D&S column: welcome conclusions of a credible survey

LIKE me I am sure many of you will be sceptical about some of the surveys that are published, seemingly daily, about frankly rather odd subjects.

But one that did catch my attention recently was the annual Halifax Quality of Life Survey which placed Richmondshire second and Hambleton fourth in the UK rankings for the best places to live.

And as the top-ranked place was Orkney in Scotland, it can be said that Richmondshire is the best place to live in England, with Hambleton third.

I think we can take this survey seriously because it is based on some concrete data including health, crime rate, employment, and skills – as well as harder to measure factors like happiness and well-being – in order to identify the optimum places to live.

We all know we live in a very special part of England and the UK, but its gratifying to have it confirmed in this way.

Of course, living here is not always perfect. Our part of North Yorkshire is by no means immune from the challenges other parts of the country face.

Such as the threat to our High Streets caused by changes in the way we shop.

Although our town centres are doing well in comparison to many others, there are some empty units in our High Streets which a few years ago would have been occupied.

Changes are taking place, like the recent announcement that the Post Office in Northallerton is to move to WH Smith.

Of course, such changes are often unwelcome. But I have been pushing the Post Office hard to use this move as an opportunity to improve things for all of us. I was delighted that the Post Office has responded positively to my suggestions and have now indicated that the branch will be open on Saturday afternoons, Sundays and Tuesday morning – additional hours compared to the provision we currently have.

Initially, the Post Office was reluctant to commit to these but have done so following my writing to the chair of the Post Office before Christmas. And all the counter services available in the current premises will be available in WH Smith.

The other main issue I was pressing the Post Office on is ease of access to the re-located counters and I am pleased to report that this week WH Smith have given me assurances that their store layout will be completely re-designed to ensure there is sufficient space for the elderly and those with mobility problems to reach the counters.

Post Offices have moved to WH Smith branches all over the country and I know from my MP colleagues that similar relocations have been accomplished successfully and have helped keep Post Office services in town centres and sustain the local WH Smith branch.

Business decisions like these – caused in the main by internet shopping and our ability to carry out transactions like renewing road tax and passports online – are typical of the way our High Streets are changing.

The Government recognised the challenges our High Streets face in the last Budget with greater business rates relief for small retail businesses and the £675m Future High Streets Fund – money to help local authorities adapt their High Streets to the new commercial realities. That money can be used in a variety of different ways, to help with traffic, to convert surplus retail properties to other uses such as housing or workspaces, or to make town centres more attractive community spaces.

I know both our local district councils – Hambleton and Richmondshire – are considering making bids to the fund which I applaud.

We do live in a great place but we can’t rest on our laurels if we are to keep it that way.