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Reading, Brighton, and Bristol
In addition to the “Silicon Fen” cluster around Cambridge, there are various other places in southern England that profit from the IT sector. Reading, Berkshire, is among the best-known of these towns.
Reading: For the IT Professionals and Commuters
Located about 40 km south of Oxford and 60 km west of Central London, Reading has an almost unique status in the commuter belt of metropolitan London. While plenty of its 160,000 inhabitants board the train to Paddington or Waterloo in the morning, others flock into Reading for work. The town has become a commuter destination in itself.
Reading’s attractiveness for the local, as well as international, workforce is due to several factors. Not only is the university town a major shopping and retail center, but it also features a number of large employers, like the energy corporation British Gas or the banking company ING Direct.
Above all, Reading is one of the UK’s leading hubs for the IT and technology sectors. Big businesses like Microsoft, Cisco, Fujitsu, HP, Intel, and other household names have established major branch offices there. The fact that Reading is less than 45 minutes from Heathrow Airport by express bus probably makes it rather easy to reach for new employees from overseas.
Settling in Reading: The City of Rising Rates
Just like in Oxford or Cambridge, the advantages of Reading’s economy and infrastructure account for a local boom in property development. Although Reading is not quite as pricey as the Oxbridge towns yet, the house prices there are among some of the fastest growing across the whole of England and Wales. A house in Reading sold for an average cost of just under 300,000 GBP in 2016, while prices in Oxford or Cambridge were up to 70,000 GBP higher in comparison.
The town center of Reading has a number of high-rise apartment blocks that could be of interest to singles or youngish couples. These demographic groups may also be interested in the student neighborhoods of Caversham or Caversham Heights, just north of Reading. Be aware, though, that the main roads into central Reading often suffer from traffic jams.
Expat families should rather look into edge-of-town developments or smaller towns and bigger villages in the area. For instance, places like Tilehurst, Twyford, and Mortimer are all situated along railway lines through Reading, which makes them ideal for residents depending on public transport in the UK.
Brighton: London by the Sea
If Cambridge is the UK’s “Silicon Fen” and Reading is an outlier of London’s commuter belt, then Brighton & Hove is “Silicon Beach” and “London-by-the-sea”. The fashionable seaside resort on the coast of Sussex forms the center of a larger coastal conurbation with around 480,000 residents (Brighton, Hove, Worthing, Littlehampton).
Brighton employs a considerable number of people in business and finance, new and digital media, the creative industries, and hospitality, tourism and recreation. The beach resort is not only known for its vibrant nightlife and for its populous LGBT community, but also for the two resident universities, as well as numerous language schools catering to EFL students from all over the world.
A Costly Move to Brighton
The well-qualified workforce, the pleasant location and mild climate, the booming tourism sector, the annual cultural festival, and the rapid gentrification of many neighborhoods account for the fact that Brighton is quite a costly destination. Unfortunately, these rising prices also affect house prices in Brighton. In the past two decades, house prices in Brighton have risen by 500% — the biggest jump across the whole of the United Kingdom.
Unless you have very deep pockets, you should avoid such prime locations as the Regency squares and crescents on the seafront, or the elegant villas in Montpellier and Clifton Hill. The vicinity of Preston Park, north of central Brighton, is another fairly exclusive residential area. Tongdean Road and Tongdean Avenue in Hove are extremely sought-after neighborhoods as well.
The steep hillside area of Hanover is a better alternative for the somewhat less affluent. Its small Victorian-style cottages are popular among students, academics, and commuters. The latter appreciate the easy walking distance to the railway station. Kemptown – once the alternative, artistic, and sort of seedy part of town – is the new darling of Brighton’s real estate agencies. The city’s gay village is now known for its antique shops, arts and crafts stores, and trendy bars.
Bristol: From Cars to Claymation
Unlike Cambridge, Reading or Brighton, the city of Bristol — in England’s very southwest — is not quite as dominated by higher education, IT, and the creative sector. Bristol does have two universities, various tourist attractions, and even a claim to fame in the media business, though. If you are a fan of “claymation” movies with such beloved characters as Wallace & Gromit or Shaun the Sheep, you might be delighted to hear that Bristol is their official hometown.
Nonetheless, the urban economy is fueled to a great extent by the import trade, via the nearby mouth of the River Avon, by finance, and especially by the aerospace and defense industries. Rolls Royce, BAE Systems, and Airbus all have established aircraft production in Filton, a small town on the northern outskirts. Moreover, the Greater Bristol area stretches a lot further inland, particularly to the southeast, well into Somerset.
Relocating to Bristol: Plenty of Choice
Depending on the location of your workplace and your children’s school, Bristol offers a wide variety of residential neighborhoods. Clifton, an area including Clifton Wood, Clifton Village, and the student favorite Whiteladies Road, is one of the city’s more exclusive districts. The nearby Cotham and Redland areas are still affluent, but they have a larger degree of student housing and are generally not as posh as Clifton. As Westland Park is a nearby green space, Redland in particular is suitable for families who want to live in a fairly central location.
Of course, there are also lots of suburbs, like Henleaze and Abbots Leigh to the northwest, or Westbury-on-Trym to the northeast, that are considered green and family-friendly. Single expats might be interested in waterfront developments along the Floating Harbour, or the recently gentrified urban areas of Totterdown and Southville. If you don’t need to worry about money at all, you might move to the distinguished elegance of nearby Bath — a mere 15-minute train ride from Bristol, a World Heritage Site full of Georgian splendor, and alas, the fourth most expensive place in the UK.
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