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Young Londoners flee capital for the regions



House prices drive thirtysomethings out to smaller cities
Birmingham's new public library is the backdrop for an ice rink and big wheel in Centenary Square
Birmingham's new public library is the backdrop for an ice rink and big wheel in Centenary Square, a new face for the city once deried for ugly 60s concrete architecture. Photograph: Alamy

Ambitious thirtysomethings are leaving London in droves. Record numbers are turning their backs on the capital and flocking to England’s regional cities, according to an analysis of official data that suggests a significant exodus from London is under way.

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics show that, in the year to June last year, 58,220 people aged 30-39 left the capital – the highest number on record and a 10% increase on 2010. Overall, there was a net outflow of almost 22,000 thirtysomethings. The last time there was a comparable figure was in 2008 – the year of the credit crisis. However, the figures are likely to be only a fraction of the true numbers of people in their thirties migrating from London.

The ONS figures are based largely on an analysis of NHS registers, so will not include everyone who moves away from the capital. Soaring house prices in London since June 2013 are also likely to have accelerated the outflow.

House prices in the capital have risen by 19% in the past year alone. The average property in London now costs £402,800, according to Hometrack: the UK average is £185,700.

This may be one reason why Birmingham has become the favourite destination for those in their 30s fleeing the capital. The city attracted 5,480 Londoners in the 12 months to June 2013. Bristol came next, followed by Manchester, Nottingham and Oxford.

It appears that the need to find a new work-life balance explains the decisions of many thirtysomethings to quit the capital. They are seeking to balance the competing demands of parenthood, secure well-paid jobs and moving up the housing ladder. Many seem to be graduates returning to the cities where they received their university education and which are now undergoing a renaissance.

Experts say the booming economies of the UK’s regional cities are attracting established professionals who would not have contemplated a career outside London a decade ago.

“Young people may be initially attracted by jobs in the capital, but then they recognise that if they want to move on and get on to the housing ladder, there are opportunities in other cities,” said Ed Cox, director of the IPPR North thinktank. “We are starting to see the benefits of the recovery, particularly for higher-skilled jobs that are being created in cities outside London.”

Birmingham’s emergence as the favourite city for those tired of London may surprise many. Long derided as an unfashionable, ugly city, Birmingham has been transformed and last year attracted record levels of foreign business investment.

“We are tearing down the concrete of the 60s, transforming the city centre and dramatically improving transport links,” said Neil Rami, chief executive of Marketing Birmingham. “The region is already a global hub for advanced manufacturing, but exciting companies in sectors like digital technology and e-commerce are springing up all the time.”

The once-unloved metropolis also boasts impressive “pull factors” that are attracting the culturally savvy. The city has four Michelin-starred restaurants – the most outside the capital – and its new library is the largest public cultural space in Europe. It is also home to a world-famous symphony orchestra and a world-class ballet company.

Tom Cullen, a journalist in his 30s with a young family, spent 12 years in London as associate editor of the magazine ShortList, but moved to the city last year to set up his own magazine. “All of the good things that have happened in London over the past 20 years are now happening here,” Cullen said. “It is fresher, more vibrant and more personable than the capital. You can sense the aspiration and ambition of the place and its people. The quality of life is high, and the cost of living is low compared to London, where astronomical house prices are punitive for young families like mine.

“This is a city on the rise. It’s got a burgeoning cultural scene, particularly when it comes to eating and music. People love being here. They aren’t all desperate to get to London.”

Cox said that the capital would still act as a magnet for young graduates educated in cities outside London, but many would choose not to make it their permanent home. “Initially they are sucked into the capital, but then the bright lights wear off and people remember the quality of life they had elsewhere and return to it,” he said.


Average UK property price £185,700

London £402,800

Oxford £333,400

Bristol £217,300

Manchester £137,000

Birmingham £133,700

Nottingham £128,500

Source: Hometrack, October 2014

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