proud of its reputation in motor manufacturing and steel fabrication. Today, this other tradition is upheld by BMW, which runs the production plant for Minis in the area. New zones for business, research and development, such as the Oxford or Begbroke Science Parks, house companies from future growth sectors like ICT, high tech, and the life sciences.
Unfortunately, Oxford’s considerable charm and prosperity come at a price. According to a survey published by Lloyds Bank in March 2016, Oxford is the least affordable town in the UK. Even managing to beat the country’s capital London, Oxford property prices are just under eleven times the average annual salary in the city. This is mostly due to people deciding to avoid living the busy London life everyday, so they decide to commute from Oxford instead. If you want to purchase one of the city’s prime houses, like a Victorian villa in wealthy North Oxford, you can easily invest a million pounds. The average price for a property was nearly 365,000 GBP in early 2016.
On the rental market, on the other hand, you will compete with an influx of international grad students or scholars. If you are looking for rental accommodation, it helps to move in the middle of the academic year.
When you search for accommodation in the Oxford area, some other tips might help as well. Post code OX 1 refers to the city center, where space is scarce and expensive. OX2 includes the prosperous neighborhoods of North Oxford, such as Parktown or Summertown. If you can afford it, an OX2 address is a definite bonus. If you are on a budget, you’d better look elsewhere. OX3 or OX4 properties will probably be a preferable option. OX 3 includes the suburbs of Marston and Headington, among other areas, while OX 4 points to Cowley or Iffley – the former “industrial” part of town and still a somewhat cheaper location.
If you own a car or live close to a railway station, investigating the larger area is worth it. There are regular train connections to Banbury, Bicester, and Didcot, for example. Villages in the direction of the Cotswolds, e.g. round Charbury and Wychwood, however, are only ideal for the well-heeled. The scenic region is very popular among affluent owners of holiday homes.
While Oxford nestles snugly in the Thames Valley, Cambridge rises above the Fens, the flat marshes of East Anglia. With less than 140,000 residents, it’s a little smaller than its counterpart, but there are striking similarities in other ways. Of course, Cambridge also houses two universities – the ancient University of Cambridge and modern Anglia Ruskin University – and the resulting student population from around the world. Education, publishing, and tourism are just as important as economic factors as in Oxford.
However, there’s one big difference between the university towns – and we’re not talking about the fact that local students steer the punt boats from opposite ends. While Oxford has been historically strong in manufacturing, Cambridge has made a name for itself as “Silicon Fen” – England’s answer to Silicon Valley. The Cambridge cluster in the CB postcode area features dozens, if not hundreds, of start-ups and established businesses in software development, electronics, bio-technology, pharmaceutics, etc.
Again, a flourishing economy makes for net population growth, a competitive property market, and a high cost of living. At least, Cambridge is less costly than “the other place”. In the above-mentioned Lloyds Bank listing, the town ranked “only” on number 4 out of the UK’s 10 least affordable cities. Property prices are roughly in Oxford’s league, though. The average Cambridge property cost 360,000 GBP in 2016.
In Cambridge, some of the pricier neighborhoods are found in the southern and southeastern parts of town, near the golf course, the botanical gardens, or the train station. The latter is not even a particularly cozy area, but the proximity to the railway makes it attractive for commuters to London.
Expats working in Cambridge Science or Business Park, to the north of town, should rather look in neighborhoods like King’s Hedges, or East and West Chesterton. These areas are becoming more and more sought after. An additional railway station (Cambridge Science Park) is also currently under construction. Due to be completed by May 2017, there is hope that the station will run a direct link to London.
Moreover, the demographic growth in Cambridgeshire has given rise to planned settlements like Cambourne, 15 kilometers west of Cambridge. The village has its own business park, just over 8,000 residents, a bus service to Cambridge, and all necessary amenities, such as a supermarket, a general practitioner, and a primary school.
Older villages in Cambridgeshire are more picturesque, though. However, when you look for rural family accommodation, avoid the vicinity of Grantchester. Its popularity among tourists and retired university dons means that property is as coveted as it is costly.
We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.