Britain has ‘masses of room’ for more people, a senior official at the Government’s economic watchdog declared yesterday.
Professor Stephen Nickell, a board member at the Office for Budget Responsibility, dismissed fears about the impact of mass immigration on Britain.
He rejected the argument that Britain was a ‘small island’ and said there is ‘plenty of space’ for new arrivals.
But his comments caused outrage, with critics accusing him of suggesting we pave over of ‘swathes of the British countryside in order to accommodate more and more people’.
In 2010 Professor Nickell, who is a former member of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee, was appointed to the OBR – which is an independent watchdog for public spending created by Chancellor George Osborne. It is extremely rare for a member of the OBR to say anything that could be interpreted as political.
His comments were made as he gave evidence to the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee yesterday.
He told MPs that immigration was ‘not very important’ to the overall state of the economy, with the impact on the native population either ‘a little bit good’ or ‘a little bit bad’. But he said that without migrants the NHS would be in ‘dire straits’ because one in three staff are migrants.
He went on to admit that new arrivals had pushed down the wages of unskilled workers already in Britain ‘to some extent’, before saying: ‘One argument says, “we are a small island, not much room”.
‘On the other hand, of course, there is masses of room. The urbanised part of Britain occupies less than 10 per cent of the surface area. The urbanised part of Surrey occupies less of Surrey than golf courses. So in some senses, plenty of space. There’s plenty of room.’
He added: ‘If I were thinking about immigration, I think the argument basically boils down to people, the number of people.
‘More immigrants mean more housing, more roads, more airports, more incinerators, more of this being required.
‘And since the evidence would suggest that people by and large don’t like these things – especially if they are near them – I think that is the key issue about immigration that people may wish to face up to.’
Last night it emerged that Professor Nickell lives in a £600,000 cottage in Barford St. Michael in Oxfordshire, which is part of a protected conservation zone.
Speaking from his home, he said that he stood by his comments and would be happy to see more houses built nearby – although he said he doubted his neighbours would agree.
When asked if he had seen the true impact of immigration in his local area, he said that his nearby town Banbury was home to lots of migrants.
However Ukip leader Nigel Farage – who has called for huge reductions in migrant numbers – pointed out that in 2008 Professor Nickell wrongly predicted that the economic downturn ‘won’t be very big’.
He said: ‘If this is the same Stephen Nickell who once upon a time predicted that the 2008 recession would be “minute”, then we should be very wary of taking his word on anything.
‘His solution seems to be to pave over swathes of the British countryside in order to accommodate more and more people. And for what?
‘We found out earlier this year that the economic effects of mass migration have been negligible, while strain on the NHS, roads, police and other national infrastructure has risen like never before in British history.
‘All the jobs that we need immigrants for could still be done, without placing undue pressure on local services.’
Neil Sinden, who is the campaigns and policy director at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: ‘We are a small island and we must protect our treasured countryside.
‘As our recent research demonstrates there is enough suitable brownfield land across England to accommodate at least a million homes right now.’
Courtsey: The Daily Mail