The British Consulate General in Admiralty, Hong Kong. Hongkongers are buying up UK homes after the UK government eased the path to permanent residency for BN(O) passport holders in July. Photo: Sam Tsang
Concrete Analysis
by Raymond Chong
Concrete Analysis
by Raymond Chong

For BN(O) passport holders, the rising star of Southeast England is a great relocation option

  • Reading town makes up for its tiny size with excellence in education records on national stage
  • Property prices along the Crossrail project operated by MTR of Hong Kong have surged since the project was approved in 2009
From January 2021, any of Hong Kong’s 2.9 million BN(O) passport holders – and their immediate dependants – will be able to apply for a special visa which gives them the opportunity to live in the UK for five years and a path to permanent residency.
The announcement has sent BN(O) passport holders scrambling for UK real estate. Some 7,000-odd homes have been sold in the past two months to Hongkongers alone, according to industry sources.

A combination of excellent educational institutions and cosmopolitan buzz have made the UK an ideal study-abroad destination for Hong Kong students. State schools admit students on a “catchment” basis. The nearer you live to your preferred school, the higher your chances of enrolling your kids there.

This has prompted hordes of Hong Kong parents to buy properties near the schools of their choice to shorten the odds of admission.

London, Manchester and Birmingham have been the top destinations for BN(O) passport holders, driving up home prices in those cities. The Southeast of England could very well be the next favourite relocation spots.

More pupils from Reading go on to further their studies at Oxford or Cambridge than any other cities: Photo: Broadsheet Education
Reading has been flying under the radar, but the tide may turn soon. Despite its size, the town is not lacking in the education field. There, a total of 44 schools are rated as “outstanding” and “good” under Ofsted, a grading system akin to Hong Kong’s school-banding mechanism.

According to its demographics, the number of eligible students for “primary one” is only 9,000 every year. In other words, the chance of getting your kids into one of the prestigious schools in Reading is higher than in other towns.

About 4.3 per cent of pupils in Reading further their studies at Oxford or Cambridge after completing their secondary school education, according to data compiled by the Department of Education, the highest ratio in the UK.

In addition, secondary schools in Reading have the highest achievers at A Level too. About a third of pupils gain a place in one of the 24 Russell Group universities after finishing their A levels, the highest rate in England.

MTR chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang, (right) visits Liverpool Street Station in London in 2017 to inspect the Crossrail train services that link the east and west of London. Photo: Denise Tsang

From an investment point of view, Reading is a hidden gem. It stands to benefit from Crossrail, a multibillion-pound infrastructure project operated by the all-too-familiar MTR Corporation of Hong Kong.

Dubbed the Elizabeth Line, the project stretches over 70 miles (113km) from Reading and Heathrow Airport in the west, through central London, and to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east.

In local analogy, the line is equivalent to Westrails, or the Sha Tin to Central Link in Hong Kong.

Taking Hong Kong’s property market as an example, once such golden infrastructure is up and running, property prices in areas along the route tend to receive an extra boost and typically outperform the wider market. The Crossrail will be no exception.

Home prices along the Crossrail route have surged by 52 per cent since the approval of the project in 2009, according to Zoopla, handily beating the 30 per cent average gain nationwide. That is remarkable considering the line, including the Reading Station, will not be fully operational until mid-2022.

A picture shows the Huawei logo and signage at their main UK offices in Reading, west of London. Reading is dubbed as the UK’s Silicon Valley with “tech density” eight times higher than UK average. Photo: AFP

While prices have dipped in the past year in keeping with the broader market trend across London against the weaker economic backdrop, another boost is on the horizon once the project is fully completed. This is especially true for areas adjoining stations that are not yet operational, including Reading.

In preparation for the completion of Crossrail, many global tech giants including Microsoft, Oracle, Cisco, Huawei and Nokia have moved their headquarters to Reading.

The Silicon Valley of the UK has a “tech density” eight times the national average. For the fourth year running, Oxford and Reading have been named the top-performing places on an index compiled by PwC.

Those looking for a second home abroad or opportunities in overseas property investment will find this vibrant town a great option.

Raymond Chong is managing director at Star Property Agency, a mortgage referral brokerage

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: a u.k. town that ticks all the right boxes