What’s all the buzz about Birmingham?

As a lively and affordable alternative to the capital, the regenerated heart of our second city is hard to beat.

The Times - 11 December 2016

Why it’s hot There’s a buzz about Birmingham. Britain’s second city has long been outgunned by the success of Manchester’s football teams, music scene and TV studios, but, quietly, it’s Brum that’s seeing the real renaissance.

Banks and other big businesses have settled here, rather than in its noisy northern rival, and HS2 trains will be pulling into its shiny new station long before anyone has bothered to switch the Northern Powerhouse on at the mains. Birmingham even beats Manchester for Michelin-starred restaurants (5-0, no less). Its John Lewis, which opened last year, is the never knowingly undersold icing on the cake.

Birmingham has cunningly positioned itself as an affordable, well-connected alternative to London, with enough jobs, restaurants, culture and cafes to satisfy the most discerning urbanite. It was once an impenetrable concrete maze, but, architecturally, there’s now much to admire. The nightmarish New Street station has been revamped, you’ve got the shiniest Selfridges in the world, and the supercool new library is a suitably modern showcase for a place that’s looking to the future.

The biggest difference, however, is that the city centre is now full of homes. Comfortable suburbs such as Moseley and Harborne haven’t lost their appeal, but young professionals, downsizers and first-timers are piling into the flats springing up in old office and factory conversions, or in new-builds on the canals.

Berni van Haeften, 56, is a procurement consultant on the HS2 project. He’s buying a flat in the Jewellery Quarter, and says that while the city has changed, the recent gloss hasn’t cooled its traditional warmth. “It’s transformed, but there’s still that old Brummie spirit,” he says.

Why it’s not You still wouldn’t call it pretty, and there’s not a lot of green space. The canals provide a route for jogging or walking the dog, but otherwise it’s built-up. Don’t expect a garden or anywhere to park your car.

Education, education, education Not a big priority for most would-be buyers in this part of the city, but Perry Beeches II, a secondary free school near the Jewellery Quarter, is rated outstanding by Ofsted.

Get connected Direct trains will take you to most of the country, including London Euston (75min). The airport (and the rest of the world) is 10-15 minutes by train, and sleek new trams head north to Wolverhampton. Despite — or more likely because of — the all-encompassing motorway network, driving is best avoided. Broadband speed is likely to be about 75Mbps.

Be seen in There’s an abundance of choice, from the Michelin-starred Purnell’s (nine courses for £88) to the still upmarket but more affordable Pasta di Piazza, which does great pasta dishes for £10-£12. For fine coffee, don’t miss 200 Degrees (under the Grand Hotel, near the cathedral), or wrap up warm and try brunch at Ju Ju’s Cafe, by the canal.

Buy in The Jewellery Quarter — “like Clerkenwell 20 years ago”, according to Philip Jackson, a director of Maguire Jackson estate agency — is the most sought-after central address. It’s full of converted historic buildings, with plenty of bars and restaurants.

You’ll have pay a premium if you want to be by the water. The best canalside flats are in the Convention Quarter, home to the Symphony Hall and less erudite forms of nightlife. The Gun Quarter (Birmingham has seven quarters) is next in line, while developers expect Digbeth and Eastside, close to the HS2 terminal, to rise fast.

A few top-of-the range flats go for more than £500,000, but you’ll typically be looking at upwards of £140,000 for a one-bedder, and £180,000 or more for a two-bedroom flat.

Why we love it A winner in the regeneration game.


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Key Facts

  • Birmingham even beats Manchester for Michelin-starred restaurants (5-0, no less)