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One of the conundrums of EU membership for the UK has been the mass influx of people from the continent since 1993, but especially from 1998-onward. Some 8-million immigrants now call the UK home — of which 3.3-million are EU citizens who moved to the UK to work or study.
Suddenly dumping 8-million people (or even 3.3-million Europeans) into a country puts an unprecedented strain on the country’s housing market. Since 1993, property prices in the UK have risen to become some of the highest priced property on the planet sometimes pushing native Britons aside and into high-priced rental accommodations.
Although these mass migrations began in 1993 when the UK joined the EU (bereft of any referendum) the population of the UK had been holding near 57.7-million with almost no annual growth in the UK population. In recent weeks the population of the UK has surpassed 66-million. It’s easy to see from this calculation that the UK-born population only increased by 1-million from 1993-2018, while the balance of the country’s population increase (8-million) occurred as a result of immigration.
Therefore, is it any wonder that house prices are expected to fall once Brexit occurs and the UK government is again in charge of how many immigrants it lets into the country? Certainly the demand for housing and services will fall to equilibrium levels as supply once again approximates demand.
Is it Possible to Determine Housing Policy Before Immigration Policy is Decided?
In a word, no.
As long as unrestricted immigration continues any housing policy is doomed to fail no matter how well-intentioned. When numbers of immigrants rise or fall by the hundreds of thousands per year trying to fine-tune the UK’s housing policy is impossible.
The same holds true during the 2-year Brexit implementation period; Immigrants living in the UK may decide to return to their countries of origin at a rate the UK government won’t realize until well after it has occurred.
Assuming the government places a cap on immigration (of say, 200,000 per year) during the 2-year implementation period… it still leaves the variable of how many immigrants will leave the UK post-Brexit.
As you’ve correctly deduced from reading the above, TWO VARIABLES have been at play in the UK’s housing/immigration market since 1993. No wonder there’s been chaos!
Post-Brexit, there will only be one variable — and that one variable could still be a large factor in this equation — which is why immigration levels should continue to remain high-ish to level-out the expected crash in housing demand that will negatively impact house prices and rental rates.
In short, the UK government’s approach must be to utilize immigration levels as a lever to facilitate a stable housing market otherwise housing demand will crash and property values will fall precipitously triggering a mini-recession in the UK.
What is the Best Rate to Taper UK Immigration?
Last year, the UK allowed over 300,000 immigrants into the UK (great for UK businesses that depend on cheap labour) but it puts severe demand on housing and leads to vastly overinflated house prices.
Were the UK to drop immigration down to zero in 2020, not only would demand for new housing crash, it could also happen that large numbers of immigrants may leave the UK. How many? No one could say. It could be thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions.
How can you create a housing policy when your assumptions may be off by millions of people? You can’t.
Therefore, whatever changes there are to be in UK housing policy for the next 5-years, it will be best that the government make only incremental adjustments to immigration numbers, net immigration numbers, and in housing policy — adjustments that strongly adhere to whatever housing market situation develops, as it develops.
Allowing housing prices to drop precipitously (even while recognizing those prices are at present vastly overvalued and must eventually return to reasonable levels) could wreak havoc with the UK housing market, with people’s lives, and with the UK economy.
It’s a rare occurrence when policy must follow an evolving situation instead of leading it.
UK immigration policy that follows evolving housing market conditions will allow allow a gentle and ongoing reduction in the outrageous housing prices in the UK’s major cities to something approximating a normal housing market.
So many people are caught up in the present Brexit moment they forget there will be life after the official Brexit date of March 29, 2019.
With that in mind, policymakers must begin to focus on the problems that will still be with us in the immediate post-Brexit timeframe.
Q: Why can’t they do that now?
A: Because their hands may be tied by present EU regulations, or everyone is waiting to see what kind of Brexit deal the UK gets, or they’re busy advising business groups and the government how to maximize their Brexit advantage.
So let’s begin the post-Brexit era by solving problems we know will still remain after Brexit day — and use solutions that aren’t presently viable due to EU regulations or norms.
Ask Any Londoner and They’ll Tell You their Worst Daily Problem is City Traffic
Actually, the worst problem Londoners face is the weather. But the City’s notorious traffic congestion starts early, the roads become increasingly packed with vehicles, air pollution levels skyrocket, life occasionally becomes dangerous for pedestrians, and it wastes millions of hours of time every year.
Not only London, but Manchester, Birmingham, Belfast, Edinburgh and other UK cities force drivers to spend countless hours stuck in traffic and millions of gallons of petrol are wasted annually as cars and lorries inch along the country’s congested roadways.
Of course nothing can be done about it — because if something could be done it would’ve already been done! Right?
Except there is a way to decrease traffic congestion: Theresa May’s first legislation following Brexit should be to ban all lorries from operating within cities of 1 million inhabitants or more — from 6:00am until 6:00pm every weekday.
Lorries could still cross from the continent on ferries or via the Chunnel, operate in the countryside, passing through towns and smaller cities and arrive at (for example) London’s Ring Road anytime after 6:00pm each weekday. Yes, they’d need to obtain ‘the key to the shop’ to unload the shipment at ‘Mom & Dad’s Deli’ or perhaps drop an appropriately sized (and electronically locked) crate full of goods on the loading dock.
It’s a scheduling issue for freight companies; As long as their large vehicles are parked or otherwise off the UK’s major city roads by 6:00am each weekday they won’t incur automatic/electronic fines and they’ll be able to go on with the rest of their day as normal.
Trash haulers, freight delivery, fuel trucks and other transporters will simply adjust their schedules to comply with the weekday hours ban.
List the of Benefits of Such a Plan!
Think of Britain’s major cities free of lorries within their city limits from 6:00am until 6:00pm every weekday:
- Less traffic, less traffic noise, less congestion and less gridlock.
- Increased parking availability.
- Better visibility for cars, cyclists and pedestrians equals fewer accidents and lower NHS spending.
- Lower air pollution levels on weekdays result in fewer respiratory emergencies, thereby saving the NHS budget millions annually and helping the UK to meet its international clean air commitments.
- Although lorry drivers would work different hours, they’d have far less traffic to deal with between the hours of 6:00pm and 6:00am, their big rigs would have acres of room to maneuver around in and they’d easily find parking to offload or load their goods.
- An automatic/electronic fine for lorries that enter the city during banned hours of the day could go towards building major lorry parking/queuing areas on the outskirts of major cities. Perhaps a great place to set up coffee shops and motels dedicated to truckers so they can grab a few hours sleep before their afternoon shift/night shift begins? And (while they sleep during the day) have their big rig repaired at a shop within the secure ‘Trucker Zone’ area. If so, I want to invest in those dedicated Trucker Zones — talk about having a captive audience! — the lorries can’t leave until 6:00pm and if they do they would automatically incur a £100 fine as soon as they pass the “City Limits” sign a few feet down the road!
- Trucking companies could arrange to have a fully loaded lorry parked and ready to roll at such ‘Trucker Zones’ for each night shift driver to pick up at the beginning of his/her shift and provide a safe place to drop it off in the morning.
- Lorry drivers should gain free and hassle-free parking anywhere in the city between 6:00pm and 6:00am and receive special consideration from police in case a lorry driver happens to park in front of a ‘No Parking Zone’ for the few minutes it takes to deliver the load. As hardly anyone is around in the middle of the night and there’s no traffic, why make an issue of minor parking rules?
- Lorries leaving major UK cities at 6:00am could pull into the ‘Trucker Zone’ nearest them at the end of their shift, leaving the lorry there for the daytime driver to carry on with the day shift’s rural deliveries/pick ups.
- National productivity could be enhanced by requiring lorries to remain outside city limits (or parked within the City) during the daytime hours, giving them free run in cities until 6:00am.
- Cities might notice more lorry traffic at the weekend. However, the vast majority of cars aren’t on city roads during the weekend so lorry traffic won’t be too onerous.
Certainly, traffic and congestion in the UK aren’t the fault of the EU, but in the post-Brexit timeframe UK regulators will have a freer hand to solve many issues. Traffic congestion is a problem that affects everyone whether you drive a car, ride a bus, pedal a bike, own a business, or are a tourist who wants to get from tourist site “A” to tourist site “B” and not spend the whole day at it.
Cities depend upon free movement of goods and people. Moving to a two-track plan to obtain better use from city roads could radically change how we use cities. And the day after Brexit is as good a time as any to begin making the best use of those valuable assets.
Image courtesy of motortransport.co.uk