Uttlesford named top rural area

Britain's most desirable rural area to live has been named as Uttlesford in Essex - home to the historic town of Saffron Walden as well as Stansted Airport.

Stansted Airport is located in Uttlesford
Stansted Airport is located in Uttlesford

Uttlesford helped to push last year's winner, Waverley in Surrey, into third place for 2014, with South Northamptonshire ranked second in Halifax's annual rural quality of life survey.

Popular with both tourists and commuters with its close links to London and Cambridge, the district of Uttlesford was formed in 1974 when several boroughs merged.

As well as being the setting for Saffron Walden, which has been hailed as one of the finest preserved examples of a medieval market town in the country and whose attractions include a museum and mazes, Uttlesford also cradles the towns of Thaxted and Great Dunmow.

Another reason people flock to Uttlesford is to pass through Stansted Airport, which employs over 10,000 people and is the fourth-busiest airport in the UK, with around 17.5 million passengers a year.

Halifax uses a wide range of statistics from various sources to find the top countryside idylls, including those relating to the health, personal wellbeing and life expectancy of residents, crime rates, weather, employment, school results and broadband access.

This year is the first time Uttlesford has been crowned the winner, having come second in 2013.

Residents in this north west corner of Essex earn £819 a week typically - well above the national average of £608. Uttlesford also has an 84% employment rate, compared with the average across the country of 74%.

Some 96.7% of residents there report good general health and the average life expectancy in Uttlesford is 81.8 years. On top of this , more than eight in 10 adults in Uttlesford believe what they do in life is worthwhile.

But residents there face a tougher time trying to find an affordable house, with the average property priced at seven times local annual earnings, which is higher than the national rural house price-to-earnings ratio of 6.2.

As usual in Halifax's survey, southern areas and the London commuter belt fared well in the quality of life survey, with the local authority districts of East Hertfordshire, South Cambridgeshire, Vale of White Horse and Chiltern also making the top 10.

The highest that a Welsh district was placed in the survey was number 70, with Monmouthshire taking this spot.

Scotland claimed two places in the top 50, with the Orkney Islands at number 24 and the Shetland Islands at 43.

Yorkshire and the Humber bagged three places in the top 50 - Ryedale, Hambleton and Selby. Meanwhile, the highest ranking for a district in the North East was Northumberland at number 63. The highest-ranked rural area in the North West was the Ribble Valley, placed 65th in the survey overall.

Craig McKinlay, Halifax mortgage director, said: "Uttlesford has consistently reported positive scores across a wide range of indicators for a number of years. "And taking a wide range of economic and social factors into account residents here can now lay claim to having the highest standard of living in rural Britain.

"In terms of personal well being and general good health, Uttlesford residents score among the highest in Great Britain."

In general, southern rural areas tend to score better in Halifax's survey on employment, health and weather while northern ones often have more affordable housing and better exam results.

Copeland in the North West was found to be the most affordable rural place to buy a house, with property prices at around 3.3 times earnings.

The countryside district with the best broadband was named as Chiltern in the South East, where 92% of households have a minimum download speed of 2Mbps (megabits per second).

The Orkney Islands have the lowest burglary rates, at one per 10,000 households. The Western Isles have the lowest population density, at just nine people per square kilometre.

The sunniest place in Britain is the Isle of Wight, where residents enjoy an average of 37.4 hours of sunshine a week, while the people living in East Dorset can expect to live the longest, to 82.9 years old typically.

Meanwhile, primary school class sizes are smallest in the Western Isles, which has an average of just 16 pupils per class, according to the findings.

Here are the top 50 rural areas with the best quality of life in Britain in 2014, according to Halifax:

1. Uttlesford, East of England

2. South Northamptonshire, East Midlands

3. Waverley, South East

4. East Hertfordshire, East of England

5. Rushcliffe, East Midlands

6. South Cambridgeshire, East of England

7. Vale of White Horse, South East

8. Chiltern, South East

9. Mid Sussex, South East

10. South Kesteven, East Midlands

11. North Kesteven, East Midlands

12. Rutland, East Midlands

13. East Cambridgeshire, East of England

14. East Hampshire, South East

15. Maldon, East of England

16. South Norfolk, East of England

17. Melton, East Midlands

18. Mid Suffolk, East of England

19. St Edmundsbury, East of England

20. Malvern Hills, West Midlands

21. Aylesbury Vale, South East

22. Test Valley, South East

23. Ryedale, Yorkshire and the Humber

24. Orkney Islands, Scotland

25. New Forest, South East

26. West Dorset, South West

27. Tonbridge and Malling, South East

28. South Oxfordshire, South East

29. Hambleton, Yorkshire and The Humber

30. Broadland, East of England

31. North Dorset, South West

32. Harborough, East Midlands

33. Selby, Yorkshire and the Humber

34. Cotswold, South West

35. North West Leicestershire, East Midlands

36. West Berkshire, South East

37. Wychavon, West Midlands

38. Tewkesbury, South West

39. West Oxfordshire, South East

40. Suffolk Coastal, East of England

41. Babergh, East of England

42. Wiltshire, South West

43. Shetland Islands, Scotland

44. Huntingdonshire, East of England

45. East Dorset, South West

46. Cherwell, South East

47. Wealden, South East

48. Tandridge, South East

49. Newark and Sherwood, East Midlands

50. East Devon, South West