January 1, 2006: Why Immigration Spells The End Of The Green Belt (The Daily Telegraph-London, U.K.)
Why immigration spells the end of the green belt
Most studies and projections end with a wake-up call. The world will overheat unless we act now on climate change; the tiger will be extinct unless we rescue it at once.
But, closer to home, the damage has already been done. The landscape of much of the south of England has been ruined. What were until recently isolated villages are now part of a Greater London, a more-or-less continuous metropolis spreading across the Home Counties.
Bluebell groves have disappeared under Tarmac. Chestnut coppices have been cleared to make space for “homes for keyworkers” (a particularly irksome term: why is a public sector official any more “key” to her locality than, say, the lady who runs the village shop?). Now we learn that John Prescott has been building on the green belt at an accelerated rate.
And, in a sense, why not? The supposedly protected land around London and other cities has been so debauched by successive governments that its name violates the Trades Descriptions Act. Private citizens may find it hard to build houses on the green belt, but the state exempts itself from its own strictures. Green belt land is pockmarked with landfill sites, industrial buildings and quarries; the M25 cuts through it.
The real question is not where we should build extra houses, but why we need them in the first place. Our birth-rate, after all, is precipitately low: it has been 40 years since we last had enough children to sustain our population level. So who are these houses for?
Part of the answer is economic. Just as the industrial revolution drew people to the northern cities, so the decline in manufacturing and the growth of the service sector is leading to population growth in the southern counties and the simultaneous demolition of Liverpool's terraces.
It is true, too, that we are living longer, and are more likely to live alone than in extended families. These things help explain why there has been increased demand for housing in the recent past. They do not, however, explain why the pressure should continue in the future.
No, there is a single and simple reason for the disappearance of our green spaces: immigration. The net influx of people into the United Kingdom is, as we report today, 223,000 a year. Housing the newcomers will mean building an additional 60,000 homes annually.
We could, of course, take steps to make the accommodation of such numbers more manageable. We could make it fiscally attractive to renovate urban houses. We could encourage communities to buy land and then lease it at peppercorn rent to local farmers. But, for swaths of Britain, the question is now academic. We signed away our countryside when we signed away our immigration controls.
News: Building on Green Belt up 60 per cent
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