Hong Kong's growing regional importance is attracting British firms looking to expand their Asian operations, their leading representative in the SAR said. Alexander Thursby, chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, said Hong Kong's proximity to the Pearl River Delta and its highly developed legal and financial systems made it a favourite with British companies. 'Rule of law, freedom of cash, the tax structure, a highly capable population willing to change - these attract businesses,' he said. 'Corporations use Hong Kong as a springboard for expansion into the region.' Hong Kong is benefiting from being a natural starting point for firms pushing into the Pearl River Delta, he said. Its regional role as a financial centre makes it doubly attractive to British investors. 'A lot of British companies are expanding in the region, and I think this will continue to be the case. Over the past couple of years people have been recognising Hong Kong's importance to the region, not just China.' Mr Thursby said Hong Kong's emerging role mirrored London. ''London absorbs the world' is the saying. There, 1.6 million people work in the city each day. It has the US treasury market. Here, Hong Kong is starting to absorb the region that surrounds it. For example, a Thai bank did a share issue in Hong Kong recently.' British companies that have set up recently in Hong Kong include B&Q, the world's third-largest home improvement store chain. The retailer has 18 stores in China, 17 in Taiwan and five in Turkey, and its aggressive expansion strategy includes opening two more in Hong Kong in 2006, one in South Korea in 2005, and a further 75 in China over the next five years. 'We located in Hong Kong because it is better from a logistical point of view for travelling between different parts of the group,' B&Q Asia managing director Steve Gilman said. 'Hong Kong is also cheaper. A high tax on expatriates makes Shanghai, our other option, #250,000 (HK$3.5 million) more expensive. Also, Hong Kong offers better education for the children of expatriate staff.' Boots pharmacy chain, another British retailer, recently came to Hong Kong and plans to expand across the region. Boots is positive about doing business here. 'Our business in Hong Kong showed very good growth in the last 18 months,' said Boots Asia managing director, Edward Yu. 'Consumers are very sophisticated, and females in Hong Kong spend a lot on beauty products each month.' The Hong Kong office of well-known UK/European-based architects Benoy is swelling as it takes on more Asian projects. Operations director Simon Blore said: 'Of all countries in the Far East, China offers the greatest opportunity currently, and Hong Kong is a very good starting point to reach all of the major cities, while also being a major transport hub for the region.'