WITH its rolling hills and green scenery, Hampshire has always been known as a picturesque county.

Now a study has recognised it as one of the best areas to live in the country.

Halifax Bank compiled a top 50 places to live based on a range of issues, including health and life expectancy, personal wellbeing, crime rates and weather.

Hart, which is centred on the town of Fleet, was named number one for a fifth year in a row. Its residents are the healthiest in the UK, with more than 97 per cent saying they are in good health.

The district boasts large open spaces of heathland and woodland as well as Hampshire's largest freshwater lake.

Women can claim a high life expectancy from the area with an average age of 86.6 years, while for men it is 82.4 years - both among the longest.

Winchester dropped from third to fourth but other Hampshire districts saw sharp rises, with Eastleigh now 18th, up from 53rd, the New Forest at 31from 59, East Hampshire 33 previously 110 and Test Valley now placed 49th (82).

Mayor of Eastleigh, Cllr Jane Welsh, was pleased to hear the news and hopes to push the borough up by more places next year.

Cllr Welsh said: "Eastleigh is one of the best boroughs around. I think it is a lovely place.

"As mayor you get to visit lots of places and meet lots of different volunteers, who all do a great job.

"I can see why we are there because it is a lovely place and people like it.

"The shopping facilities are good and the residential areas are first class."

The borough has some "exciting changes" happening next year including the opening of M&S on the site of the current Lidl carpark on Coles Close.

Cllr Welsh added:"Our strategy is to keep council tax down by as much as we can and to keep spending to within the budget. As a council, the priority is to keep people happy.

"We don't want to cut any services.

"I think we do do well. We keep council tax down and look after our residents very well.

The study also found Winchester has the highest level of employment in the UK with 87.4 per cent, followed by the Orkney Isles at 86.3 per cent and Eastleigh in Hampshire at 85.3 per cent. The UK average is 72.9 per cent.

The South East dominated the annual top 50 list, with seven of the top 10 places.