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London's cheapest suburb? It's Barcelona
Barcelona by night, 'Gherkin' building included. Photo: Jordi Payà

London's cheapest suburb? It's Barcelona

Published: 30 Oct 2013 14:26 GMT+01:00
Updated: 30 Oct 2013 15:50 GMT+01:00

London's Sam Cookney caused a stir recently when he argued property prices in the UK capital were so high it would be cheaper to live in Barcelona and fly to work every day. Here he tells The Local what inspired his thinking.

"It all started as a bit of a fun for a couple of friends," the London-based social media manager told The Local about his viral blog piece.

In his article, Cookney demonstrated he would save €387 (£330, or $530) a month by choosing to live in Barcelona and commuting with the low-cost airline Ryainair to London four days a week for work.

To "compare apples with apples" he chose to line up Barcelona’s upmarket Les Corts district against London’s pricey West Hampstead.

Cookney's search revealed he could secure the lease on a one-bedroom flat in West Hampstead for around £1,505 (€1,760) while a three-bedroom place in the Catalan capital would only set him back €680.

For the commute, meanwhile, he found he could fly return from Barcelona to London's Stansted airport with Ryanair in November for around €34 a day.

Even after factoring extra travel costs including a London rail pass and a Barcelona equivalent, the Spanish city still came out the winner.

With total costs in Barcelona being €1,592, Cookney figured he would come out €387 a month by living in the Catalan capital.  

The reaction has been astonishing with media outlets latching on to the story with its "surreal premise".

At the same time, plenty of commentators have taken Cookney to task over his sums, saying he hasn't factored in variables such as changing airline prices, or the toll that all that travel would take.

But the social media manager says those people are not focusing on the key message of the article: "People are being priced out of this city."  

"I’m not seriously suggesting that people start commuting between London and Barcelona, and I’m not about to start doing it either.

"I wanted to highlight how property prices in London are not sustainable."

Cookney said the origins of the idea to compare London and Barcelona could be traced back to when he lost his job in April.

Soon afterwards, he found himself applying for work in Barcelona, a city where he lived and taught English for a year in the mid-2000s.

"I love Barcelona. I always tell people it’s my favourite European city," he explained to The Local.

"It has everything: the sea, the mountains, the nightlife. It is great fun, and friendly there’s a decent start-up community."

Check out The Local's great Barcelona–Madrid city face-off. Which one is best?

Cookney was also spurred on by the recent media debate about property prices in London — a discussion he said originated with a New York Times piece about the city becoming a home for the super-rich.

Recent figures quoted by the UK’s Guardian newspaper show property prices shot up 9.7 percent in London from July 2012 to July 2013.

"I’m very glad my piece has been taken seriously and that it has raised the issue of high property prices in London," Cookney said.

And what advice would he give to the many Spaniards eyeing a move to the UK capital?

“If you can get a decent job in London, the salary is great. But there are also lots of people working a lot of hours just to pay their rent," Cookney warned.        

Click there to read Cookney's original blog piece.

George Mills (george.mills@thelocal.com)

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