Banbury is UK's richest town

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The Independent Online
BANBURY IN Oxfordshire may have a reputation as an idyllic medieval market town, but it has benefited hugely from the presence of hi-tech businesses.

For the second year running it has outstripped 162 other towns to head the survey of Britain's most prosperous places. The town, best-known for its Cross and Banbury cake, now has a heavy reliance on the service sector, which has developed on cheap land in the area and taken advantage of the good transport links. This has helped to cushion the town from the economic slowdown elsewhere.

The three most successful companies in the town are the telecommunications giant Vodafone, which made profits of pounds 63m last year and has grown hugely as a business. Lloyds Bank Factors made pounds 33m and Alex Lawrie Factors made pounds 18m.

These service sector profits have more than offset the lower profits of firms such as car manufacturers and distributors, XJ220 Ltd and the Mannesman equipment manufacturing group. Nine out of ten of businesses in Banbury made a profit last year, compared with a national average of eight out of ten.

The town is halfway between London and Birmingham, and with improved road and rail links, its 40,000 people are now only an hour away from both cities. It is no longer the "tea and wee" stop for drivers heading up the A41.

The 25 per cent rise in property values over the past two years shows the town is now a destination in its own right for companies and their employees, as well as their families who can take advantage of its high- performing schools. And its lower than average unemployment rate of 2 per cent shows economic health is spread throughout the town.