The speech made by Liam Fox on 2 June 2016.
All across the country, local authorities are facing huge challenges to meet additional housing targets set by Central Government. Local communities are facing the loss of green spaces in the rush for housebuilding, often failing to take into account the limitations on existing infrastructure.
Take the village of Yatton, in my own constituency of North Somerset, for instance. Despite having no surplus school places, fully saturated GP surgeries and an already overstretched road system, it is typical of innumerable of villages across the country, where local communities are being asked to absorb large numbers of extra houses without any realistic possibility that the money will be found to provide the extra infrastructure required.
It is a story being repeated time and time again in more and more places. People rightly ask, “how much of our green space will disappear, possibly forever?” and “how much of our quality of life will be compromised to deal with problems often created far away?”
And they are right that the problem that is being faced at the local level begins well away from our communities at the level of national policy failure. It lies in the failure to control the growth of our population through immigration, including immigration from the European Union.
As the Government fails to control the increase in the population due to migration, it forces local authorities to build more and more houses to deal with the ripple effect.
If we remain in the European Union we will be forced to accept unlimited free movement of people – but there will be no free movement of space coming with them. The inevitable result will be worsening overcrowding in our land limited country.
Most of the focus in the housing debate has been on supply. There is a relatively broad consensus that the UK needs to build around 250,000 additional homes every year to meet current demand. In the last ten years an average of only 170,000 have been built and the debate has largely been around how changes to planning can facilitate the level of house building required.
Yet, what this approach to the problem fails to understand is that it is not merely an issue of supply, but one of demand.
For much of the 20th century, the number of households grew at a faster rate than the population as a whole. Changes in social behaviour, such as divorce and the increased tendency for people to live alone, as well as demographics, meant that the average household size fell. In recent times, however, average household size has changed little, and the key factor driving the growth in household numbers has been population growth.
The total non-British net inflow of immigrants is close to 350,000 with migration from the EU now accounting for about half of that figure.
The outcome of the recent renegotiation of benefits will make no significant difference to these numbers, as the office for budget responsibility, the government’s advisory body has confirmed.
This implies continued total net EU migration to the UK of the order of almost 200,000 people per annum.
This number is growing dramatically and has already more than doubled since 2012.
The continuing failure of the Eurozone and the tragically high levels of unemployment in Southern Europe is likely to mean that more and more young people will head to the North of Europe, including the UK, in search of work.
And all this does not include those countries who may join the EU in the coming years.
All these factors could considerably boost the numbers and we are powerless to stop it. Staying in the EU is likely to mean continued high levels of immigration over which the UK would have no control while leaving the EU would give back control of immigration policy to the UK government so enabling the number of immigrants to be reduced while, at the same time, being more selective about who can come to the UK.
Continuation of net migration on the current scale would mean an increase in our population of almost 5 million in 15 years’ time.
This would be the equivalent of adding the combined population of the cities of Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford and Bristol.
60% of this increase would be from future migrants and their children. This is not a scare story, simply an extrapolation of how today’s immigration figures will impact on our society in the years ahead if changes are not made to policy. Half of this huge figure is attributable to the EU.
Official figures show that in the last ten years, two thirds of additional households in the UK have been headed up by an immigrant (that is to say that they had a foreign born “Household Reference Person (HRP) – what used to be known as head of household) [c]. Households with a foreign born HRP have increased by around 120,000 a year during this period.
In London, despite the rapid growth in population the number of households headed by a British born person has actually fallen in the last ten years.
This is a particular problem in England which takes over 90% of immigrants to the UK despite the fact that it is is already nearly twice as crowded as Germany and 3½ times as crowded as France.
Yet population growth on the present scale means making our urban areas still more overcrowded or building over valuable green belt or farmland with all the loss of amenity involved.
At current levels of immigration, the Office for National Statistics project that our population will continue to grow by around half a million a year – a city the size of Liverpool every year.
This will mean that, in England, we will have to build a new home every six minutes, or 240 a day, for the next 20 years to accommodate just the additional demand for housing from new migrants. That is before we take into account the needs of those who were born here.
Of course, it would be wrong to imply that most newly built housing is occupied by immigrants. Many immigrant households move into existing properties. The need to build a new home every 6 minutes it is to deal with the additional demand for housing, it is obviously not that these new homes will be occupied directly by immigrants.
To be even more specific, the difference in projected household growth between ‘high’ net migration and ‘zero’ net migration is 95,000 households per year or more than one additional household every 6 minutes.
These patterns create consequences for almost all sections of society.
Most new immigrants move into the private rented sector which has grown as the immigrant population has grown. Competition for rented accommodation obliges all those in the private rented sector to pay high rents which take a large share of income and makes saving to buy a home even harder.
These resulting high rents and a shortage of housing make it much more difficult for young people to set up home on their own so they have to spend more time in house shares or with their parents.
The problem in the private rented sector may well be exacerbated by recent moves to clamp down on the buy to rent sector.
High rents and high house prices resulting from an imbalance of supply and demand in the market often means that families have to live in overcrowded conditions or move away from their local area to find suitable accommodation that they can afford.
Those living in the parts of the UK with lower housing costs cannot afford to move for work leaving, them trapped in areas with fewer opportunities.
Of course there are other drivers to housing demand, some of which will have been hidden by the recent undersupply in the market.
For example, if supply were to be increased some younger people would leave their parents’ home or house shares thus adding to effective demand.
But this cannot get away from the fact that a huge increase in population is driving a demand for housing that we are finding difficult to cope with, at least without potentially damaging the quality of life for those who already live in our country.
A satellite survey by a research team at the University of Leicester between 2006 and 2012, found that between 2006 and 2012, 22,000 hectares (54,000 acres) of green space in Britain was converted to “artificial surfaces” – mostly housing, but including the roads, other infrastructure required to support the houses themselves.
More than 7,000 hectares of forest was felled, 14,000 hectares of farmland concreted and 1,000 hectares of precious wetland was drained to make way for urban sprawl.
That’s a landscape twice the size of Liverpool, transformed forever, in just six years.
Without a substantial change in policy, the same thing will happen – again and again and again.
Membership of the European Union is usually measured in monetary terms but there are other ways of measuring the cost.
A constant unchecked flow of migration will inevitably result in more of our open spaces and natural greenery being turned over to housing.
Some of that may be inevitable, with growth of our own population, or changing social behaviours, but simply because some of this pattern may be inevitable is no reason to be resigned to it.
My message, especially to the young and those with young families is this – if we remain in the EU, if we have uncontrolled migration year after year after year after year, you will find it harder to get a home of your own.
You will find it harder to see a GP or you will find it harder to get a school place and you will see our green spaces disappear at an even greater rate.
If we are unable to control immigration and registered from its current levels, then we will pay a much more subtle and long-term price than money can measure.