Brexit: a personal view

I wrote yesterday in defence of CPRE’s neutrality on the EU referendum. What follows is my personal take on some of the issues. For a host of reasons, many of them unrelated to the environment or the countryside, I am passionately in favour of Britain remaining within the EU. But I acknowledge that others within CPRE are equally strongly in favour of leaving. There are good arguments on both sides.

As CPRE collectively is not taking a view, I am not speaking for CPRE. But I hope it will be useful to set out some of the issues as I see them, and I hope that other CPRE members will pitch in with their own comments.

  1. “The EU has been good for the environment”

This is the common view among environmentalists and it is largely true. The EU has brought cleaner beaches and rivers (remember ‘the dirty man of Europe’); the Habitats Directive; the Birds Directive; strategic environmental assessments and much else. As Stephanie Hilborne, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts put it in a blog, “EU environmental legislation provides the most comprehensive vehicle for wildlife and environmental protection anywhere in the world”.

There is little evidence that the UK would have acted on many of these things without EU pressure, just as the little we are now doing about air pollution is largely down to pressure from the EU. In many cases the UK has opposed green policies and pushed for deregulation. Besides, there can be no national solutions to issues such as pollution and wildlife protection.

Would the UK retain European protections if we left the EU? Possibly, but it seems unlikely. There was, for instance, a worrying line in Michael Gove’s article explaining his support for the leave side. EU membership, he said, means we “cannot build the houses we need where they’re needed”. He went on to ridicule the rules on Special Protection Areas which prevent houses being built within five kilometres of heathland (such as in his Surrey Heaths constituency). I do not think he was suggesting that a sovereign UK should increase the distance to five imperial miles.[1]

Of course, there is a risk of arguing for our continued membership of the EU on the grounds that a fully independent British government could not be trusted to do the right thing. This seems not to show much faith in democracy. But elected governments, except in dictatorships, are always subject to checks and balances. That is why democrats can support the unelected House of Lords when it frustrates the elected government. In the case of the EU, democracy is pooled in the wider interest, partly to prevent a deregulatory race to the bottom which would end up giving everyone a poorer environment and quality of life.

2. Landscape and land use

But whereas most UK conservation NGOs are concerned mainly with flora and fauna, CPRE is a bit different. Our concern is with beauty, particularly beautiful landscapes, and we spend most of our time trying to influence what development goes where and how it is designed. It is far less clear that the EU has helped this cause.

For instance, CPRE has been more sceptical about renewable energy than other environmental NGOs – supportive in principle, but keen that proper account should be taken of landscape character. Wind and solar farms have industrialised much-loved landscapes and seascapes in recent years, and many CPRE members passionately loathe them. Some blame them on the EU, and it is true that the EU has played an important part in promoting renewable energy and other measures to tackle climate change.

But so have UK politicians of all parties. What is happening in Europe is not much different to what is happening around the world and it is probable that the drive for cleaner, more secure energy will continue even if we leave the EU. The question for CPRE will remain: how can we ensure that renewable energy does the least possible damage to landscape character relative to the energy it provides?

There is a more serious objection to the EU from the perspective of a charity concerned with sustainable land use, one whose main concerns are over the need for and location of new housing and other infrastructure. While we are in the EU, the UK cannot control its borders against migration from other member states. And the EU seems unable to protect its borders from millions of people fleeing war or poverty.

The UK’s population looks set to grow for some time whatever happens, but while we remain in the EU we are a particularly attractive destination for migrants from other EU countries (we speak English and have a deregulated economy). So it is arguable that our population will grow faster if we remain in the EU, and this will put more pressure on the land.

But, and it is a very big ‘but’, it is far from clear that the UK would be able to control its borders outside the EU. Countries such as Norway within the European Economic Area are subject to EU rules on the free movement of workers. Although Switzerland is trying to limit migration from the EU, it currently admits more EU migrants relative to its size than the UK. So even if the UK went for full independence, whatever that means in the modern world, it is not clear that we could keep out everyone wanting to settle here.

Nor is it clear that an ‘independent’ UK would want to cut immigration massively. As well as putting pressure on the countryside, a growing population has benefits, not least to rural England (both farming and tourism rely heavily on migrants). Like Damian Green MP, “I’d rather be in a country people wanted to come to than leave”.

I do not underestimate the importance of migration and population growth to the environment, but it is questionable how much difference leaving the EU would make. It would be a matter of political and economic choices (choices which, admittedly, we cannot make while we remain within the EU).

CPRE is under steady pressure from members of Population Matters (of which Jonathon Porritt is a patron) to say and do more about the country’s rising population. But I am struck by the fact that, unless I have missed it, there is nothing on that organisation’s website about the EU referendum. It appears to believe that when it comes to controlling the UK’s population, vasectomies are more important than Brexit.

3.  Food and farming

Most of the countryside is farmed and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) plays a crucial role in how it is farmed. Our agricultural support system (if we are to have one) is therefore of the greatest importance to anyone who cares about the English countryside.

Everyone loves to bash the CAP and there is no shortage of things to bash. It is very costly (though less costly than it once was); it often subsidises the wrong things (it is geared towards land-based subsidy, which drives up the price of land without delivering enough environmental benefits); and we pay in more than we get out (so theoretically Britain after Brexit could spend more on farming and land management, spend it better, and still have a bit left over at the end of the day).

These are powerful arguments and there are many others. Why are we subsidising some of the richest people in the country to little or no social or environmental benefit? What about all the over-regulation and form-filling? Why do we support sugar production more than horticulture? And so on.

Over half of UK farm income currently comes from CAP payments, but we have the lowest rural development budget in the EU. In fact we turn down a good deal of potentially beneficial EU funding because it would reduce the size of our annual rebate.

So, the argument goes, we should start again and devise a system that really works for farmers, nature and society as a whole (usually framed as ‘the taxpayer’). But who would devise it? Defra, which sometimes seems like an extension of the NFU? Or the Treasury? A post-Brexit farming policy shaped by the Treasury might help ‘the taxpayer’, but it would be much less sympathetic to land managers and the work they do to protect and enhance landscapes.

The impact of food and farming needs much more debate than it has so far had. It is extraordinary that Defra claims to have done no scenario planning.

Two recent publications are particularly worth reading. Allan Buckwell’s Agricultural Implications of Brexit suggests that Brexit would probably result in lower farm payments, but that in the long run “British farming could be a less precarious, [more] resilient industry capable of dealing with the inevitable challenges it will continue to face not least from climate change”. But would it be better for the environment, landscape and rural communities? Food, the UK and the EU: Brexit or Bremain? by Tim Lang and Victoria Schoen makes a strong case for trying to improve our existing food and farming system rather than taking the risk of Brexit (including the risk to food security).

4. Other issues

The EU has a big impact on our legislation, our regulations and our culture. Even where it appears to have no particular relevance, e.g. over land use planning, it plays a role. For instance, for years CPRE and others have called for zero VAT on refurbishing old buildings, but the Treasury’s line under successive governments has been that the EU will not allow it. I have never believed that, but if Brexit happens the UK government will have freedom to start again on many things, or at least try to negotiate new arrangements. We would see then how much the EU is really responsible for, and how much it is a convenient scapegoat.

I would welcome comments on issues raised in this blog, and any I have missed. I know that many CPRE members believe that leaving the EU is in the best interests of the countryside and I stress again that I am giving a personal view. CPRE is neutral on the question of whether we should stay in the EU or leave it.

[1] Martin Harper of the RSPB has written a blog explaining that the 5km rule is not, in fact, true. A coalition including house builders, Natural England, local authorities and conservation charities drew up a strategy for the Thames Basin Heaths that “will enable at least 40,000 new homes to be built within five kilometres of the heathlands but in a way that safeguards this important habitat for future generations”.

Afterword (1 June): in my blog and the comments below, I have urged the campaing group Population Matters to analyse the likely impact of Brexit on the UK’s population growth. It has not done so, but it has issued a carefully worded statement on the issue:

Its conclusion is as follows: “The decision on EU membership is not simply about migration, migration to the UK is not solely a matter of EU membership, and questions about population and sustainability cannot be reduced only to migration.”


41 Responses to “Brexit: a personal view”

  1. 1 Alice Crampin April 5, 2016 at 5:06 pm

    I don’t blame you – to my mind this is an excellent piece- but once again, some very uncomfortable truths about some CPRE underlying attitudes are being revealed, and Jonathan Porritt certainly has a point, or several.

  2. 3 torgold April 6, 2016 at 9:56 am

    An excellent resume, I agree with Shaun.

  3. 5 torgold April 6, 2016 at 9:59 am

    Reblogged this on Vic Ient – Liberal Democrat Councillor and commented:
    An excellent resume of why we should remain in the EU by Shaun Spiers Chief Executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England!

  4. 6 JON REEDS April 8, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    A great analysis of a complex and controversial subject.
    One particularly controversial area you didn’t mention is soil.
    Back in 2007, the European Commission proposed a Soil Framework Directive. Air and water is protected but the third crucial element, soil, is not. As many observers have pointed out, we treat it like dirt.
    The Directive was never approved as five member states, including the UK, opposed it.
    There were genuine concerns around the UK contaminated land sector about the degree of prescriptivity of the draft Directive’s proposals on land contamination. But the main public opposition all over Europe came from farmers who claim they are protecting soil already and, as ever, hate anyone else telling them what to do.
    But the third source of opposition which may well have driven Whitehall’s opposition was the draft Directive’s provisions on limiting soil sealing. This is the process of covering healthy soils destructively with structures like buildings, roads, etc. and stopping them carrying out their vital ecosystem service functions.
    Whitehall, as we know, has been rather keen on promoting greenfield sprawl for quite a long time now and measures requiring limits on soil sealing didn’t go down at all well, however environmentally desirable they may have been.
    The EU’s Current 7th Environmental Action Programme still commits it to legislation on soil protection and this is supported in the Millennium Development Goals. There is currently, however, no sign of the current Commission proposing any legislation on soil.

  5. 8 Alex Hills April 8, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    Very interesting reading. One area not mentioned is transport. I have been fighting a new Thames crossing in Kent. This has lead me to become involved in a small group promoting greater use of rail freight. One major obstacle we are faced with is rail access charges which is EU controlled.

  6. 10 Mike April 15, 2016 at 6:03 pm

    More than a quarter of a million people came to the UK from the
    EU in the 12 months to September 2015 – the equivalent of a city the
    size of Plymouth or Newcastle in a year. If this rate continues for a decade, there will be more than two million extra people. This will have a huge impact on our wildlife and environment as more pressure on infrastructure, green spaces, resources, more pollution, waste and so on. This is not sustainable. With these levels of mass immigration there will be around 77 million people in the UK by 2050. We already see the green spaces around our towns and cities being eaten up as there is massive demand for housing as the population grows at this rate. This cuts off routes for wildlife and adds to the growing pressure. Where does it end? All these extra people means more demand for “stuff”, more pressure on water courses, seas and so on.

    I fear that if this rate continues it will mean the wildlife and green spaces we have now will one day in not too distant future become a distant memory. I but I do not see this issue as being addressed by any of the conservation groups. Yes, there may be environmental benefits to being in the EU but this issue of what natural environment can actually sustain in terms of population influx due to EU membership is one which outweighs even those things. There is a desperate need to manage the numbers of people coming into the country. Whilst we are part of EU and have an open door to millions of people we are simply unable to do that. When its gone its gone.

    • 11 sspiers April 16, 2016 at 10:31 am

      Mike, thank you for your comment. Immigration is clearly one of the main issues in the referendum campaign, and it is true that most of the pro-EU arguments from environmentalists ignore it.

      I recognise the importance of population growth to the environment, and in particular to the protection of the English countryside. But as I stated in my blog, I do not think it is a straightforward issue. A growing population has benefits as well as drawbacks (though it is hard to see environmental benefits, at least in terms of the UK’s environment); we can manage a small population in an unsustainable way or, with the right policies, manage a large population in a more sustainable way; and while our membership of the EU is one driver of population growth, it does not seem to be the main driver.

      On the last point, if I have understood the figures correctly, around a quarter of the UK’s population growth is directly attributable to inward migration from other EU countries. Three-quarters of the growth will be unaffected by the referendum. So the argument is over how much of the remaining 25% we would want to allow or be able to stop if we left the EU.

      That is not to dismiss the importance or legitimacy of the issue you raise. Thank you again for your comment.

  7. 12 CPRE Local Supporter April 15, 2016 at 9:20 pm

    Shaun Spiers writes:
    “I would welcome comments on issues raised in this blog, and any I have missed. I know that many CPRE members believe that leaving the EU is in the best interests of the countryside and I stress again that I am giving a personal view. CPRE is neutral on the question of whether we should stay in the EU or leave it.”
    As CPRE is neutral in the referendum campaign – it really couldn’t be anything else – it is rather unsatisfactory that Shaun Spiers uses his blog to argue a view on one side. It isn’t CPRE’s view yet it appears on CPRE website and will be looked at and quoted by some lobbyists and politicians as published by CPRE (which it is). That the distinction is made clear on the website will not alter the fact that the CPRE Chief Executive’s view may get quoted as pro-EU in the next two months with a link to the page.
    Reputedly some of CPRE’s Trustees were not too happy about Shaun Spiers posting these two parallel blogs but did not have the power to stop them! At the least, the Chief Executive shouldn’t be ‘welcoming comments’ being posted on a CPRE website page about his own arguments for the UK staying in the EU. His personal view should have been posted on a separate blog, not linked from the CPRE website.

    • 13 sspiers April 16, 2016 at 10:12 am

      Mark, thank you for your comment. This is clearly an important issue for the countryside. I think it is right that CPRE remains neutral, but I do not think it would be right for us to pretend that the referendum was not happening. My blog (which is hosted by WordPress, not by CPRE) sets out some of the issues from a CPRE perspective. It makes very clear that it is a personal contribution to the debate. I could have pretended that I was personally neutral, but I did not think that would have much credibility.

      My two blogs were discussed with trustees, particularly CPRE’s Chair and Vice Chair, and it was agreed that I should post them. That does not, of course, mean that CPRE’s trustees agree with my personal views on the referendum – just that they felt it appropriate for me to make a personal contribution to the debate.

  8. 14 geoff lambert April 17, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    while i understand your reasoning every other environmental organisation has, for very good reason, come out in support of EU membership. i want to be a member only if the organisation is working for the benefits EU membership brings. Siting on the fence is not an option for me.

    • 15 sspiers April 17, 2016 at 6:21 pm

      Geoff, thanks for the comment. It’s not true, however, that ‘every other environmental organisation has… come out in support of EU membership’. A few have, most vocally Friends of the Earth, but as far as I know, most are being a bit more cautious.

  9. 16 Roger Martin May 11, 2016 at 8:52 pm

    Population Matters is, like most other environmental organisations, unwilling to endanger its charitable status by taking sides over the referendum. But we have been making the population/environment link, nationally and globally, for decades. As our patron David Attenborough says, “All environmental and resource problems become harder – and ultimately impossible – to solve with ever more people.”

    Personally I agree with Shaun, however, that the EU has been a consistent leader on purely environmental issues, notably climate change. The reason is that the EU is able to agree, and impose simultaneously on 28 countries, necessary restrictions on economic activity which no country could have adopted alone because of the competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis the other 27.

    Roger Martin
    Chair, Population Matters

    • 17 sspiers May 12, 2016 at 1:48 pm

      Roger, thank you very much for your response. The Charity Commission has revised its response and I do not think Population Matters would endanger its charity status by taking sides, and certainly not by engaging in the debate short of actually taking sides.

      Members of Population Matters have been criticising CPRE for years for saying too little about population.

      We are now deep into the referendum debate. One of the main issues in the campaign is immigration. It is almost certainly the main environmental issue being debated, even though it is seldom framed in terms of the environment. There is a good deal of misinformation on the issue, and a lot of confusion. Yet Population Matters is silent.

      How much impact would leaving the EU be likely to have on the UK’s population? Surely that’s an important question. My sense is that if the UK remained within the European Economic Area it would have little impact, and that it would probably not make much difference even if we didn’t, unless we decided to become a less open economy less committed to economic growth.

      But this is not CPRE’s specialism (as I have often maintained in debates with Population Matters). It is yours (i.e. Population Matters) and I am very surprised that you are unwilling to get involved in the debate.

    • 18 Mike May 22, 2016 at 5:20 pm

      Roger, but what level of immigration do you think is ok for our green belt/natural environment and wildlife? All around where I live all I see is green fields and hedges being torn down to make way for more housing as the population, due in big part to huge numbers from the EU, growing day by day. I see places where I used to see so many birds and other wildlife now gone. In city centres every green patch is going in my area also. The local councils can’t keep up with the numbers. Are you happy that we have an open door to 500 million people, a number that is sure to grow? I do not expecy your group to take a stance on the referendum, but I am shocked that you appear to see nothing wrong with our small islands being subject to levels of immigration which are literally going to eat away what is left of nature and green space in this country. I do think that some in the conservation movement need to get off the fence on this vital issue and have a look what is actually happening on the ground.

  10. 19 CPRE Local Supporter May 15, 2016 at 11:03 pm

    It’s useful when Shaun Spiers discusses or defends CPRE’s policy approach on population (or the absence of one) to refer back to his one letter to the national press on the subject which did warn of the dangers to England of immigration. This was published in the Guardian on 9 August 2006, 10 years ago:


    Heading: A grown-up debate on immigration

    Any attempt to define “an optimum level for immigration” (Report, August 7) needs to look beyond issues of the economy and social stability, important as these are, to take into account the environment. The government’s sustainable development strategy commits to respecting “environmental limits”. The UK is one of the most densely populated and built-up countries in the EU, and some English regions are already close to reaching the limits of their capacity to take further development without serious damage to the environment or quality of life.

    Population levels have critical environmental consequences – land taken for housing and infrastructure, waste production, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption all tend to be directly related to population – though, of course, how much each of us consumes matters a great deal too. We should also consider the global environmental consequences of immigration – will people moving to the UK have more or less “green” lifestyles and smaller or larger families than if they remained in their country of birth?

    A mature debate on population and immigration would be welcome, but let’s not frame it exclusively in terms of the economy or social stability.

    Shaun Spiers
    Chief Executive, Campaign to Protect Rural England

    • 20 Mike May 22, 2016 at 5:26 pm

      Good point! Note also that many people now coming to UK have big families and often come from countries that do not have a strong tradition of caring for nature. It all comes back to the stark reality that if we want our countryside eaten up and our resources put under never ending pressure then go with unlimited immigration. Under the present arrangements we have no chance of limiting the numbers coming in and our green spaces and nature will go to hell in a basket. If the Guardian reading tendency are happy with that, fine, just be honest enough to tell us, rather than pretending to care about the environment whilst facilitating mass immigration which causes it no end of damage and destruction.

      • 21 Wendy May 27, 2016 at 2:03 pm

        I totally agree with Mike’s comments on this page. We are watching our countryside disappearing before our eyes. Our ecology is changing rapidly as each field and hedgerow is ripped out. No one seems to be speaking up for this part of our environment. Yes being in the EU means our water is cleaner and perhaps our beaches, but the pressure put upon us from Brussels to take our fair share of immigrants means that housing developers can now eye up any green field for development. Due to the pressure upon us to build houses, the protected green belt no longer exists.
        There are many benefits to being in the EU, but until we get out I do not believe this unceasing development of green land will ever slow down. If our population continues to rise at the current rate, the already over-populated uk will look back in 20 years and say ‘where the hell did the countryside go?’ Or perhaps not, because it will be populated by people who care not one jot about the countryside.
        So I have to add my one weak voice to support Mike’s comments. But I would like the CPRE to know how utterly let down I feel by them. To think that a body designed to protect rural England does not make prominent the threat of a rapidly rising population on our green spaces defies belief.

  11. 22 sspiers May 27, 2016 at 5:22 pm

    Thank you for your comment. You say that it ‘defies belief’ that CPRE does not make prominent the threat that a rapidly rising population poses to our green spaces, and that until we leave the EU the ‘unceasing development of green land’ will continue.

    On the first point, I have argued previously in this blog that CPRE should not make a huge issue of the ‘threat’ of a rising population because:

    • we do not know what to do about it. The issue is not simple, and we have no charitable remit to engage deeply in arguments about immigration, birth control, longevity and the other drivers of population growth. From an environmental point of view, there are few upsides to a rising population, but there are many good aspects to immigration and increasing longevity;
    • we would probably not influence population growth whatever we said about it; but
    • we can and do influence how land in England is used by our rising population, so that as far as possible development is contained within towns and cities rather than encroaching on the countryside.

    Of course, we would like to be more successful, but I doubt that switching our efforts to arguing about immigration and birth control would help.

    I share your concern that this issue is not being debated by environmentalists. It is one of the top issues in the referendum campaign and the only environmental issue that is getting any sort of coverage, though the debate is seldom framed in terms of the environment.

    The charity Population Matters really should be saying something, analysing the likely impact of withdrawal on the UK’s population. Population Matters is, as its name suggests, an organisation that specialises in population policy; CPRE is not. Unfortunately the website of Population Matters suggests it is more concerned with birth control (the other withdrawal method, perhaps) than with the major issue of the moment.

    In the absence of an expert analysis, the best I can make out is that Brexit would not have as big an impact on population growth as you and the ‘leave’ side suggest.

    • Half our population is growth is ‘natural’, largely the result of increasing birth rates.
    • Of the 50% growth in population that is attributable to immigration, half is non-EU immigration.
    • So around 25% of our population growth comes from the EU.

    Would leaving the EU reduce this? Not if we remained in the European Economic Area. What if we left the Single Market altogether? This would, presumably, have an effect, but how much? That would depend on how much the UK wanted to remain an open and economically vibrant economy. Would we want London to remain a world city? And, more prosaically, would we still want migrants to do all the things they currently do in Britain, not least in farming and rural tourism?

    There are some on the ‘leave’ side who would like Britain to be a more closed economy and culture, but I do not think that applies to most of those running the Vote Leave campaign. Of course, the Stronger In campaign suggests that Brexit would crash the economy and make Britain a country people wanted to leave rather than come to – but Vote Leave denies this, and I doubt that is the sort of population control you have in mind.

    So, I think the issue is much less clear cut than most of the public debate (such as it is) suggests. The House of Commons Treasury Select Committee has tried to bring some clarity to the debate about the impact of Brexit on the economy. Perhaps the UK’s leading population charity, Population Matters, could cast some light on the impact of Brexit on population growth?

  12. 23 Mike May 27, 2016 at 6:28 pm

    Thanks Wendy for your support, we must speak out on this issue and make people aware. Keep going!! Let everyone you know know about this.

    Shaun, have to disagree. Only by exiting the EU can we begin to make a dent in the population growth in this country. The net figures of EU immigration speak for themselves. I fear that it has become politically incorrect to even mention this subject, to the detriment of our countryside. I fail to see where the “benefits” come from for our countryside of an open door to 500 million people, a figure that is sure to rise. We might as well wave a white flag as we are sentencing green spaces and our wonderful nature to a death sentence.Leaving the EU would be the best thing that can happen as we can then start to get a properly controlled system.

    Just to clarify, the current scale of migration to the UK, 330,000 a year, of which roughly half is from the EU, is completely unsustainable.
    In the event of a vote to leave the EU there would be an opportunity to agree new immigration controls. A policy that introduced a system of work permits for EU workers, restricted only to higher-skilled work, could reduce EU net migration by as much as 100,000 a year. At the same time we need a proper points based-system to bring down the numbers from all areas, much like other countries already do and clamp down on over stayers and illegal migrants. There is much that can be done, if we make a start by leaving the groaning juggernaut which is the EU. Many in parliament and the conservation groups just put their hands over their ears and sing “la la not listening”. They are so wedded to the political project which is the EU that they pretend they can protect nature whilst cheerfully inviting in 100s of thousands of people.

    23rd June is as much about the future for our wildlife and green spaces, our wonderful countryside, as it is about economics and trade. It is our one chance to strike a blow for the future. The alternative is endless concrete over the fields and hedgerows of our wonderful land and the silencing of bird song. We must seize this moment to fight for a future for our green spaces, even if the leaders of the conservation movement look the other way. We will not stand by on the other side.

    • 24 sspiers May 27, 2016 at 7:13 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Mike. Regarding the ‘benefits’ of immigration, that was a really a reference to points made in my previous blog about the cultural and economic contribution of migrants. I am not arguing that an ever growing population (if that is what membership of the EU entails) has direct environmental benefits. And I do accept that it is legitimate to raise the issue – which is why I raised it in my blog.

  13. 25 hopstudio May 27, 2016 at 10:44 pm

    Shaun, in a personal capacity I agree with your analysis and I want to stay in Europe. I also feel that the immigration issue is something of a red herring when it comes to development pressure. Working as I do to influence planning policy across a large geographical area with several big urban areas, it’s very clear to me that the biggest threat we face is vast overstatement of the housing growth required to support unrealistic employment growth targets. These ‘boosterist’ housing targets are typically double the amount that is needed to address demographic change, and typically international migration is a pretty small proportion of the demographic bit. To turn this on its head, the only way many local authorities could possibly create a workforce to support their growth ambitions would be a huge increase in international immigration, and they’re hindered from doing so by political hostility to the concept. So effectively immigration into the UK is currently too low to support our economic aspirations. In any case, the horribly distorted housing market and developer-led planning system pose threats to both town and country that totally outstrip any effects of immigration, by an order of magnitude.

    • 26 sspiers May 28, 2016 at 10:33 am

      Thanks, a very interesting point. It is a good question whether immigration is driving housing growth, aspirations for economic growth driving immigration.

      • 27 Mike May 29, 2016 at 9:31 am

        We have NO choice about immigration numbers whilst we are in the EU. So the conservation movement is, astonishingly, saying that it does not matter how many people come here.

      • 28 sspiers May 30, 2016 at 7:23 am

        Mike, I’m not aware of anyone in CPRE or any of the main conservation organisations saying it doesn’t matter how many people come here. It matters, but it is a leap from acknowledging it matters to saying ‘and here is what the country’s immigration policy should be’. It’s the job of politicians to set immigration policy. The current government aspired to reducing immigration and has failed by a margin to achieve its targets. Brexiteers may claim that that is because of the EU rules on free movement. Others may say it is because we have an open, deregulated, economy with relatively little unemployment, and that we are attractive to immigrants in other ways (we speak English, London is an attractive place to come to etc.). I am happy for CPRE to acknowledge that a growing population puts a strain on the environment, but I do not think it is for us to specify either the right level of immigration for the UK or how to achieve it.

    • 29 Mike May 29, 2016 at 9:28 am

      Hopstudio, we already have that massive growth. I can directly challenge your assertion as where I live (and I know many others in other areas who experience the same) the council has to match the growth in our population which is clearly acknowledged as being massively from EU migration.The pressure is incredible. All these extra people do not live in tents or on the streets! If they move into housing in one place then often British people need homes in another. If we stay in the EU we are signing up to ever growing numbers of immigrants who all need housing and resources. Those resources include impacts on our natural resources and pressures on schools and hospitals. People are not inventing this problem for fun, it is real and growing. My local doctors cannot keep up with the numbers. If you think that net migration at the levels we see now is just fine for our environment then I find that quite astonishing. Let’s just let the whole world in and be done with it!!!!??

      • 30 hopstudio May 31, 2016 at 11:58 am

        My main point was simply that there are far bigger threats to our environment than the movement of people from one country to another. For example, the total absence of a national strategy to transform the energy efficiency of the existing building stock, in the face of evidence that it could be a hugely successful industry in its own right; or its insistence on building roads in preference to railways. These are issues that I know CPRE campaigns on, albeit it could probably do so with a bit more verve.

        Mike, I don’t doubt that public services in some places are struggling with the impacts of migration. I have a teacher friend whose school has long been dominated by 2nd and 3rd generation migrant communities from the Indian sub-continent, (mainly Muslim) and they’re well geared up to that. Recently they had an influx of 1st generation Eastern Europeans (mainly Christian) and all the kids needed lots of help with language skills and other ways to assimilate to a new community. That’s difficult, and as a pro-migration person I would say the big issue is pumping enough public resources into getting those kids up to speed.

        However, in my personal experience, new migrants come to the UK to learn and to work, and they tend to have a much stronger work ethic than many people who were born here. They also tend to be more international in outlook, and would happily up sticks and go to another country if they saw a suitable opportunity. I’ve spoken to quite a lot of Poles and Romanians who also feel pushed away from their own countries by the lack of opportunities back home, including much worse racism towards Roma than we would ever tolerate here. They see the UK as a place of tolerance and opportunity, and it breaks my heart to see that reputation being demolished by the media and by some politicians.

        I also know people in business and academia who are deeply worried about their lifeline of willing, skilled people from abroad being cut off by anti-immigration policy. The principal problem is that we have spent several decades not educating well enough, not generating a workforce that has the right skills and motivation for the economy we claim to want. All political parties have failed in that. So we have nowhere to look for our workforce but abroad, at least for the 20 years it would take us to transform our indigenous workforce IF we could do so. Having government policy anti-immigration may be popular with communities whose public services are struggling at present, but it’s economically counter-intuitive.

        The environmental sector constantly berates governments of all parties for putting economy before the environment. Yet in my view, immigration is the one subject where government seems willing to put public opinion before the economy.

      • 31 geoff lambert June 1, 2016 at 8:06 am

        you are making the error of assuming the migration is a direct consequence of being part of the EU. WRONG. the migration is a direct result of the economic system we have in the Uk which has an inherent need for migration. Its part of being a free trade economy. Free trade means no trade barriers on goods and labour (including 500,000 Brits going to live in Spain). Being part of the EU simply means the migrants tend to come from Europe (though 300,000 last year came from outside Europe). if we leave the EU the demand for migrants remains and more of them will come from non EU countries. The pressure from migrants remains irrespective of whether we remain or leave the EU. if you want to stop migration you need to drastically change the economy of the UK . No one has ever successfully done this anywhere in the world, so good luck.

  14. 32 Mike May 30, 2016 at 8:05 am

    Hi Shaun

    I think we can have an open economy at the same time as having a proper points based system which dictates who comes in and who doesn’t. The EU is a political project which ignores the consequences of inviting in many more poor countries and then having free movement of peoples. We can have a good economy and limit numbers. Whilst we are signed up to our country being unable to say no to 500 million people we have no chance of saving our countryside. We are signing over the future of our green spaces to the wishes of the EU. Like many others, I say lets get contol back so we can say who comes here and who doesn’t.

    • 33 sspiers May 30, 2016 at 10:00 am

      thanks, Mike.

      • 34 geoff lambert May 31, 2016 at 8:43 am

        You cannot have an open economy and then dictate who can and cannot come in. The very nature of a Free Trade economy is that the free trade has to include labour.of all kinds. Small high value economies can limit entry to the rich and influential but still have to let in people who will work for low wages. Our economy relies crucially on a continuous supply of cheap labour to make us competitive and even then we have a disastrous balance of trade. Leaving the EU can never stop immigration our whole economic system needs it. Over 300,000 people from outside the EU came last year to fuel our economic growth and many industry’s including farming, hospitality, hotels, food, and health care now rely crucially on cheap imported labour.

        don’t link migration to the EU, if we pull out the labour just comes from a different place but those wanting to retire to Spain might not be able to.

      • 35 sspiers May 31, 2016 at 10:41 am

        Thanks, Geoff, notwithstanding the good case made by Mike, I’m inclined to agree.

        It’s not just that the UK has an open economy, we have one of the most open economies in the world. There are plausible arguments from left and right (and from the green perspective) for limiting free movement. This could be done either by leaving the EU or, as proposed by Jonathon Porritt – – by trying to change EU rules. But I don’t hear these arguments from the leaders of the ‘leave’ campaign, most of whom want a growth-orientated, deregulated, buccaneering economy, but think we can best achieve that by leaving the EU.

        We also have a property-fuelled economy. Our growing population is not the only thing fuelling the property market. Governments of all parties like property booms. The last Labour government funded much of its programme from property taxation, and this government has been equally keen to stoke house price inflation (e.g. through schemes like ‘help to buy’ and ‘starter homes’). I don’t hear the ‘leave’ side arguing that we must change the way we view property.

        So I am not convinced that leaving the EU will lead to significantly lower immigration or less pressure for house building. But CPRE is neutral on the issue and I don’t claim any expertise on migration issues. So I hope that the organisation that does claim some expertise, and which campaigns for a lower population – Population Matters – will publish an analysis of the likely impact of Brexit on the UK’s population growth.

  15. 36 Mike June 22, 2016 at 5:53 pm

    Bottom line is to you remain guys, if we stay in EU we have no control at all over a ever growing number of people coming here. We cannot have a balanced, controlled system because people from non EU countries are discriminated against. With a points based system, we, through those we elect, can determine for ourselves the levels coming in and who we need and when. The EU is a failing project and, through Germany, has invited in countless 1000s, most of whom will soon have an EU passport, which means they can come here,
    I am proudly voting LEAVE tomorrow as a last stand for our countryside and green spaces, which if we do not leave the crumbling hulk which is the EU, will one day in not too distant future be a but a memory.
    Our birds, animals, plants and lovely places I grew up with have no voice. If we fail and they get swallowed up by concrete as our population reaches 80-100 million I will be able to say I tried to stop it. The ‘environmentalists’ who ignore this and want the whole world to come here are quite honestly a disgrace.

    • 37 Wendy June 22, 2016 at 10:47 pm

      Yes Mike totally right. I do love Europe, don’t really want to leave, but for the future of our countryside we have to. If we remain in nothing will change and we cannot stop or control the numbers coming in. Thanks to Europe dictating we must take this amount of people, Westminster dictates to each area the numbers of houses to be built. Where I live (isle of wight) this means that greedy local landowners will have their developments rubber stamped because ‘we need to build houses’. But these developments are rarely brownfield, and so large, ‘easier developed’ large tracts of farmland, with their hedgerows and copses that harbour the wildlife that make our country unique, are buried under concrete. The farmland on the edge of towns is not only precious, it is all that stops the complete urban sprawl that will join up towns and villages, creating endless traffic and pollution that further erodes our quality of life. There may have been environmental benefits to being in the EU but these in no way mitigate the shocking loss of our beautiful and valuable countryside that we are losing week by week due to EU pressure to provide housing. Uncontrolled migration is causing the single most devastating destruction to our British landscape, and is beginning to ruin the quality of life of its people. Many people who aren’t thinking about this properly seem to think the countryside is always there and of no real consequence. But it won’t be always be here at the rate we are developing housing estates. Ironically, psychologists are beginning to discover the benefits of our natural green spaces, finding only recently that a 30 minute walk in ‘green nature’ has a much, if not better benefit to a depressed person than Prozac. We have our ‘green nature’ already, just about, and most of us stand by and watch it disappear. If we stay in the EU we cannot slow this down. My EU vote is not about me and my own personal benefits – my life may be easier with an IN vote -it’s about the quality of life for our native wildlife, and for us and our children. We build houses to help those coming here, but we erode our own quality of life in the process. Our natural green spaces and farmland are a priceless asset to the UK, and the main reason why many of us love it so much. I am fearful for the future of our ‘green and pleasant land’ and so I am registering my fear and anger at this level of development by voting out of the EU.

  16. 38 CPRE local supporter July 11, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    Following the outcome of the EU Referendum of 23 june 2016, It is interesting to re-read Shaun Spiers’s blog in support of what he says is his personal position of being ‘passionately in favour of Britain remaining within the EU’. On the four subjects he sets out, only on the first (European environmental legislation) does the detail in the text support UK continued EU membership. And on environmental legislation that derives from the EEC/EU, there is a fair consensus that this should be retained – the Countryside Alliance, which generally favours departure, has listed that as important and it is more influential with the Conservative Government than is CPRE now.
    It shouldn’t be difficult for the NGOs (Wildlife Trusts, Marine Conservation Bodies and CPRE mainly) to get behind Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage, the main statutory Quangos responsible for applying the laws, to ensure that this environmental legislation stays on the statute book.
    On the other issues listed – farming, population, intrusive forms of renewal energy, inability to remove VAT on historic building works – leaving the EU seems to offer the prospect of a better environment. Switzerland has strong environmental protection, clean environment and better public transport than the UK: outside the EU. The Swiss approach is one way forward.

    • 39 sspiers July 11, 2016 at 6:04 pm

      Well, Mark, my side lost and yours won. We’ll have to see the outcome. If it is the Swiss model – accepting free movement and most EU regulations, paying into the EU but not influencing its decisions – I’m not sure most people who voted for Brexit will see that as a great triumph. But, we’ll see…

      • 40 CPRE Local Supporter July 17, 2016 at 1:12 pm

        The EU Referendum did not turn on people being on ‘two sides’. A key reason for the vote swinging to ‘Leave’ was the failure of David Cameron to renegotiate terms of membership. Had it been a major change in UK status in the EU the Referendum would have come out for Remain. Countryside interests expected at least major reform of the CAP, or UK departure from CAP – and getting out of the CFP. Cameron didn’t attempt either. Rural and fishing interests had enough voters to swing the result.

        Shaun Spiers thinks of the Swiss situation politically rather than recognising the high environmental standards and public transport focus in non-EU member Switzerland. (Its land-use planning is another matter – inferior to Germany’s.) As to immigration, you can’t stay in Switzerland if you don’t have a job and it is very difficult to obtain Swiss citizenship. The many foreign workers are just that – they can’t ‘settle’ in CH.

      • 41 sspiers July 17, 2016 at 1:38 pm

        Thank you for your comment. I haven’t posted your previous comment, which runs down CPRE. We don’t publish this blog to undermine support for CPRE, and certainly not if comments are made anonymously. If you have concerns about CPRE or the way it is led, contact me or a Trustee directly.

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