The country’s grinding to a halt. Nothing surprised me about the Daily Mail’s ‘Gridlock UK’ splash on Friday.
If you live in London you are better to walk than to attempt to cross it in a car. The only time you can guarantee free passage is in the middle of the night. Congestion has hit an all-time high and is not just affecting the roads. The Tube (and its platforms) and buses are constantly packed; so are the pavements. London is fast becoming a Third World city.
Why anyone should be surprised beats me.
There’s a reason why our roads are blocked with traffic, why there’s a housing shortage, why there are not enough school places, why the NHS is creaking at the seams. It’s called population growth, something that the political class choose to ignore, let alone see the need to be planned for.
The expansion of our population since 2004 is unprecedented. It grew to an estimated record 65.1million in 2015, increasing by more than half a million in just one year since 2014.
Driven by record migration levels, our population has seen its sharpest growth ever. Britain has experienced a population increase of over 5 million in a just over a decade, from 2005 to 2016. The previous 5 million took 35 years to achieve, between 1970 and 2005.
Do we hear a debate in the Chamber on this? The last time the BBC’s Panorama investigated the question was in 2010, when the population was projected to reach 70million in 20 years. Well, they can bring that figure forward now by five years.
As to the implications, politicians stay singularly silent. Both the Conservative and Labour parties appear to be in some sort of denial, their heads firmly stuck in the sand.
Dare to ask the unmentionable – whether the country can possibly cope with these numbers without irrevocably and irreparably changing – and you are silenced, cast as racist or fascist.
Take any debate on ‘services’, on pressure on infrastructure, on housing, on crime and the elephant in the room always is rapid population rise. Population expansion due to immigration is never mentioned as a factor. This is Animal Farm all over again.
Traffic congestion should come as no surprise. In 2015, as Westmonster notes, the number of cars on England’s roads rose by almost 600,000. They are not all vans delivering Amazon goods. The year 2016 saw 3.3million cars registered, the highest number on record.
More people means more houses needed, too, though you’d be forgiven for believing from current reportage that the problem was one of supply side only – a need for planning application reform, investment, stamp duty, the Green Belt and so on, all those things Philip Hammond mentioned on in his Budget speech. Never the impact of immigration - which feeds demand.
Hammond could have referred to a recent report from the Select Committee on Economic Affairs. This concluded that while the UK economy has adjusted to immigration in various ways, there is one factor of production that is fixed in supply: land. Here, finally, was an admission that rising net immigration does lead to an increase in population density, and therefore to an increase in demand for, and in the price of, housing.
‘Immigration is one of many factors contributing to more demand for housing and higher house prices . . . if current rates of net immigration persist, 20 years hence house prices would be over 10 per cent higher than they would be if there were zero net immigration.’
Though new immigrants are prepared to tolerate appalling and overcrowded housing conditions (creating a hidden underbelly of life that should have no place in modern Britain) this only mitigates demand in the short term.
‘Immigrants who stay in the UK choose to live in smaller households over time; it doesn’t take long for their housing demand to match that of longer-term residents.’
The committee’s conclusion?
‘Housing matters alone should not dictate immigration policy but they should be an important consideration when assessing the economic impacts of immigration on the resident population in the UK.’
So too should all the other economic impacts of immigration, on schooling, transport and health care. Are we able to meet the demand? And with what implications on quality and standards?
Even in the pre-Brexit referendum debate there was a remarkable reluctance to raise such questions, Vote Leave being quite as culpable as Remain in suppressing it, putting off all mention of immigration until they realised that this strategy would lose them the vote.
More than a year on, though, there is no sign of immigration abating. The BBC instead choses to run scare stories about EU nationals departing in droves, leaving no one to build the houses we need, to keep the hospitals staffed or to look after our old people. In fact, acccording to the most recent ONS figures, the current 2.38million EU nationals working in the UK marks a rise of 112,000 on a year ago.
Brexit or no Brexit, overcrowded Britain seems here to stay. But the very least that this generation of politicians owe my children’s generation is some honesty. When will they admit that the country is fit to bust, that England is already the 23rd most populated country in the world and the fifth – yes, the fifth – most densely populated?
If this does not warrant national attention and debate, I don’t know what does. It is totally irresponsible to cast raising these issues as racist or fascist. It cannot be unreasonable to suggest a moratorium on immigration until we know how to address and plan for the level of population growth we are now stuck with.
Denying the scale of the problem, and the change it makes to our national life, is authoritarian and disrespectful of the British populace – of every colour and creed, newly arrived as well as longstanding.