Why East Lothian’s the Best

The fifth annual Halifax/Bank of Scotland Quality of Life ranking of council areas, released at Christmas, produced few real surprises in Scotland. Aberdeenshire took first place for the third time and only Shetland and East Dunbartonshire managed to edge East Lothian into fourth place. Nitesh Patel, economist at the Bank of Scotland, said: “Aberdeenshire scores highly relative to the average for Scotland on many of our indicators, such as health, life expectancy, employment rates, average earnings, secondary school results and climate.”
While Aberdeenshire has consistently been top or second, with Shetland and East Dunbartonshire in hot pursuit, East Lothian has been edging up to a consistent fourth place in 2009 and 2010. While this is good news for all concerned, these ratings do not impress when compared within the UK, where Aberdeenshire placed 178th.
Top in the UK was Elmbridge in Surrey (which includes ‘stockbroker belt’ Esher and Weybridge) where 95% of people were in good health, life expectancy is 81.4 years, 75% were employed, earning £1,018 per week. Of the top 30 locations named by HBOS, only three were outside southern England—and none north of the Midlands.
I have no wish to be jingoistic about this, but such rankings imply something basically wrong with HBOS’s concept of ‘quality of life’ and how to measure it. Certainly those parameters cited deserve consideration but other key ones were ignored. And, if Surrey’s such a gem, why do so many of its residents—with plenty of options—choose to move here?
South-East England is a gridlocked nightmare. Despite over £1trillion in motorways and an intact rail network unblighted by Beeching, average commute distances and journey times remain uniformly onerous—by car or train.
Scotland’s worst bottlenecks (M8/Harthill: 56,400 vehicles per day or A720/Dreghorn 81,200 vpd) are dwarfed by the legendary M25. It easily tops the UK ‘linear car park’ league at 210,000 vpd, while the M3 ranks sixth at 130,500. Elmbridge’s pricey properties fills the angle between these two. In fact, SouthEast England boasts all 25 of the UK’s most congested roads. SouthWest trains (serving both Esher and Weybridge stations almost an hour out of Waterloo) has the worst punctuality record of all UK train operating companies over the last decade.
How can quality of life—let alone carbon neutrality, and thereby sustainability—be viable in so congested an environment? If HBOS considered—as many do—that easy access to culture and recreation is also important, then East Lothian journey times of minutes to theatre or concert, stadium or golf course, beach or moor, might put even our Scottish competitors’ gas at the peep. I will write to congratulate Aberdeenshire. But I will also suggest to Mr Patel that HBOS downplay the material to include more sustainable and low-stress elements in future rankings.

About davidsberry

Local councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Stood for the Scottish Parliament 2011; lost by 151 votes.
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