Sick of the South East? Then emigrate to Exeter


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The Independent Online

It's long since been clear that most of the world's problems could be solved by relocating millions, if not billions, of people to Australia.

The demographic pressures confronting the developing world could be fixed at a stroke, if only the IMF could be leant upon to fund this mass deportation, following which whole cities would be built in the sands of the Antipodes, the wonders of cricket and weak beer would impressed on the hitherto unknowing, and the plentiful natural resources of the Lucky Country could be extended beyond persons called Shane and Sheila.

A British version of this radical but humane policy – designed to cure the alleged overcrowding of the South East, which is causing such misery and imbalance in the life of the nation – struck me this week. We should move a very significant chunk of our population to Exeter, the wonderful city from which your correspondent is writing.

Ignore the perfect beach at Trebarwith, the medieval glories of Tintagel, or the culinary delights of Padstow: Exeter is the jewel in the crown of the South West. The stunning cathedral and redone Princess Hay area, adjacent to the High Street – an exemplary urban regeneration project – make the city centre a heaving success. There is huge excitement about the arrival of John Lewis, testimony to the fact that, because of intelligent investment, the city is creating jobs.

Natural advantages, such as proximity to Dartmoor, a beautiful estuary and long coastline, are coupled with a lively social scene, a fulcrum of which is Sandy Park stadium, the home of premiership rugby side the Exeter Chiefs. Property is infinitely more affordable than in London. The state schools are not improving nearly fast enough, forcing many parents of modest means to scrimp and save so their children might go to the private Exeter or Maynard Schools. But the university here goes from strength, and sucks in talent from all around the country.

All things considered, as long as you can find work, the South West, and Exeter particularly, offers a quality of life, and space in which to raise children, that many of us living in the capital can only dream of. Over the next few years, as austerity bites and the cost of living in the capital becomes ever more obscene, I suspect thousands of London families will pack their belongings and make the journey west, never to return. What's more, the vast majority will be glad they did; though if they have second thoughts, of course, there's always Down Under.