A wealthy little corner of England where the quality of life comes first

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The Independent Online

If your home is where Hart is – well, lucky you. It is a tranquil corner of Hampshire where the statistics suggest that the quality of life is higher than anywhere else in the country.

Others may have to struggle against ill-health, low household incomes, and a general sense of insecurity, but in Hart, they are healthy, wealthy, and settled. It is a rural district full of picture postcard villages, with the second highest average household income in the country, and one of the lowest crime rates. A survey has produced a league table of the "quality of life" in more than 400 local authority areas, concluding that the top 10 places are all within 50 miles of London and the top 20 within 75 miles.

Hart came first, followed by Wokingham, Surrey Heath, and South Bucks. But forget dropping out of the rat race and going to Hart for a high quality of life with no money. Like most areas where life is good, it is a part of the world full of people who are well-off.

Average household income in Hart is £33,738 per year, 44 per cent above the national average, and the second highest in the country, behind Richmond-upon-Thames. There are higher average individual incomes in central London, where the mega-rich keep flats or apartments to occupy during the working week, but Hart is where wealthy families have their main home.

The area also has low crime rates, very low levels of debt, and few of the health problems that go hand in hand with poverty. Fear of crime is lower in Hart than anywhere in the country apart from the Isles of Scilly. Of course, it is not altogether unknown.

In Elvetham Heath village, in Hart, there has been a problem with illegal fishing in the local duck pond. Worse still, it emerged earlier this year that someone had dumped their goldfish in the pond, leaving them to breed and multiply, until a team arrived from Hart council to fish them out. Crimes familiar to inner-city dwellers, such as drunkenness, mugging, begging, and violence are almost unknown in Hart.

The district also has the third healthiest population in the country, behind Wokingham and Surrey Heath, and the fourth lowest level of personal debt. South Bucks emerged as the least indebted area.

On the other hand, the survey suggests that there a lot of places you could live where you might find more caring neighbours and a better community spirit. None of the very wealthiest districts scored well under the headings "community spirit", or "volunteering" or "neighbourliness". Hart did better than the others on "neighbourliness", for which it was ranked 180 out of 434 districts. None of the other places with richer households came in the top half.

David Neighbour, leader of Hart District Council, said: "The south-east of England is the engine of the economy and Hart residents are in some of the most high-powered jobs in the country.

"They are well-educated, affluent and know a thing or two about what they want from life."