Country houses for sale

The ‘places to live’ ranking that lists all 1,429 towns, cities and large villages in England and Wales — and the surprise at the top of the list

Britain's largest property buying agent has launched an exhaustive list ranking every large village, town and city in England and Wales. But who comes out on top?

We’re all looking for the best place to live; finding it can be another matter. So time to give thanks for property buying agents Garrington, who have tried to help out by putting together their latest detailed report on the best places to live in England and Wales.

The company has been producing this research for several years now, and for the latest edition they’ve ranked some 1,429 villages, towns and cities according to 18 different criteria, from natural beauty and heritage to broadband speed and pollution levels.

Anyway — we won’t keep you in suspense any longer: the overall winner is Twyford, in Berkshire.

The High Street, Twyford, Berkshire.

It might come as something of a surprise due to its obscurity, but this village to the east of Reading fitted Garrington’s criteria perfectly, scoring particularly well for excellent schools and connectivity, wellbeing, and housing.

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Number two on the list is the beautiful cathedral city of St Albans, an ancient Roman settlement that scores understandably well for heritage; while Epsom — the Surrey town that’s home to the racecourse that hosts the Derby — is third. Here’s the rest of the top 10:

1. Twyford, Berkshire
2. St Albans, Hertfordshire
3. Epsom, Surrey
4. New Mills, Derbyshire
5. Bowdon, Greater Manchester
6. Godalming, Surrey
7. Tring, Hertfordshire
8. Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
9. Farncombe, Surrey
10. Henley, Oxfordshire

Rather unusually — and generously — Garrington have created a tool on their website to let you look up any given place to live and see where it comes in the rankings on the various criteria.

You can also pick a region and scroll through towns out from the alphabetical list, allowing you to compare places easily — and notice, for example, that the Hampshire seaside town of Barton-on-Sea comes 1,202nd out of 1,429, a couple of hundred places worse than Basingstoke (973).

The beach at Barton-on-Sea. There’s no beach in Basingstoke. They *do* have a lot of roundabouts though.

That little anomaly leads us to some of the inevitable caveats that all such lists like this demand.

One is that the 18 categories are mushed together into five over-arching areas: natural environment; wellbeing; heritage and culture; schools, employment and connectivity; and quality/value of the housing stock. Here’s the full list of criteria:

  • Natural environment: proportion of open green space, distance to a natural beauty area (ie AONB, Heritage Coast), Flood risk
  • Wellbeing: air quality, % homes with a 1ha of accessible open space within 300m, crime ranking
  • Heritage/culture: % listed buildings, % pre-1900s homes, number of museums, galleries and theatres within 5 miles, number of restaurants within 5 miles
  • Schools, employment and connectivity: Growth in number of high-tech jobs within the travel to work area, overall jobs growth, homes with ultrafast broadband, outstanding schools, homes within 200m of bus stop/rail station,
  • Quality/value: change in average sales prices, incomes relative to regional average, sales prices per square foot relative to regional average.

That throws up a few questionmarks. Take natural environment, for example, which includes green space and proximity to natural beauty areas such as AONBs, but also includes flood risk. Thus a place such as Richmond-upon-Thames — usually highly-placed in these sorts of rankings — comes a solid but-not-stellar 177th, most crucially let down by its ranking of 948th for ‘natural environment’. The latter score is a surprise for such a famously-pretty spot that’s full of green space (not least Richmond Park itself); presumably The Thames flowing through the borough meant it had a higher ‘flood risk’ rating.

Richmond Upon Thames: If it’s good enough for Ted Lasso, it’s good enough for you.

We were also curious which settlements were included in the list of 1,429 places to live. It turns out that the answer appears to be ‘all of them’, at least based on the ONS figures we saw. Garrington confirmed that their list includes ’52 very large towns and cities with a population of over 200,000, 92 towns with a population between 75,000 and 200,000, 353 medium towns with a population between 20,000 and 75,000, and 921 small towns/large villages with a population between 5,000 and 20,000.’

So, yes, that’s pretty much all of the settlements in England and Wales with populations of over 5,000. London is subdivided into boroughs, but other than that you can happily compare Bristol (population 467,099) with Battle (population 6,764), or Newcastle (population 829,000) with New Mills (9,197).

No trouble at mill if you live in delightful New Mills, home to Swizzels Matlow Confectionery, and now crowned 4th best place to live.

That leads to the one big omission: namely, that villages under 5,000 were not part of the analysis. Thus some delightful, beautiful, historic and perennially popular places aren’t included from Ambleside (population 2,627) to Arundel (population 3,496).

Still, that’s a minor gripe when you consider the wealth of information that’s included here, and the cleverness of the widget which lets you build up a list of towns to compare — we can imagine the tongue-in-cheek bragging battles that will rage between residents of Harrogate (96th) and Haslemere (101st).

We’ll leave the final word to Jonathan Hopper, Garrington’s CEO, who is bullish at the property market’s bright start to 2024.

‘2023’s reset of prices redrew large swathes of the property map, with many highly desirable areas becoming better value as prices fell,’ he says.

‘Suddenly the market finds itself at an inflection point, with house prices stabilising just as mortgages become more affordable.

‘This combination is already translating into a surge in interest from buyers who’ve decided to restart their previously paused moving plans. If this is you, our 2024 Best Places to Live guide can help you pinpoint locations with the optimum blend of natural beauty, quality of life and value for money.

‘All of the 1400 cities, towns and villages selected for our ranking score well in at least one category, and you can use our fun, interactive tool to find places that offer more of the things that matter most to you.’

See the full report and search the listings at garrington.co.uk/best-places-to-live-2024.

Additional reporting: Annunciata Elwes


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