We are currently trialling our new-look independent.co.uk website - please send any feedback to beta@independent.co.uk

This Britain

Beautiful South wipes out Wales, Scotland and North in countryside poll of rural districts with highest living standards


Godalming sparked interest in sedate south-west Surrey in 1881 when its townsfolk became the first in the world to benefit from a public supply of electricity.

One hundred and thirty-two years later, the Saxon settlement that lit up the streets is in the news again for the amenities enjoyed by its residents.

Waverley, the local authority district of which Goldalming serves as the headquarters, has been named the area of rural Britain with the highest living standards.

In a further sign of the North-South divide, Scotland and Wales were entirely absent from the Halifax building society's list of the top 50 boroughs and districts.

The Home Counties and the East of England dominated the survey through a winning mixture of good health, low crime and relatively cheap housing. Of the top 10 on the Halifax's list, only two local authorities are from outside southern England: Rushcliffe and South Northamptonshire in the East Midlands. Among the areas checked were wealth – house prices, employment and earnings – and more traditional indicators of quality of life, such as health, life expectancy, exam results and crime rates.

Waverley won no points for supplying electricity, but 97 per cent of its 121,000 residents were in "good health". Residents in Godalming, Farnham and Haslemere and elsewhere in Waverley had wealth too, with an average weekly wage of £888, significantly above the UK average of £609. Employment of almost 80 per cent compares well with the national average.

Crucially, house prices are also relatively affordable at about £325,000, 5.6 times local earnings. Across rural Britain, house prices cost around six times annual earnings. Uttlesford in north-west Essex, home of Saffron Walden, was in second place, followed by neighbouring East Hertfordshire. Sixteen of the top 50 – almost a third – came from the South-east.

Scotland was rated highly for low population density and lack of traffic and, sometimes, crime. The survey found nothing positive to say about Wales.

Rural living the top 10 districts

1 Waverley, South-east

2 Uttlesford, East of England

3 East Hertfordshire, East of England

4 Chiltern, South-east

5 Maldon, East of England

6 South Cambridgeshire, East of England

7 Rushcliffe, East Midlands

8 Vale of White Horse, South-east

9 South Northamptonshire, East Midlands

10 South Oxfordshire, South-east

And the award for most dismal town goes to... Scotland

A former pit community, New Cumnock, was yesterday named Scotland's "most dismal town".

Urban Realm magazine gave the East Ayrshire town its annual Carbuncle award, citing the "haemorrhaging of shops" and "a general absence of maintenance on derelict properties". Even the building of a new primary school had been overshadowed by the threatened closure of the town hall and the sell-off of a church, the Scottish housing specialists said.

New Cumnock, which has 1,800 residents, was hit by the decline of coal mining in the 1980s. Fort William, Motherwell, Kirkintilloch, Newmilns and Paisley were the other towns shortlisted.