News: It's grim down South

Fri, 28 Sep 07

A new survey has revealed that towns and cities in the South of England are the worst places for raising families...

The Daily Mail reports that seven of the ten worst ranking areas were in the South, with Reading in Berkshire branded the worst place to raise a family in Britain.

Nestled on the banks of two rivers and steeped in Victorian charm, it has always been a popular choice with generations of city dwellers seeking a better quality of life.

But Reading's commuter belt appeal seems to be fading.

With a high crime rate, mediocre GCSE results in its state schools and significant flood risk, Reading came last in a poll of more than 400 towns and regions across the nation.

The report, by Reader's Digest, asked parents across Britain about factors affecting family life, such as education and housing.

It concluded the best areas in Britain to raise children are small country towns that are low on crime but big on community spirit.

Smaller is beautiful

The authors behind the report said: "Smaller is beautiful. The winning areas are predominantly rural, peppered with small country towns - only three include towns with populations greater than 40,000."

The survey found that good state schools and a low crime rate are the most important requirements for a family-friendly area, closely followed by good local hospitals and affordable family housing.

High employment and low risk of flooding were also regarded as significant factors. Topping the poll in England is the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, which was praised for its safe environment, low crime, and beautiful countryside. Easy access to Bristol and Cheltenham were also considered a plus.

Strong community spirit and good school and hospitals helped Hambleton in North Yorkshire score highly in the survey.

Other top-ten ranking areas included Lancashire's Ribble Valley, South Gloucestershire and Uttlesford in Essex.

Inner city grimness

In contrast with rural Britain, the nation's inner cities did not fare well in the report, with three London boroughs - Waltham Forest, Haringey and Lewisham - all being placed in the bottom ten.

Despite its dreaming spires attracting millions of visitors each year, Oxford was ranked the tenth worst area to raise a family due to its high burglary rate, poor schools and expensive housing.

To rank each area, family-friendly factors were weighted, based on the importance that parents placed on them. They were than measured against statistics held on each local authority such as Home Office crime figures.

The report's authors then visited the winning areas to hear from speak to families first hand.

They added: "If a single thread runs through the fabric of all these places, large and small, it is the golden one called 'community' - the concerned neighbours, teachers and community groups that stand behind safe streets, strong schools and thriving towns."

Scotland topped the poll, with East Dunbartonshire and East Renfrewshire, both rural areas close to Glasgow, taking the top two spots. They both scored highly on employment opportunities and community spirit.

Best places to bring up a family

The top 10 local authority areas

1. East Dunbartonshire, Scotland
2. East Renfrewshire, Scotland
3. Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire
4. Vale of Glamorgan, Wales
5. Hambleton, North Yorkshire
6. Fareham, Hampshire
7. West Lothian, Scotland
8. South Gloucestershire
9. Ribble Valley, Lancashire
10. Uttlesford, Essex

And the bottom 10

399. Oxford, Oxfordshire
400. Lewisham, Inner London
401. North Lincolnshire
402. Rother, East Sussex
403. Kingston upon Hull
404. Haringey, Inner London
405. Hastings, East Sussex
406. North East Lincolnshire
407. Waltham Forest, Outer London
408. Reading, Berkshire

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