Sunny Lambeth 'beats beautiful Durham'

It's bleak up north Survey says the heart has been ripped out of Britain's industrial towns
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The Independent Online

A controversial guide to Britain's best and worst towns is published next week. It puts Kingston upon Thames in top place and Barnsley in South Yorkshire at the very bottom.

Top Towns, from Guinness publishing, ranks 128 places in England, Scotland and Wales according to their quality of life - as measured by a wide range of statistics.

Towns and counties from South East England dominate the top third of the table and four outer London boroughs are in the top five. But places in the Midlands and northern England predominate in the bottom third.

There are some surprises, though. The London Borough of Lambeth, with its taints of poverty, high crime and council corruption, is in 41st place while Durham, one of the North's most beautiful and historic towns, is down at number 100.

Guinness boasts that the paperback "is the essential guide for the ... households that move house in the UK every year".

But it does not deal with towns as such, but with local authority areas - the metropolitan boroughs found in the large conurbations and the county councils outside. Towns and cities, such as Reading and Bristol, get no mention of their own - they are swallowed up within counties like Berkshire and Avon.

The guide ranks the 128 places according to nine sets of statistics concerning jobs, prices, housing, education, environment, transport, health and fitness, crime, arts and culture and, finally, recreation and shopping.

These are then combined to give one grand ranking based on overall quality of life. Some places did well in one category, but comparatively poorly in others. Westminster was best for arts and culture, shopping and transport, but only 17th overall out of 128 because of crime, housing and poor education.

However, the environment rankings are based solely on climate - rainfall, average temperatures and hours of sunshine, and so Lambeth, Lewish-am and Hackney are judged to have the best environment in Britain.

Barnsley has been ravaged by pit closures and was in the bottom 15 places for five out of the nine categories. But it came 16th in the housing section because of a glut of repossessed homes selling at low prices.

"The other places at the bottomfare much the same: consistently depressed, mainly inner-city and city-fringe districts, overcrowded, under-resourced, under- employed and crime-ridden.

"Barnsley has had the heart taken out of it, and it isn't alone. Doncaster, Rotherham and the Dearne Valley of South Yorkshire have been devastated by the loss not simply of an industry but of a way of life."

The top 10 places are Kingston upon Thames, Hertfordshire, Richmond upon Thames, Bromley, Barnet, Surrey, Hampshire, Sutton, Dyfed and Lothian.

The bottom 10 are Rotherham and Wolverhampton, Sunderland, Wigan, Oldham, Sandwell, Coventry, Rochdale, Salford and Barnsley.

n Top Towns by Caralampo Focas, Paul Genty and Peter Murphy. Guinness Publishing. pounds 9.99.