North-south divide emerges over UK's best places to live

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The Independent Online

It is a league table that could see property prices spiral or fall, and will no doubt cause many proud locals to fill with joy or outrage.

The 10 best and worst places to live in the UK are to be named - and in some cases, shamed, on television tonight.

Candidate towns, cities and districts have been based on criteria including their rates of crime, unemployment, educational standards, hours of sunshine and average life expectancy.

Among those given the thumbs up are Ashford, in Kent, the Yorkshire city of Harrogate and Stratford-upon-Avon. Viewers who may not like the show include those who live in Hackney, in east London, Nottingham and Salford.

But some observers may not like the emphasis on a certain type of lifestyle that appears to have lauded by the research.

Three of the five most desirable places named in advance of the Channel 4 programme are in the south of England, while three of the worst areas are in the North.

Experts pointed out that the qualities that make a place attractive to move to are more nebulous than crime rates and GCSE passes.

A spokesman for the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (Cabe), a group that promotes good design, said: "While this poll could be interesting, the criteria used may be a little simplistic.

"A good place to live is not just made by jobs and good schools and low crime.

"A town may have a good school, but people may not have much quality of life if they have to get in a car and drive half an hour to get to it.

"And an area may have a low crime rate, but that could be because people are living locked away, in gated estates without much sense of community."

She added: "Desirable places to live are ones that feel alive and are made by their history, their character and the people in them."

A poll conducted by Mori and commissioned by Cabe last year on what people most wanted from their surrounding area found that crime rates and school standards were not rated as important as access to local amenities and the appearance of buildings in their immediate environment.

The full results will be revealed on The Best and Worst Places to Live in the UK on Channel 4 tonight at 8pm.

The best and worst in the UK

ASHFORD, KENT

Set in the heart of the Garden of England, close to London and within an hour of the south coast. Has more than 100 open spaces, 2,000 hours of sunshine a year, low crime rates and is in the top 25 per cent of local authorities for education.

GUILDFORD, SURREY

Described as a "vibrant and historic" town, surrounded by rolling countryside. Has the fifth highest life expectancy in the UK, with 40 per cent of the population educated to degree level and average household income over £35,000 a year.

HARROGATE, YORKSHIRE

Picturesque city with Turkish baths, hot springs, antique shops and tea rooms. In the top two per cent of UK local authorities for educational standards, with small class sizes and high GCSE pass rates. Close to Leeds and York, surrounded by beautiful countryside.

EASINGTON, CO DURHAM

The grim, once-industrial town has been stripped of the mines and shipbuilding works that once generated employment. Less than a third of pupils pass at least five GCSEs at Ato C grades, compared to 57 per cent nationally.

HACKNEY, EAST LONDON

Home to the area known as "Murder Mile", it is one of the most deprived boroughs in the country. One third of all residents of working age have no qualifications and crime costs £171m a year. Housing is still expensive and a two-bed, ex-council house costs £180,000.

MERTHYR TYDFIL, WALES

Dubbed the "sickness capital of the UK" - 10,000 of the 38,600 population claim incapacity benefit - the town tops all the wrong league tables. It has the highest unemployment rate in the UK, with 28 per cent of people jobless and school standards are poor.

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