COULD WE ALL BE CITY FANS? the Prescott Dream Is for Families to Return to Urban Living. Some Already Have, Love It or Loathe It

Article excerpt

Byline: GRAHAM KEELEY

JOHN PRESCOTT is gambling a billion pounds on persuading families to abandon the traditional rural dream and move back to city centres.

The Environment Secretary wants wastelands found in most cities to be turned into living areas with everything parents and children expect.

The [pounds sterling]1billion he announced in his Urban White Paper last month is a tax incentive to developers but he is also prepared to scrap stamp duty on inner-city homes, give capital allowances on flats above shops and provide all these developments with wide open, green spaces.

So is Camelot really just around the next street corner?

City dwellers have the distinct advantage of being able to walk to work in minutes and have a wealth of shops, restaurants, theatres, bars, nightclubs and art galleries right on their doorsteps. But critics point to high crime rates, a lack of good schools and the fact that taking offspring to the library or Cubs by car means weaving through a traffic jam.

And now startling new research has revealed that urban living is as dangerous for men as smoking cigarettes.

A seven-year university study found city-dwelling males had a 60 per cent increased risk of dying compared with their counterparts in the suburbs, countryside or small towns. The biggest killers of urban-dwelling men were cancer and infectious diseases.

Exposure to chemical and biological hazards found in cities is the most likely cause of the increased risk of death. Men's immune systems may also be lowered by the stresses of urban life.

Sociologist James House, of America's University of Michigan, said: 'Elevated levels of deaths from tumours suggest the influence of physical, chemical, and biological exposures in urban areas.

'Living in cities involves potentially stressful levels of noise, sensory stimulation and overload as well as interpersonal relations and conflict.' So could Mr Prescott's vision ever become reality?

The Mail asked families, singles and couples who have sampled city life for their verdicts.

The young families

BECKIE Jones, 32, who owns a delicatessen's shop, lives with her property developer husband Chris Joyce, 43, and their six-month-old son Oscar in a [pounds sterling]250,000, two-bedroom home in Knott Mill, central Manchester.

They are about to move to a five-storey townhouse in the city centre.

Miss Jones, who first moved to the city centre five years ago, said: 'Originally we moved to the city centre because we enjoyed the restaurants and the clubs and the pubs.

'Since we have had Oscar, we have decided to give it at least four years, particularly as we are about to move into our new building.

'The advantages of living in the centre are outweighed by the disadvantages.

We are five minutes from work and there are all the cultural attractions.

But a new school would also encourage us to stay. We have decided to see if the council actually do come up with a new school in the centre.

'The other problem is there needs to be a mixture of housing. I know a couple of solicitors who have children but they cannot afford to stay in the city centre because the only house big enough costs about [pounds sterling]500,000.

'But Manchester has changed dramatically. Five years ago when we said to friends we lived in the city centre, they were horrified, but now they say 'how fantastic'.

'My baby has a slight cough and the doctors say that it is because of the traffic pollution in the city centre, but we are prepared to put up with that for the moment because of all the other things that make it worth living here.' But city living doesn't meet everybody's needs.

University lecturer Austin Barber, 36, and his GP wife Roisin, 38, lived in a [pounds sterling]160,000, two-bedroom luxury apartment in Symphony Court in central Birmingham until their first son Eddie was born last year. …