Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, ridiculed government officials who promised to ‘compensate’ for loss of local Green Belt by classifying more land elsewhere as Green Belt. To applause, he likened it to saying we can let a few rare creatures on the list of Protected Species become extinct – as long as we replace them by adding the common sparrow and chaffinch to the list! But he warned against the hypocrisy of those who opposed building more housing yet supported policies that increase the demand for housing. He said he respected those who argue in favour of allowing mass immigration and are honest enough to recognise it means building correspondingly more homes (for the 6 million extra people the government forecasts from net immigration by 2030). It is also acceptable for those who argue for tighter restrictions on immigration to oppose the government’s housing targets. But to support an open door policy on immigration while opposing building the extra homes that are required is as inhumane as it is hypocritical.
Peter Lilley was speaking at the public meeting called by St Albans Council to consider the increased government housing targets in the revised East of England Plan on Thursday 18th January. He added:
“I have passionately defended the Green Belt since I have represented Hertfordshire in Parliament. We need those green lungs between our built up areas. We have successfully seen off all attempts to build on the local Green Belt until now. The new threat arises because for the first time the government is backing plans to build on the Green Belt. The idea of ‘compensatory’ designation of new areas of Green Belt elsewhere is as absurd as allowing some protected species to become extinct and then reclassifying common species as ‘compensation’!
“That is a popular thing to say. But I also want to say something more controversial – at least for some politicians. It is easy – particularly for those of us who own our own homes – to attack plans to build more houses and blame it on developers. But we have to admit there is a need for more homes. Soaring house prices are telling us that demand is outstripping supply. More and more single people have to stay in their parental home till their thirties. Young couples are mortgage slaves.
“Where is the demand for more housing coming from? Councillor Donaldson suggested that the demand was the result of people from the rest of the UK moving into South East England and that we should discourage that inflow. I would agree with him if that were the cause. But government figures show there is now a net outflow of residents from the South East to the North and Scotland. What I cannot understand is why he thinks it is good to discourage British people moving into southern England but he is reluctant to address the issue of people moving here from abroad.
“The real inflow is coming from abroad. According to the government, the population is set to increase by 6 million people up to 2030 solely because lawful immigration is – for the first time in our history – being permitted at a level which far outstrips emigration.
“There is a respectable case (though not one I share) for arguing that we need to encourage this mass inflow. I have great respect for those who argue that case openly and accept that we need to build a corresponding number of additional homes.
“Equally there is a case that – although the vast majority of immigrants are hard working, decent, law abiding people – there is no economic benefit for this country from allowing an inflow substantially in excess of the number of people returning home or emigrating.
“The one position that is neither morally nor logically tenable is to support mass immigration but to refuse to build the homes which they together with the resident population will need.
“Of course those who simultaneously support mass immigration and oppose house building cannot bear to have the contradictions and hypocrisy of their arguments exposed. They try, as did Councillor Aislinn Lee, to suppress any criticism by labelling anyone who even asks a question about immigration as ‘racist’. Yet she applauded Cllr Donaldson when he argued that people from the rest of the UK should be discouraged from coming to live in Hertfordshire.
“Personal abuse of this kind simply will not work any more. Lib Dem councillors apart, I have not met a single constituent – be they ethnic minority or majority – who believes we can allow large scale immigration and yet not build the homes we will need for those who come here.
“Surely the time has come to have a civilised debate about these issues free from either accusations of racism or racist slurs on those who want to settle in this country.
“Can Cllr Lee explain how she can support an open door policy for immigration to this country but wants us to slam closed the gates of St Albans to anyone else wanting to live here?”