To its detractors, Mid Suffolk is an area of gently undulating sugar beet fields whose best feature is the A14 dual carriageway that thunders through its heart en route to the questionable glories of Ipswich. But while many have spurned the delights of the late Radio 1 DJ John Peel's adoptive home, it seems its 86,000 canny residents have been quietly enjoying the best quality of life that rural Britain has to offer.
A statistical cocktail of good health, higher than average sunshine, a low burglary rate and cheap property means that people living in this hitherto hidden jewel of East Anglia, whose little-known gifts to humanity include the discovery of soda water and the beginnings of Frankenstein, are benefiting from the highest standard of living in Britain's 114 rural local authorities.
While the district stretching from the medieval marshlands of Eye to the arable plains of Stowmarket is not immune from problems that blight countryside communities such as dwindling amenities and public transport links, it has profited from a "ripple effect" of prosperity and economic activity in places such Cambridge and Felixstowe as well as maintaining its traditional structure of picturebook villages.
It is not by chance that Britain's 40th largest council district is the setting for Akenfield, the social history of a Suffolk village written in 1967 by Ronald Blythe, which is considered a modern classic for its chronicling of a long-lost vision of rural England through the lives of the village teacher, doctor, blacksmith, saddler and magistrate.
A survey, conducted on behalf of Halifax, found that their modern successors have continued to reap the rewards of an area where 70 per cent of the population still live in villages or a rural setting with one of the lowest crime rates in the country as well as property prices considerably below those of surrounding areas. Researchers drew on statistics ranging from the census to exam results as well as rainfall data from the Met Office to create an index of rural living standards.
Martin Ellis, economist at the bank, now part of the Lloyds TSB group which is 65 per cent-owned by the tax payer, said: "Residents of Mid Suffolk have the best quality of life of any rural area in Great Britain. They tend to be healthy, with one of the longest life expectancy rates, and live in larger than average houses. Significantly, average house prices in Mid Suffolk trade at an average £9,810 below the regional average. Therefore, an excellent quality of life comes at a relatively reasonable price."
The findings, which also showed that the area enjoys two more hours of sunshine each week than the national average, reflected the high standing of the East of England in the quality of life rankings. All but three of the top 10 rankings were taken by districts in East Anglia.
According to the study, nowhere quite has the strength in depth of Mid Suffolk, whose status as a haven from the frenzy of modern life was recognised by John Peel when he bought his home in Great Finborough, near Stowmarket, in the 1970s. He often presented shows from a studio in the grounds of his home, which he referred to as "Peel Acres".
Tim Passmore, the leader of Mid Suffolk District Council, said: "I think Mid Suffolk is tremendous. It has attractive market towns, beautiful villages and a laid-back lifestyle that the rest of the country can only dream of."
The area was home to a long list of forgotten heroes, including Joseph Priestly, the 18th-century theologian and amateur chemist from Needham Market who was the first man to isolate oxygen and invent soda water, and William Godwin, a philosopher from Stowmarket who married the early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft in 1797 and whose daughter was the Frankenstein writer Mary Shelley.
There are early signs that others are catching on to the idea that Mid Suffolk is an attractive place to live. The population is predicted to grow to about 99,000 by 2021, representing a net influx of people to the area which Ronald Blythe described as being populated with "old farmsteads, snowcemmed [sic] and trim ... with its carrs [sic] and its mosses where a millennium of villagers have preferred not to live".
All, however, is not sweetness and light in this rural paradise. Improbably, it has been selected as the site of Europe's largest indoor winter sports arena, Snoasis, which was passed by the Government last year for construction in a former cement quarry at a cost of £350m complete with an artificial ski slope in a giant snow dome.
Peter Welham, co-ordinator of the Snoasis Community Alliance, which is campaigning against the scheme in the village of Great Blakenham, said: "It is all very well Mid Suffolk being hailed as an area of rural tranquility but that does not sit well when we have a monster-sized scheme like this."Reuse content