Unhappy London is misery capital of Britain

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The Independent Online
IF YOU are seeking true happiness, move to East Dorset. In any case, avoid the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Islington - former home of Tony Blair. According to a new report, the two inner-city boroughs are the most miserable places in England.

Researchers funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation questioned 50,000 people around the country to produce a "geography of misery" showing where residents are most dissatisfied.

Parts of inner London are the most gloomy, closely followed by the North- east. Those in the South-east are most contented with their lot.

Overall, one in 10 people said they were dissatisfied with their neighbourhood. But in the most unpopular estates in London, up to a quarter expressed high levels of dissatisfaction with their neighbourhood, compared to one in 20 in rural parts of Dorset.

The most widespread cause of unhappiness is a fear of crime, with more than a fifth of householders saying that crime was a major problem in their area. Other irritations included problems with dogs (16 per cent), poor leisure facilities (15 per cent), high levels of vandalism (14 per cent) and litter and rubbish in the streets (13 per cent).

"We are looking at people's perceptions," said Roger Burrows, author of the report. "So perception of crime may not be the same as crime actually being committed. But perceptions may be as important as the actuality."

Misery was by no means confined to those living in high-rise council flats. One in 10 people living in private rented homes was not happy. Among property owners, twice as many people with flats were dissatisfied as those living in detached houses. But only 7 per cent of retired people living in social housing declared themselves discontented.

Mr Burrows said the analysis was important because it could be used to help work out how to help deprived areas. Specific problems could be addressed, raising people's quality of life. "Under the Government's measures, places like the North-east which show high levels of dissatisfaction, do fare well when it comes to targeting resources," Mr Burrows said.

"With our analysis, we can get a good vision of particular problems in particular areas. People are saying what is particularly problematic about their area ... and often experts don't take into account things that are going on at a local level."

On hearing the results of the research, East Dorset preened itself yesterday. "It's so beautiful here, no wonder people are happy," said a spokesman.

Tower Hamlets was less enthusiastic about its place at the top of the misery league.

Maud Gerritsen, 26, was prepared to stand up for her borough. "Miserable? No, it's great, it takes me three minutes to walk to work. I think they keep it clean as well. I don't go out in Tower Hamlets though, I prefer to go into the West End for night life."

Peter Maynard, 44, agreed. "I live in St Katherine's Dock where the flats are lovely," he said. "But the borough is like chalk and cheese - there's very different areas and a lot of poverty. I can't believe it's the most miserable place though. I used to live in Durham and I'm sure there are worse places in the North-east."

Shuhev Hussain and Abden Ali, both 17 and from the Royal Mint Square Estate, said that they would not want to live anywhere else, but there were some problems.

"The council are doing nothing about our football pitch. It's covered in glass and dog dirt and so in the summer there's nowhere for the kids to play," said Shuhev.

"We've been trying to get them to do something about it for ages. But there's no trouble on the estate. I'm quite happy here. We have a good laugh."

The leader of Tower Hamlets Council, Julia Mainwaring, said she was "a bit miffed" with the researchers' findings.

"We have got problems with poverty but there is not much crime in Tower Hamlets. And you can go out 24 hours a day with our cafes and takeaways. It's not like living in the country where everything shuts at seven.

"We think it's a jolly good place to live. People come here from all over the world and choose to live here and bring up their families. There's a lot going on and it's very exciting - look at our street markets, the Tower of London. Canary Wharf. And there's the Millennium Dome."

Except that the dome is in Greenwich.

The Worst

and Best

of Towns

The top ten most dissatisfied districts in the "geography of misery"

1 Tower Hamlets, London

2 Islington, London

3 Hackney, London

4 Southwark, London

5 Easington, Co Durham

6 Sunderland, Tyne & Wear

7 Lambeth, London

8 South Tyneside

9 Newham, London

10 Middlesbrough, Cleveland

The least dissatisfied districts:

1 East Dorset

2 Wokingham, Berkshire

3 Surrey Heath, Surrey

4 Christchurch, Dorset

5 Wealden, East Sussex

6 Castle Point, Essex

7 Hart, Hampshire

8 Broadland, Norfolk

9 Fareham, Hampshire

10 Rochford, Essex

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