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By Philippe Legrain 8 COMMENTS

My good friend Evan Davis, the economics editor of the BBC, has started an excellent new blog.

In a recent post on the impact of immigration to England on housing, he demolishes the scare-story
(sorry "research report") put about by the xenophobes at Migration
Watch that the need to build new houses for recent immigrants is
causing this green and pleasant land to be concreted over. MigrationWatch uses government figures to argue that inward migration requires
us to build an extra 200 homes a day for the next couple of decades.

Evan coolly remarks:

It’s worth making clear what 200 homes a day means. If we build at
that rate for the two decades, at the current target density of 40
homes per hectare, the area covered would be 19 kilometres by 19

wouldn’t want to down play the impact of that portion of the UK being
given over to new housing. Every hectare is a struggle for a planning
authority somewhere. But it is also worth looking at Google Earth,
and marking out an area of 19 by 19 kms to see what it means in the
context of the UK as a whole.


Posted 14 Apr 2007 in Blog
  1. Niels Andeweg says:

    Still a pitty that the discussion about immigration calls for the rebuttal of arguments like this one made by Migration Watch. They do need to be challenged however, and Evan Davis did a good job doing so.

  2. Dave, London says:

    Presumably you and Evan Davis have good incomes and are not competing for rental flats against East Europeans willing to share rooms, and the possibly half a million illegal immigrants in London (who also force down wages for the rest of). You may not have experienced council housing departments basically saying you will never get a flat because the needs of people yet to arrive will be judged more urgent than yours.
    Even if the immigrants bring economic advantage, they aren’t advantaging me. I don’t think that my life is acceptable collateral damage so that people like you can have more interesting lives.

  3. Anonymous says:

    There is no shortage of housing in Britain, merely an uneven distribution of people.

  4. Dave, London says:

    Is your point that poor Londoners should be go and live elsewhere in Britain? We should be internally displaced?
    There is a massive housing shortage in London caused by the arrival of maybe a million new people over a decade, perhaps half of them illegal. They are not going to live elsewhere, so it remains a London issue.
    If the migrants we are always told “do the jobs the British don’t want to do” were not in London then wages for those jobs would be higher and rents lower, even after accepting that a proportion of these jobs are consequential to the arrival of the migrants themselves. Having a greater diversity of cultures and people is fun, but not at the price of local people being forced into an underclass.

  5. @ dave
    The housing shortage – and thus, inflation – in UK is the result of land use over-regulations.
    You can find more on this topic at: (look for “housing” section – 3 pdf reports) (search for “pennington”) (annual report comparing the behavior of different housing markets, some with low, other with high land use regulation – comparison of every big city in US, UK, Ca, Nz, ireland,Australia. Results prove that when regulation is low, housing bubble can’t even get started – even in economically very fast growing areas.
    People who would like to digg into this subject can google for “glaeser Gyourko”, two of the best researchers on that field.
    In london, the green belt surronding the city makes it difficult to expand town by its suburbs. It drives inner town prices up by lack of competition from the peripheral naighborhoods. Other cities are in the same situation, every land developpement is under heavy controls from DEFRA.
    Wan’t cheaper homes : stop regulations, not migrations !
    (Congratulations to philippe for his work)
    Dont blame higher demand, from immigrants or not, for thes

  6. Dave, London says:

    Vincent, I am just saying my experience. I am sorry it doesn’t match academic theory. Maybe you need a new theory!
    Obviously if , say, quarter of a million rentals rooms came onto the London market then rents would go down. Blaming people other than those illegally here is nonsense. Building on the Green Belt is a terrible idea. Anyway, all those buildings in Surrey are for bankers, not affordable housing.
    I understand illegal immigrants wanting a better life. I am sure if I lived in a poor, corrupt country I would want to move somewhere with better opportunities. We live in the world we do, with the laws we have. If the authorities are not going to enforce the law then at some point ordinary people will start taking the law into their own hands. I fear at that point the divide may become racial rather than legal, which will be very scary. Any government’s first duty is to it’s OWN people. I understand that a foreign underclass is cheaper than using local labour, but that is not a moral argument.
    I’ll look at your links, but this is a dialogue of the deaf. I am grateful to Philippe for allowing a voice from the real world on his blog.

  7. vincent says:

    @ dave:
    “Obviously if , say, quarter of a million rentals rooms came onto the London market then rents would go down” : so the question is: why don’t these new rentals come to the market, although demand is there ? (and even immigrant workers to hold the construction jobs are there ;-)
    “Anyway, all those buildings in Surrey are for bankers, not affordable housing” : when land prices are artificially put at high level, the few programs allowed on the land are oriented towards high margin products. repeal over-regulations and it will become profitable to adress other kind of customers.
    You are right that laws should be enforced… until they are repealed, when they are proven bad. My comment was just about explaining real reason for unaffordable housing, not about saying you shouldn’t enforce your laws.
    To be fair, I admit that I have no concrete experience of Londonian housing market. I don’t know if other bad regulations could make housing even less affordable in london. Are there rent control laws there ? Over protection of tenants against landlords ?
    But even if my knowledge of your housing market is purely theoretical, several recent academic studies, even ordered by UK’s government, agree that land use restriction are the biggest cause to be blamed for unaffordable housing (impressive list of such studies at the end of the demographia report).
    If migrations were to blame for housing bubbles, how would you explain that cities like Austin, Houston, Dallas, receive lots of legal and illegal aliens, have the strongest demographic trend throughout the whole US, and don’t experience any housing bubble ? Demand drives prices high only when supply is struggled, mainly due to inaccurate regulations. Elsewhere, when land use is relatively free, high housing demand only slightly drives prices up. So combining high migration levels and low housing prices is not a theoretical utopia.

  8. Gilbert says:

    Much of this 19km by 19km area of housing would have to be squeezed into the South East of England or the vicinity of London as that’s where much of the economic growth is. It’s actually a huge area! Evan Davis’ plonking it in the middle of the UK is completely misleading. Take a train from London to Brighton on the south coast. You won’t pass through any open country, just suburban sprawl interspersed with a few scraps of precious recreational space. Now tell me where you’re going to fit in some of your 365 square kilometers of new housing without ruining anything important. And then on top of that there will need to be extra homes for the ageing population, because average household sizes are falling in the UK and because of internal migration within the UK to the more prosperous South East. It may well all happen. It may improve more people’s lives than it ruins. But don’t tell me its damaging effects will be minor.
    I don’t think comparing London to much smaller places in the USA like Austin, etc. will tell you much.

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