Oxford and Reading are ranked first and second respectively in a table of those best placed to cope with the effects of the pandemic.

The Demos/PwC Good Growth for Cities index ranks UK towns and cities which had performed well for growth in the years prior to the pandemic (2017 – 2019).

Based on 10 indicators, Oxford and Reading were way ahead of Southampton in third.

Rankings were based on Jobs, unemployment rate, health, income per head, education and skills, housing, work/life balance, income distribution, transport, environment and numbers of new businesses started during the period.

Property consultants and Thames Tap partner Savills which has offices in both centres, has looked at the report and analysed the reasons.

Nicola Horner, head of residential development sales at Savills Summertown (Oxford), said: “In Oxfordshire over the last year, we have seen the strongest demand for new homes close to good villages with a school, a village shop and a pub.

“Developments in the Cotswolds have been particularly in demand, with homes selling incredibly quickly to a wide range of buyers from families to downsizers.

“As well as strong demand from local buyers, we have also seen an uplift in those coming from London and further afield, who may not already have a connection to the area but have been drawn by the lifestyle on offer.

“Of the city schemes we are marketing, the strongest demand has been for apartments with outside space, whether a balcony or a terrace.

“Parklands Manor, a new development of houses and apartments set in 23 acres of private parkland within easy reach of Oxford, has also been popular.

“Many of the apartments have been sold to downsizers who want access to extensive outside space without having to maintain it, while the houses have been popular with families moving from urban areas looking for a lifestyle change, with excellent schools nearby.

“Those moving out of London have bought a new home in Oxfordshire, some using Help to Buy, and are paying significantly less in mortgage payments than they were in rent in central London.

“They are able to own the property, enjoy more space both inside and out, while still doing the same job and with good connections into London via Oxford Parkway or Didcot Parkway stations, or the M40.

“Proximity to the countryside and excellent schools, more space, home offices and fast internet speed have been must-haves for the majority of buyers over the last year and we expect this trend to continue throughout 2021.”

Alexa Peters, who leads the new homes division at Savills Reading, said: “It is no surprise to see Reading perform so well. The town has a highly skilled workforce and a high rate of start-ups and existing businesses, including several digital and technology firms covering a range of sectors.

“Many global businesses have also chosen the town as their UK headquarters, including the likes of Microsoft and Oracle. Its proximity to London – yet surrounded by stunning countryside including the Chiltern Hills – also makes it an attractive place to live.

“That’s only likely to strengthen with the launch of Crossrail and faster rail times into the capital.

“Consequently, demand for property in Reading and the wider Thames Valley has been strong, with several new developments in the pipeline.

“The pandemic continues to encourage people to think more about where they live and the attributes they most value in a home and there was clear demand from buyers last year which is still very much in evidence.

“Lifestyle relocation remains a big theme as people reassess their work-life balance – with high demand for homes with greater space, a large garden and easy access to the countryside.”

One notable new scheme which Savills is involved with is the former Horlicks Factory site nearby in Slough. Developer Berkeley is transforming the site into a collection of up to 1,300 apartments and houses along with new open spaces, gardens and residents’ facilities.

“The first 79 apartments at Horlicks Quarter are set to be released for sale in spring this year,” she added. “They occupy a prime position and are ideal for first time buyers or young professionals – with London Paddington less than 20 minutes away by train.

“The opening of Crossrail meanwhile will see connectivity to the capital improve even further.”

Gordon Hood, head of lettings at Savills Reading, said high demand has also been reflected in the local rental market, with a growing number of people wanting to ‘try before they buy’.

“We’ve seen strong demand for one and two bedroom town centre apartments along with a growing trend of people wanting to rent before committing to a purchase – particularly among those who have decided to make the move from London,” he said.

“The first week of this year, for example, has seen three times as many applicants registering than in 2020, which shows just how popular Reading and the wider surrounding area continues to be.

“However strong demand is only part of the story. The appetite for properties means that stock levels have fallen. As a result, whilst tenants are still mindful of value for money, the lack of available homes has resulted in multiple bids for some properties.”

See also: Demand for Thames Valley rental properties remains strong


Top: Nicola Horner.

Below: 1. The PwC table. 2. The Horlicks scheme.

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