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Cornish town at centre of second homes row named ‘happiest place in Britain’

St Ives, a wide sandy beach and sheltered harbour with boats beach on sand at low tide. - Ben Pipe Photography
St Ives, a wide sandy beach and sheltered harbour with boats beach on sand at low tide. - Ben Pipe Photography

The Cornish town at the centre of a second homes row has been named the happiest place to live in the UK.

St Ives town took the top spot from Hexham in Northumberland in an annual survey of 21,000 people by property website Rightmove.

However, residents of the coastal retreat have warned the area has already become overrun by second homeowners looking for the same quality of life, ruining the very factors that made it appealing.

The poll asked residents to rank how happy they are with where they live, plus other factors including open space and earning enough to live comfortably. St Ives scored highly for fostering a sense of belonging – the biggest factor that contributes to happiness – and for its community spirit.

Oliver Monk, a councillor in Cornwall, said: “We’ve heard lots about St Ives in Cornwall, where people want to live and escape from the rat race, but what it’s done is created real pressure on the availability of local housing stock for local people.”

Morag Robertson, chair of the St Ives Community Land Trust, said second homes have “damaged the fabric of the local community”.

Demand for property has pushed up prices, with the average asking prices nearing £524,000, according to Rightmove. The average rent is £1,152 a month. Ms Robertson said: “People just can’t get a mortgage. Our wage levels are around £7,500 below average wages, so that is a huge barrier to people being able to remain here and live and work in the community.”

Homeowners in St Ives voted to ban the sale of new houses as second homes in 2016, following concerns they were being priced out of the market by wealthy summer dwellers from London and the South East. But the policy was only limited to a specific area and it did not stop existing properties from being turned into holiday lets.

During the pandemic, demand rose for properties in St Ives and Ms Robertson said people who had been renting for years were evicted so owners could turn homes into more profitable Airbnbs and holiday lets.

Another coastal Cornish town, Falmouth, made it on to Rightmove’s top 20 list this year. Galashiels, in the Scottish borders, came in second, while Woodbridge in the East ranked third. Scotland has dethroned Wales as the region with the most areas in the top 10, which includes Perth and Stirling.

Places that were newly added to the list this year included Bury St Edmunds and Newbury in the East, Cirencester in the South West, Norwich and Altrincham in the North West, Newbury in the South East and Llandudno in Wales.

The areas that fell off the list were: Hove, Horsham and Guildford in the South East; Exeter and Salisbury in the South West; St Albans, Hitchin and Woodbridge in the East; Kendal in the North West and Llandrindod Wells in Wales.