A Crowded Island?

Can we fit 71 million people in?

Believe the latest population projections, and we had better start preparing ourselves. On realistic assumptions, that's the population we can expect the UK to have by 2031.

Indeed, the official figures go much higher. We'll apparently be up to 84 million by 2081.

Can we take it?

My suspicion is that we can. Most people hugely underestimate the amount of "empty space" we have in our country. Fly over the UK, and you see that human settlement does not fill up the UK at all. It accounts for something of the order of 15 per cent of the landmass.

So physically, we could probably fit another ten million people in - or 16 per cent of the population - without toppling into the sea.

As it is, the UK is not the world's most crowded country. Belgium, Japan and the Netherlands are more densely populated than we are, and would remain so even if we had anther ten million people.

Indeed, if the UK had the population density of the Netherlands, it could accommodate 90 million people. And believe it or not, if the UK had the population density of the quaint island of Jersey, we would actually accommodate another 120 million people on top of the 61 million we already have.

So, yes, I suspect we could accommodate another ten million people.

But that does not mean we would want to.

The British quite reasonably like empty land, and may prefer to keep it empty rather than turn it into a country like the Netherlands.

And anyway, the population growth now being projected will not fill the empty bits of the UK (the Highlands and Islands which could arguably do with more people). It will fill yet more of the same places that are already among the world's most densely populated areas. England's population is projected to grow far faster than Scotland's.

Making that worse, the projected speed of population increase is very rapid. In the next ten years, we will grow as much as we have in the last thirty years, and will in effect absorb the equivalent of the population of Ireland.

And in twenty-five years time, we will have added the population of Belgium to the UK.

This can be done, but it won't be done very comfortably by simply squeezing more and more people into the existing infrastructure of houses, roads, shops, GP surgeries and schools. Nothing will make the country feel more crowded than an unmanaged surge in population without proper account being taken of water, energy and food security, and new infrastructure.

In short, if we are going to accommodate the population now being projected, we had better start spending some money, and building.

But before we do that though, it is worth asking how seriously we should take the projections now being made. Before we let people get too alarmed about this talk of 70 or 80 million people, and before we entice investors to buy property now, in anticpation of higher house prices as the population grows, there are a few things to bear in mind.

First, as the statisticians like to remind us, the figures published today are projections not predictions. Projections do not profess to tell us what will happen, just what would happen under various assumptions.

Secondly, the assumptions get more and more ridiculous the longer you extrapolate them. So, while it is reasonable to assume the UK population will grow 0.6 per cent a year for the next ten years, or even for the next twenty-five years, it is absurd to carry on projecting that indefinitely. (If you do, you can project the UK population reaching a billion by 2464. It's all a bit silly.)

And thirdly, the projections can be very wrong even on shorter time frames. In the 1960s, demographers thought the baby boom would be a permanent feature of life, not a temporary one. So they predicted there would be 75 million Britons by 2000. It didn't happen that way. The baby boom was just that - a boom.

You might even remember the fabulous film, Soylent Green, made in 1973, which depicted New York in 2022. It was so overpopulated that Charlton Heston had to step over the sleeping bodies occupying the staircase of his apartment block. There was not enough food so people had to eat Soylent Green. I won't spoil the end suffice to say it was a great film undermined by poor demographic projections.

Today's projections suffer all the problems of previous ones. In particular these ones are dependent on one assumption about migration, and annoyingly that assumption is both the most important and the least reliable.

Migration accounts for 70 per cent of the projected population growth over the next few decades (taking into account the direct inflow of people, and also the indirect fact that migrants are often of child-bearing age, so push up the number of births.)

This all means the overall projections are only as good as the assumption that net inward migration will continue at 190,000 a year, or roughly last year's level.

That might come to pass - it might be too conservative. But equally, we maybe experiencing a temporary inward wave that will soon fall back.

Or most likely of all, it may be that confronted with the prospect of such rapid population growth and an unwillingness to pay what it takes to prepare for it, the government decides to take further action to stem the inward flow.

PS: A version of this article appeared on the main BBC News website here yesterday.

Comments   Post your comment


How does emigration factor in to the calculation of the proportion of population growth accounted for by immigration?

The methodology you appear to be using seems capable of producing figures of in excess of 100% of growth being accounted for by immigration, if there is more emigration than non-immigrant growth.

  • 2.
  • At 12:00 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Robert Woodfield wrote:

Although not Malthusian in my outlook, the comparison that Evan made on BBC1 6pm News last evening of projected population density still less than, but towards that of Holland, in the foreseeable future was nevertheless worrying. Sustainability of services in the crowded parts of England is pushing the social and physical infrastructure to the limit now. But to imagine a country covered to the extent that the conurbations of Amsterdam towards Schipol & Rotterdam
are in no way accords with the sentiment of 'Jerusalem' "a green and pleasant land." Perhaps the government should look in the Lib Dem policy chest again, and root out a few embryonic green policies!

  • 3.
  • At 01:20 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Oliver Adams wrote:


I accept that only 15% of the land in this country is built on, but that's because we have so much lovely countryside. We only have one Britian and we only have one shot at leaving something precious for our children and grand-children. We have something worth protecting for them! The idea of concreting over large areas of countryside because it's there is a terrible idea. I simply don't see the desirability of this at all, it's my idea of hell.

  • 4.
  • At 01:22 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • John Farquhar wrote:

Around the time that oil was discovered we had populations in this country and the World of about 12-14M and 1Bn respectively. World oil production is expected to peak at sometime between 2008 and 2012 after which it will start to fall year on year and never recover. We turn natural gas into food via fertilzer. It seems complete madness to me to have our planet's populations increasing given the foregoing. What are we going to do with the projected population in this country when the falling rates of oil production eventually destroy the western economies as we have known them for the last 100 years?

  • 5.
  • At 01:32 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Jason Berwick wrote:

I always wonder what benefits an increased population actually bring to the people on the ground. My worry is that governments see a larger population primarily as a larger consumer base for companies to sell their products to, providing a more fluid and rapidly growing economy.

Personally I would rather keep the population at or near its current level (with immigration controls and incentives for 1 or 2 child families) and work on retaining British culture and quality of life.

Another result of an increased population (nationally or globally) is an increased effect on the environment. This makes the population explosion a very dangerous phenomenon.

  • 6.
  • At 05:10 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Jason Mead wrote:

The population problem is not just critical in the UK but for the whole world and the current expansion is simply not sustainable environmentally, economically, socially or politically.

However, there are ways of addressing the problem and what is required is true political will and U-turns on current policies. For example:

Instead of stigmatising abortion it should actually be promoted as a responsible decision not to bring additional people into an over congested planet. All forms of sex education (including the social benefits of abstaining from child birth) and birth control including the morning after pill should also be promoted. Instead of the state rewarding people for having children it should be the reverse – single people should get tax breaks for being socially responsible and not having children. All schools should be made into private schools as they only benefit those in society that choose to have children. Benefits should be withdrawn from those who have children that they cannot afford to keep.

As for people living longer then we can address the balance by allowing people to do unhealthy things such as smoke, drink, eat too much, take drugs or do dangerous sports. If people want to live healthily or live in an healthy environment then that’s fine but it should be the decision of the individual. If people want to live unhealthily then they should be able to do so without lecturing or harassment as it is to everyone's benefit if they die before they reach old age.

Immigration can be sorted out with a tough, points based system so we only employ people we actually need and round-the-clock deportations for those we don’t.

All these things can easily be done if the political will exists and would not require any draconian “one child families” styled policies. It may not solve the problem but it would make it far more manageable and is preferable to the out-of-control situation we have now.

  • 7.
  • At 08:24 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • steve wrote:

We are already the most densely crowded country in the EU

We dont have the ability to support ourselves NOW more than ever we need agriculture and farming.

Everyone I know seems to have asthma even my cats pollution is already out of control let alone land fills and energy requirements. This year we had mass flooding the year before we had a drought either one will be much worse on the figures quoted Let alone the towns growing along ethnic lines and society cohesion.

Were all in for a very different future and one that means problems and trouble for all of us...

The BBC seem to love all this and it all fits with the EU ABSORBTION into making us completely dependent on them and the HUGE amounts of money that will come from a few mad cow style diseases and farms magicly turned into building land.

We have a new breed of greed shouldnt do it on your own doorstep though.

  • 8.
  • At 10:11 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Nick wrote:

I dearly hope that there is a push towards high-rise housing as I would hate to see even more of our city's green sites swallowed up. High-rise housing is associated with post-sixties sink estates but as resounding successes like the Barbican Estate show, the problem is a social one, not an architectural one.

  • 9.
  • At 03:29 AM on 25 Oct 2007,
  • Frank wrote:

The other point to make is that in life there are often feedback mechanisms, which are often extremely difficult to incorporate into models, as the maths can become quite difficult. As with many other problems, immigration also has some feedback mechanisms which may not have been included in the projections reported.

For example, as mentioned, a large influx of immigrants will place a certain amount of stress on public services and the infrastructure (such as schools, hospitals, and transportation, for example). However, if these stresses cause a deterioration in the services (for example, it becomes difficult for children to get a good education, or the cost of commuting, in terms of time and money, becomes inordinately high), the attractiveness of a destination may decrease, thus decreasing the immigration flow.

However, and to illustrate the difficulty of the problem, services may not actually have to significantly deteriorate before the attractiveness of the UK decreases. If there is a perception that the services are about to start deteriorating, such as might happen when approaching the limits to the capacity of the service, that might be enough for the attractiveness of the UK to decrease.

  • 10.
  • At 09:16 AM on 25 Oct 2007,
  • Gaz wrote:

Depending on how restricted a life one is prepared to tolerate, it is possible to shoehorn in a considerable number of people. But we are already seeing problems with our existing population. The desire to cram more, and smaller houses onto estates. The shrinking gardens.

Sure there may be 85% of the British Isles still unsettled, but we are not the only species on the island. And who, after careful consideration, thinks the best solution is to build everywhere. Authorities are already allowing building on the floodplains, with obvious dire consequences.

Whilst it is possible we can find room for a few more New Towns, it seems clear enough that the island is basically full already. Examples of more crowded places are just examples of overcrowded places. Warnings to be avoid.

Why should the human race think it has a right to expand indefinitely ? Relying on some future disaster to limit population instead of taking control ? Witness the claim that to live a reasonable modern lifestyle requires around 3 "Earths" to cope; both on the supply side, and with dealing with the waste created. Well, no it doesn't. It requires the population to be limited to a third of its present size.

We are seeing problems now, so now is the time to act, starting with our own island. If we have any claim to being a responsible species we must encourage a decrease in the population over time, and we must find enough wealth creation opportunities to fund it.

  • 11.
  • At 09:36 AM on 25 Oct 2007,
  • Steve Arrick wrote:

The benefits of population growth barely get a mention here. If immigrants are able to get jobs they can pay for their own infrastructure with their taxes and add value to the economy. I think the government's main consideration needs to be the UK's unemployment levels, which are currently falling.

  • 12.
  • At 02:10 PM on 26 Oct 2007,
  • Matt wrote:

In another 10 years Great Britain will cease to exist. It will just be known as Britain. How very sad!!!

  • 13.
  • At 04:42 PM on 26 Oct 2007,
  • Richard Carling wrote:

I'm in favour of any population growth we can manage to attain. House building and defence spending are at record low proportions. Extra tax income would be very welcome to boost both.

  • 14.
  • At 09:20 PM on 26 Oct 2007,
  • Chris Cocker wrote:

Careful Evan, remember 50 million of our population live in England alone.
England has a population/km2 of 383, Japan's is only 339. Most of the population growth that you predict will occur in the South East of England.
Sure, the country can tolerate 71 million, but only if we spread out evenly throughtout the country. But most of this population increase will be confined to the South East of England.
If you look at our road network around London, Birmingham and Manchester I'd argue we are already at breaking point, and another 11 million people would crucify it.

  • 15.
  • At 09:26 AM on 27 Oct 2007,
  • william miller wrote:

Dear Evan
Whilst your article exudes your normal erudition, it is clear that the British people deserve a mature debate about the merits/demerits of constructing a well-founded population policy. Another corollary of having a net inflow of migrants for the foreseeable future is their impact on the cultural and social fabric of our country. This is a debate we need not be shy about having. It involves being honest and displaying integrity in the manner of our debate about the merits/demerits of multiculturalism (or as some would view it: the parallel development of communities within Britain). The third debate requires a national consensus about what British citizenship involves in terms of responsibilities as well as rights for all who choose to stay in this country. The pusillanimous way all politicians and policy makers tip toe around these issues is only going to put of the issues of food security, housing pressures/inflation, transport congestion, water supply continuance, job/wealth creation, psychological problems associated with density of numbers and the assimilation of huge mumbers of new and culturally diverse peoples. I am a Labour party member who feels that key political issues are not being honestly debated by any party. for the record, I am pro-EU and believe we need to be at the heart of Europe. I am no little Englander and abhor the Neanderthal views of the Daily Mail! Let's have some honest debate about a population policy.
political"balls" here.

Bill Miller

  • 16.
  • At 06:34 PM on 27 Oct 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Britain expected at one point to have had 25,000 Polish émigré’s and found it had 650,000 instead. Those projections proved a wee bit off. What makes anyone think the UK will be allowed to control its immigration policy if it remains within the EU? Look at the Red Line treaty and you will see in Article 10 Paragraph 4 that after 5 years, if the UK wants to keep its red lines, it will be subject to whatever penalties the EU decides to impose. Furthermore, as a recent BBC article said, 10% of the indigenous population has already emigrated out of Britain. Whatever the ultimate makeup of the population is, it is likely to be a higher percentage of people whose ancestors were not English. Given the difficulties Britain and other EU nations have had in assimilating émigré’s into the mainstream of their culture and society, this seems a prescription for greater social friction, higher crime, even chaos.

There must be a mental disconnect in the minds of EU and British government officials. On the one hand they speak of the dire need for each nation to cut GHG emissions, notably CO2 drastically to halt or minimize the effect of global warming and in the next breath they tell us that the UK will have a huge influx of foreigners. This leaves only several possibilities. One, the UK could just forget about containing global warming and continue increasing CO2 output. Two, the UK could accept that with increased population, a drastic reduction in its standard of living will take place because with our current technology, CO2 emissions are directly related to wealth on a per capita basis. Three it can hope and pray that the US invents an entirely new technology that will replace fossil fuels, it's a cinch Europe isn't up to it. I think all of the worst will happen, the UK will increase CO2 output, standards of living will go down, crime will rise, and no real alternative to fossil fuel on the required massive scale will be found. And what is the government going to do about it? Continue to give up sovereignty to the EU without those currently living in the UK having anything to say about it. Of course all of these dire projections could be just a fantasy, we could have a nuclear war with say Iran, al Qaeda, or Russia and none of this would happen as there will be little of civilization left but I don't think we'll be that lucky :-)

  • 17.
  • At 07:22 AM on 28 Oct 2007,
  • Robert Saunders wrote:

I think one characteristic of modern immigration is that new immigrants may repatriate themselves at some time in the future, particularly if there is a sustained recession, or if their home nation starts to perform well. Another factor re population growth will be the number of people leaving the UK as oppotunities are created in more dynamic economies. On balance I see nothing to worry about, except that of the lasting problem of a skills shortage.

  • 18.
  • At 05:23 PM on 29 Oct 2007,
  • Jason Mead wrote:

The population problem is not just critical in the UK but for the whole world and the current expansion is simply not sustainable environmentally, economically, socially or politically.

However, there are ways of addressing the problem and what is required is true political will and U-turns on current policies. For example:

Instead of stigmatising abortion it should actually be promoted as a responsible decision not to bring additional people into an over congested planet. All forms of sex education (including the social benefits of abstaining from child birth) and birth control including the morning after pill should also be promoted. Instead of the state rewarding people for having children it should be the reverse – single people should get tax breaks for being socially responsible and not having children. All schools should be made into private schools as they only benefit those in society that choose to have children. Benefits should be withdrawn from those who have children that they cannot afford to keep.

As for people living longer then we can address the balance by allowing people to do unhealthy things such as smoke, drink, eat too much, take drugs or do dangerous sports. If people want to live healthily or live in a healthy environment then that’s fine but it should be the decision of the individual. If people want to live unhealthily then they should be able to do so without lecturing or harassment as it is to everyone's benefit if they die before they reach old age.

Immigration can be sorted out with a tough, points based system so we only employ people we actually need and round-the-clock deportations for those we don’t.

All these things can easily be done if the political will exists and would not require any draconian “one child families” styled policies. It may not solve the problem but it would make it far more manageable and is preferable to the out-of-control situation we have now.

  • 19.
  • At 08:19 PM on 29 Oct 2007,
  • Christopher Ashley wrote:

The problems of population growth are still being dressed up with salad source, even in this article, trying desperately to make the truth, that immigrants are not paying for the infrastructure, schools, health, education, or housing. Then there are the higher percentage of them that make up our criminal population, as not all of them are as honest as PC would imply, and their is the cost of translation services and the massive increase bill for security. Not too many issues so far, so lets add the social and cultural problems with a final dash of lower wages for all British workers (excluding the bosses and landlords). So after the salad dressing is removed, is unchecked immigration, still a good idea? Probably if you are an Ostrich or a Dodo.

  • 20.
  • At 05:12 AM on 30 Oct 2007,
  • william beeby wrote:

An ecellent article which I enjoyed reading and yes it does make perfect sense what you are saying.You quote Japan as being more populous than Britain and did not mention the fact that it has a bigger/better economy than we do, or anyway it used to have until recently.Another truism concerns where people currently live in this country. Counties like Cornwall,Devon and parts of Yorkshire
for example ( leaving aside Wales and Scotland) are underpopulated and could do with more people to help the local economies.Why can we not plan along the lines of new towns, businesses, factories, roads being developed in these areas?
Anyway much food for thought.

Hi Evan

Great review (as usual), but also (as usual) I have my slant on it.

The figures of population density should not really be calculated on a ''UK basis'' but the vast majority of the 84 million or so, should be calculated in density in England.

Your suggestion, therefore, that 'we' (meaning the UK) probably can absorb these extra people may be right - but from that 84 million, statistically 72m will be in England (probably more), as opposed to 52m or there abouts now.

Now, everyone needs to go away and re-calculate what investment ENGLAND needs to cope with a possible 20m increase over the coming decades.

Having said all that - I also totally agree the UK is not a concrete jungle. A 33% increase in Englands population will not translate into 33% more concrete either.

ps: thanks for telling the 'Today' presenter this morning ''well if you take selective comments like that and present them all together - the housing market does sound problematic' - you are right!

Doubtless you (and I) also know the IMF did not say UK houses were 40% over valued. I read the report too! - what they did say was of all the countries they forecast 10 years of house prices, the IMF got them ALL wrong.

They got their UK 10 year forecasts wrong by 40% (1997 - 2007) - they also probably got their forecast UK GDP growth wrong by a similar amount too. All forecasts are wrong, its just a question of by how much.

best regards

  • 22.
  • At 11:59 AM on 30 Oct 2007,
  • Tim wrote:

There are good environmental reasons for wanting to lower the country's population. However green we all become we will always have an environmental impact.

  • 23.
  • At 01:16 PM on 30 Oct 2007,
  • David Sumner wrote:

"And in twenty-five years time, we will have added the population of Belgium to the UK."

Hmm, I don't think that even the most rabid anti-immigration campaigners would think the Flemish & Walloonian masses would up sticks and form orderly queues at Antwerp and the Eurostar to resettle here in the UK! Mind you they would bring better beer and chips with them!

Or am I being too literal?

  • 24.
  • At 02:27 PM on 30 Oct 2007,
  • david burton wrote:

In the mid-sixties, before the pill, the projection was 80 million, mainly locally produced. Is the problem now that the increase is immigrant led or is it that there are so many properties taken up with weekend retreats that there is not enough space for the great silent majority.

  • 25.
  • At 02:59 PM on 30 Oct 2007,
  • John wrote:

I feel it is unlikely that immigration will continue at current rates.

With so many companies moving production from the UK to Eastern Europe, there is bound to come a point where there is enough work in Eastern Europe that people don't have to come to the UK just to get a job.

And when we moved house in the summer, out of around 30 properties we saw, 6 of the families were moving to Spain because of lack of job opportunities (in their field) here, and this summer being such a let down after the promise of "global warming"!

So I wouldn't be surprised if the population actually dropped!

Hi Evan,

I take your point about crowdedness. Having lived in the UK most of my life and thinking that having to sit next to someone on the bus meant that it was crowded, then going to live in Shanghai, where if you weren't being near lifted off the floor of the tube train by the heaving mass around you, you felt you were in luxuriant space, can appreciate our sense of space here.

I think our worries tend to be of losing this luxurious space itself, but the worry of losing the territory which it sits on is the thing that hits us tribal animals deepest.

Just my thoughts

  • 27.
  • At 07:45 PM on 30 Oct 2007,
  • Hugo wrote:

Englnd is, of of course, an island?

  • 28.
  • At 09:52 AM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Daking wrote:

Blind projections like this are completely meaningless unless you look at why people want to come to the UK in such great numbers.

Most of the Eastern Europeans I've met didn't come here because of their love of British culture - in fact many hate it here - they simply come here because they either couldn't get a job at home, or can get a better paid job here, giving them a chance to build up savings.

However with companies such as Peugeot, Cadbury, Mars/Masterfoods, Colgate-Palmolive and many others closing production facilities in the UK and moving it to factories in Eastern Europe, there will come a time when these economies have developed to a point where there are as many, if not more opportunities in their homeland than in the UK.

At that point, not only will it stem the flow of people wanting to come to the UK, but also many of the people already here will start to return home.

  • 29.
  • At 03:44 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Ben wrote:

Are there any studies being done on how the levels of immigration effect the levels of emmigration? Does this get factored into the formulas?

Anecdotally I know of quite a few people who have emmigrated recently for a better life. One of the major reasons they site is the very high levels of inward migration meaning they feel resentful and say the UK don't feel like their country any more.

  • 30.
  • At 01:36 AM on 01 Nov 2007,
  • John Smith wrote:

It's a little misleading to compare country densities with each other like that. Density varies dramatically within a country and the geography makes a lot of difference.

For instance, density figures you get for Japan can be misleadingly low. The spine of Japan is mountainous and uninhabitable (think of the Scottish highlands with mountains 3 times the size), and so most of the population lives on the coastal plains - only about 20% of the country's area. This makes for a much higher density than figures suggest, particularly in the Tokyo/Yokohama conurbation. That said, it's not actually that polluted (smells nicer than London to me) and other than the crowds of people in shopping areas it's quite a pleasant place to live.

The Netherlands is the most densely populated EU country, more densely populated than the UK, but there's still lots of countryside. It's small and theoretically crowded, but in practice, the north is mainly fields - Groningen is the largest town in the northern half of the country, and at 200,000 it's not that big.

You can say what you like about open countryside, but given that over a quarter of the English population lives in or near London, it's apparent that most of us value city life over space.

And if the density goes up, we should take some tips from other countries' urban planning. Tokyo has lots of high quality tower blocks, despite the extra expense of building there to make them earthquake proof; Groningen fits twice the population of Cambridge in around half the area. We could make much better use of the urban land we already have, but we have a strange fascination with 2 storey houses and a lingering suspicion that all tower blocks will turn out like the rotting concrete council blocks of the 60s.

  • 31.
  • At 01:06 PM on 01 Nov 2007,
  • Karl wrote:

The difference between the UK and the Low Countries is that they are very flat and the population can spread out. Also, their countryside is dull and uninspiring and very agricultural so not worth preserving. They don't have a Lake District, Peak District, Highlands or Black Mountains.

Japan is a more useful comparison geographically and there they have very stringent immigration policies.

Total space and usable space are very different quantities. Do we really want the High Pennines turning into housing estates? Do we want a continuous conurbations between Liverpool and Hull?

I live in Sheffield and work in London. It is hard to escape London from the centre but in 20 minds I can be in glorious countryside from Sheffield City Centre.

  • 32.
  • At 04:20 PM on 01 Nov 2007,
  • ian wrote:

too many people on such a small amount of land, population contol need to be put in place NOW

  • 33.
  • At 01:17 PM on 02 Nov 2007,
  • Jeff Deakin wrote:

How often do you fly over and drive within our country Evan.

The South East and the Midlands from the air are concrete jungles.On the ground they are nightmares to navigate by car.

France has a similar population to ours but the countrty is probably twice the size and what a differnce it makes when you travel there.

This country is not capable of operating effeciently with the population we have, never mind an extra 20 million.

Like so many in the media and politics your reasoning is either based on cost "What is the financial benefit" or is based on not upsetting the minorities within this country.

For me 50 million is a target we should reduce to. To reach this goal we must come out of Europe. If we stay within Europe your 80 million will be here in 10 years not 25.

  • 34.
  • At 03:27 PM on 03 Nov 2007,
  • bill higgs wrote:

Having just returned to Canada from England following a vacation in England and Germany, my impression is that England is unpleasantly congested.
Germany has a stable population and Canada of course has space to accomodate the growth.
Many hands make light work , or too many cooks spoil the broth. I suspect population density is already
much higher than optimum for economic efficiency
and that most activity, economic and otherwise is simply coping with the congestion and continual expansion. My subjective opinion is that real living standards are lower than when I left in the mid sixties.
Mere survival is a roof over ones head and food on the table and most of the world still struggles for this minimum, including many in the developed countries ,
however most I think aspire to to the middle class
aim of house, garden ,car, vacations and some form of recreation. Presumably basic survival can be ensured
for a higher population but not the middle class ideal.
There is simply not enough land area.

  • 35.
  • At 11:27 PM on 03 Nov 2007,
  • wappaho wrote:

i'd say on average most support for immigration comes from the finance/corporate sector which benefits from competition for employment, then the political class leant on by the corporate sector, then the liberal professions believing they are altruisitc but maybe the greener ones lagging behind a bit at the thought of limits to growth, then the conservative professions retaining a modicum of nationalism - all of the above benefiting from reduced cost of private services and less likely to require welfare services and lastly the petty bourgois and trades who incur reduced wages and reduced availability of welfare services

all the above referring to multi-racial groups, of varying mixes, within society

  • 36.
  • At 08:02 AM on 04 Nov 2007,
  • Paula wrote:

I am aged 34 and my family left the UK 2 1/2 years ago due to the overcrowding of migrants - the UK have lost a well qualified teacher and professional engineer because we do not feel it is our country any more. Driving around the UK was becoming long and tedious on dangerous busy roads, trying to teach classes with children who spoke various languages was becoming difficult, and being put to the bottom of medical waiting lists because I was white meant that I felt discriminated against. It makes me very angry that my son will not get to visit and play in the beautiful places that I did as a child. I miss my homeland and feel that lack of emigration laws has totally spoilt the UK. I'm not sure what a British identity is any more, no wonder people don't call it 'Great' Britain any more. It can't fit more people in.

  • 37.
  • At 11:54 AM on 04 Nov 2007,
  • Andrew Dimarco wrote:

Following comments by a Tory candidate this morning about whether Enoch Powell was right 40 years ago on immigration... he was right... he just didn't say things in the correct way. Why should anybody have to back up comments when we live in a 'supposed' world of free speech?

I am fed up of hearing about how much public services are going to be stretched over the coming years... how schools are having to recruit multi-lingual teachers because the majority of new students don't know a word of English.

It is time, in my view, to discuss whether or not we are part of Europe. It is the time to eject people from this country who know nothing about our culture or language, and are basically here because of the benefits we provide. It's about time that a political party comes to the fore and tackles issues such as these head on. It's about time that 'political correctness' was put aside for the sake of our economy.

Building millions upon millions of houses is not the answer. Stop the people coming in, and there'll be no need make our country a country of bricks and mortar!

  • 38.
  • At 01:05 PM on 04 Nov 2007,
  • Roger Edwards wrote:

I'm surprised Evan didn't mention that if every man woman and child on this planet were to huddle together like King Penguins in an Antarctic winter then we could all fit onto the Isle of Wight.

Of course we have room,the problem is the facilities, medical, prisons, social services and schools - all those languages - must be a bit like America was some 100 years ago - America didn't turn out too shabby did it!

Housing wasn't mentioned, and it's not just social housing that's affected. Since census night 2001 we have grown by some 2 million, now if some 3 million were to suddenly disappear would that finally put a stop to spiralling house prices? If so it would also put a stop to equity growth.We have relied on the latter to support the trillions of consumer spending (the basis of our economy)- perhaps we shouldn't rush to build the barricades.

We are entering a phase where migration should not be our main economic concern. Banks are twitchy, for some 20 years their policy of taking risks in lending has paid off, their rate of 'sales' has kept the growth in bad debt as a fairly constant tiny percentage (the front end ran faster than the back end). Recent amendments to the Credit Consumer Act whilst good for the consumer may be less attractive for the banks.

Personal banking may lose it's gloss, our main line banks may leave it all to a new breed of lender - are we about to turn sub-prime?

It's not migration we need worry about.

  • 39.
  • At 03:20 PM on 04 Nov 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

I still don't understand. Britain projects it will grow its population by 16 percent in about the same time in will commit to reducing its carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent. HOW???? It's one thing to say it, and it's quite another to actually do it. The easy part, the elimination of the obvious waste has been done already under Kyoto. Now how will Britain do the hard part. I sense a complete disconnect here. What is the plan? Anyone who doesn't think the issues surrounding CO2 emissions and climate change do not have anything to do with population size and economics hasn't been paying attention. How much real sacrifice are Brits willing to make and what happens to these committments if the UK splits up?

  • 40.
  • At 12:10 PM on 05 Nov 2007,
  • Paul wrote:

Although the UK isn't the most crowded place in the world on per unit area basis (thankfully) it doesn't mean there is a big problem. Britain is, I suspect much more overpopulated than Belgium or the Netherlands despite being less crowded. There is overpopulation in terms of ecological niche but also overpopulation in terms of just plain resources (any type of resources) and this is no less valid. When you measure congestion, queue lengths, overpacked public transport many aspects of life in the UK are vastly overpopulated because there just isn't the resources to deal with the demand. I was reminded of how stark this was when I went to a cinema recently that I had been going to 15 years, the popcorn queues were larger than the main ticket queues were even on a blockbuster film even though more staff than ever worked there. As Michael Portillo says, he is not worried about a soaring population but the infrastructure to deal with it (private or public) and he has a point. The problem is not our huge population but the lack of infrastructure and resources to give a decent level of service, that and providers much prefer this state of affairs and to make large profits.

  • 41.
  • At 12:41 PM on 05 Nov 2007,
  • R BAKER wrote:

At the moment there seems enough space for everybody. The problem lies in the fact that everybody wants to live in London. If the population increase could be confined to the Midlands and regions north then it could re-vitalise some flagging local economies. The govt. needs to invest more in northern infrastructure to tempt business and thus population away fom London. I personally find London uncomfortably crowded already!

  • 42.
  • At 12:43 PM on 05 Nov 2007,
  • Fergus Murray wrote:

Its not just about population levels its got a lot to do with people's level of wealth which has now reached record levels for a significant section of our society. People owning larger and multiple homes with most family members driving around in their private cars coupled with the media fueling rampant consumerism severely impacts on other peoples and ultimately their own quality of life. Most peolpe do not even realise this as they go about their daily lives. Many others don't give it a moments thought. The whole situation is also compounded in the UK with abandonment in the 1980s of long term Regional Planning enabling the market to dictate growth in the South East until the whole things reaches gridlock. Not long now judging by other people's comments.

  • 43.
  • At 01:19 PM on 05 Nov 2007,
  • Philip Whittall wrote:

Looking at the benefits it has had on the economy these past several years and the way it has addressed the imbalanced age profile of the population, the problem with immigration is that we don't have enough of it. The problem that really needs addressing is an underinvested, poorly coordinated transport infrastructure that inevitably jams people into the south east corner of the country.

  • 44.
  • At 01:30 PM on 05 Nov 2007,
  • David Norris wrote:

We are told we need the new young working immigrants to pay for the increasingly aging popoulation. But this is crazy. Young immigrants grow old, so we are just making a real problem worse. The sooner we learn to live with a stable, and even decreasing population and give up the impossible dream of infinite economic growth the better.

  • 45.
  • At 01:45 PM on 05 Nov 2007,
  • Andrew Hetherington wrote:

Jeff: 'The South East form the air are a concrete jungle'. Eh? I dont think so, there are fields right up to Heathrow. There is a restaurant in London that souces ALL its food from inside the M25.

I want to know more about the relationship between population growth and economic growth. I understand that economic growth is what causes my pension to grow. But is population growth a requirement for economic growth and thereby for my pension?

  • 46.
  • At 02:16 PM on 05 Nov 2007,
  • Paul wrote:

All you have to do is ask yourself if you would rather have 80+ million people living a poor quality of life or 50-60 million enjoying a good standard of life.

And yes you maybe able to fit 120 million extra people into our back gardens but why should we have too! Part of being a Briton is our good standard of life, why should we have to sacrifice it when thats what immigrants come here in search of!

Most civilisations have to be invaded before having their liberty taken away, here, the government gives it up freely! Someone should remind them, They dont "govern the public" they "govern FOR the public!"

I beleive that any decisions relating to this countries population should be made solely by its indiginous population after all they didnt choose to come here they were already here!

On the issue of the econmical benefits, there may be an overall benefit to the nations economy but I have no doubt of the strain it will put on the already widening gap between the rich and the poor. Polaticians have to remember to look outside of the City of London for the bigger picture, parts of our towns are already starting to show signs of social and economic decline!

  • 47.
  • At 02:32 PM on 05 Nov 2007,
  • Christopher Boomer wrote:

The rational economic modelling which should accompany this article provides an insight into why these dire predictions will not come true, even without action on the part of the Government.

Britain has underinvested in infrastructure and housing for many years. Prices for everything from food to clothes and transport to housing are higher here than they are in many of our EU neighbours.

There will come a point (2009 springs to mind) when the immigrants who are looking for a better life than their native country offers will have a greater choice.

Once the job markets in France, Spain and Germany open to them, many will choose these locations in preference. Whilst English remains the second language of many, this will only tip the balance in our favour until the jobs start to dry up, and the housing shortage starts to bite.

We also have to consider the EU's Regional policies, which will take hold. These countries will become richer in their own right, decreasing the desire to migrate.

We should make these arguments forcefully and quell the fears. We should stop stoking them with poorly considered projections.

The predictions for population growth in my part of the country barely take us back to pre-Famine levels, but already the immigrants are being blamed for future perceived shortages. These fears are all the harder to understand when many of the 'immigrants' to Northern Ireland are simply 'coming home' after years of exile (or failing to leave as they would have done 10 years ago), but they are every bit as powerful and must be rationally put down.

True, England does need more schools and hospitals and houses: but not for mythical hoards of immigrants!

  • 48.
  • At 02:38 PM on 05 Nov 2007,
  • Michele Tedeschi wrote:


Your piece I think reflects what most of us think and realise. Unfortunately, any discussion or comment on immigration arouses the usual 'racist' comment which is not only untrue but extremely unhelpful. We cannot, as our Government continues to do, bury our head in the sand to this problem. We are already bursting at the seams and I can see that services will be badly affected if the level of uncontrolled immigration is allowed to carry on. I understand your comment about the empty spaces we have but I do not want to see this country turned into one big housing estate.
We are consistently being told by the government about 2 million (???) jobs being created but how many of these are part time? Are we not just taking full time jobs and slicing them up into two or three part time jobs?? We already have the scandal of thousands of newly qualified doctors unable to get a job.
Let us control immigration, throw out immigrants who do not have a job and ensure that the thosuands on the dole are made to work!

  • 49.
  • At 02:39 PM on 05 Nov 2007,
  • Daniel wrote:

Dear Mr Davis,

The fact that it is theoretically possible to accommodate more people in terms of landmass alone strikes me, if I may say, as somewhat ingenuous. There are multitudinous factors to be taken into account: very simply, not all land can be built on!


  • 50.
  • At 04:15 PM on 05 Nov 2007,
  • Jason White wrote:

If you compare British and Continental European urban population densities you will find that on average British cities have a higher population density. But in the UK the proportion of people living in flats is lower. This seems paradoxical but I guess the reason is that more of the UK's urban space is taken up by houses and gardens but much, much less by open spaces (not many tree lined Boulevards where I come from). I know this doesn't answer the question about immigration but perhaps it explains why we feel crowded. If there is to be population growth could I ask that whoever plans our cities (does anyone do that?) could try and build more high rise blocks (they don't have to be ugly and cheap) and more pleasant open spaces (not wind swept car parks!). Perhaps then our urban environment might improve and our pretty countryside could be left alone.

  • 51.
  • At 10:04 PM on 05 Nov 2007,
  • Paul Beevers wrote:

Evan, why do you leave out some of the biggest questions in your comments? Why is it that in this discussion we leave out commentary about sustainability? Common sense tells me that if we have to get 50% of our food from overseas - and much else besides then we do not have a sustainble population. We are using 21 hectares I read when the most we can use is 15. What's more we ask the underdeveloped world to plunder its own natural resources, its environment, to meet our needs and food and timber are perfect examples. Why no reference to those? There are countless arguements about the impact immigration is having on our country, culture, quality of life, survivability, social chesion and yet none of them get aired properly, not least by the BBC.

The EUROPEAN UNION is turning out to be a big disaster for UK ,rather than benifiting UK it is carving the way for its devastation and doom , hope UK latches out of EU.

  • 53.
  • At 01:14 PM on 06 Nov 2007,
  • Russell Yates wrote:

It would be interesting to know how far the methodology for such year on year growth takes into account the economic cycles in different EU Member States.

Surely all we are seeing at the moment is the Single European Market in action at it's best, facilitating the free movement of people to the areas of highest economic growth.

It would be extremely arrogant to assume also that the UK was to continue to have amongst the highest rates of growth indefinately as these things are cyclical and in a few years we may once again see the likes of Geordie builders in Berlin, or Mancunian plumbers in Paris - maybe then people will remember that we dont and cant live in isolation and that all we are seeing is the EU working as it was meant to. We shouldnt assume that people will always want to come here, as whilst at the moment wages might be ok, other quality of life issues are still unfortunately not at the higher end of the EU league table.

  • 54.
  • At 01:52 PM on 06 Nov 2007,
  • Rob Evans wrote:

The UK could of course fit in many more people than it does now, provided that everyone is prepared to have a correspondingly lower quality of life.

Many resources are either fixed or inelastic, so the more people there are the more thinly the resources are spread. Provided that everyone is prepared to live ever closer together, queue ever longer on the roads, accept ever greater environmental impact, etc., then there is no problem at all.

The only reason we have to keep growing our population is because of the financial slight of hand, whereby today's state pensions are paid not from yesterday's saved taxes, but instead from today's taxpayers.

  • 55.
  • At 04:27 PM on 06 Nov 2007,
  • John Smith wrote:

Karl, a couple of points:

First, the Netherlands is flat, but so is England. There are a few areas that are too hilly to build, but the majority of the country, and particularly the south-east, is no problem to build on. If anything, the problem with the Netherlands is that they have to take more care where to build because of flooding.

Second, Japan has fairly stringent immigration policies, but still has plenty of immigrants, who also don't spread out so much. The population in the very centre of Tokyo is about 10% foreign. (Across the whole of Tokyo, it's more like 2.5%; across Japan, 1%.)

  • 56.
  • At 01:56 PM on 07 Nov 2007,
  • Steve wrote:

Perhaps the problem is that the over crowding appears to be focussed around London and the south east of England and that the Government's proposal to deal with it is more housing estates across Kent and Essex. Perhaps a planning system that did not try to constrain cities through the green belt thereby forcing more development in the satellite towns and which micro manages every housing development (or even garage extension) would also help ease matters. I agree that the UK could fit in a lot more people but that would require a complete rethink at government level on everything from public transport to planning policy to economic development across the whole of the UK. More people in London and the south east all trying to use the same out of date and under funded infrastructure is not the way forward.

  • 57.
  • At 10:21 PM on 07 Nov 2007,
  • Matthew Bailey wrote:

I wonder how many of the responses on here would be posted if everyone had read the article or had bothered to learn a bit of basic economics. Immigration is a good thing, the idea that it isn't, is a very simple xenophobic argument that sells newspapers.

Immigrants are typically young, working-age and prepared to work for less, hence they are a great source of labour for our economy. If we don't have this influx of new workers then there's a real danger that the burden placed on us by the ever expanding group of retired people will drive down economic growth and stifle technological innovation. Basically, without immigrants to pay for our pensions we could soon lose the huge benefits of our stable growing western economy. The USA happily absorbs well over a million Mexicans on an annual basis and has done so for years, and they're not doing to badly. I'd go as far as to say that the labour market flexibility afforded to the US in part because of immigration is the principal reason behind the US's pre-eminence on the economic stage.

As for all the Malthusian prophecies, he was wrong then and he'll be continued to be proven wrong at every turn if we keep innovating as we are. All the "armageddon" style problems associated with population growth have never ever come to pass despite centuries of these predictions. What's so special about the population now that means we MUST be on the brink of disaster?

  • 58.
  • At 12:34 AM on 08 Nov 2007,
  • Tony Nigeria wrote:

Dear Daily Mail Readers,
To clear a bit of confusion, Great Britain is known as "Great" Britain, not because it is a wonderful or "great" place, it was originally used by the French to differentiate it from Brittany. Now I know this opens a whole new kettle of fish about immigration, but please calm down. Immigration is a complex subject and unfortunately emotions often take precedence over from objective view points. Before we are quick to dismiss immigration, we should think about the benefits this provides (that is if we are capable of such basic intellect).

  • 59.
  • At 03:37 PM on 08 Nov 2007,
  • Philip chamberlain wrote:

What is the use of comparing population density in Britain (a country of 65 million people) to Holland and Belgium, countries of less than 20 million people and a fraction of the size? You'r enot comparing like with like.

Compare south-east England (8m people, 414 people per sq km) with Belgium (344 people per sq km, 10m people)... that is a valid comparison.

Scotland, remember, takes up a third of "Britain" and has a lower population density than France, Spain or practically anywhere else in western europe outside Scandinavia.

  • 60.
  • At 04:42 PM on 08 Nov 2007,
  • Chris wrote:

The immigration boom is likely to drop off pretty soon, because it largely consists of Poles and most people from that country who want to work here have already arrived.

True, Romanian and Bulgarians will be able to work freely within the EU from 2009, but their combined population is less than Poland's and they would probably prefer Mediterranean destinations anyway (I know I would!). After that, there is no prospect of any more big, poor countries joining the EU until Turkey, and that in the ever-shrinking chance that nobody vetoes them.

  • 61.
  • At 11:43 AM on 12 Nov 2007,
  • Reg wrote:

What, are you kidding, What english countryside? All I see is industrial farm land using precious resources to swell the meat industry. Country side is trees and meadows and swamps and hills and lakes and moutains. No field after field of pasture.

Replant the trees and help save the planet.

  • 62.
  • At 04:42 PM on 12 Nov 2007,
  • Adrian Peirson wrote:

Mass imigration is about the Destruction of National Identity.

Political Correctness is to ensure we cannot even discuss our own Genocide.

  • 63.
  • At 08:34 PM on 13 Nov 2007,
  • Mrs Brooks wrote:

During the second world war we were unable to produce enough food to feed ourselves. Presumably now it would be impossible to feed ourselves if there was a catastrophy like the following;
another world war
an enormous volcanic eruption which will eventually occur
global disease
disasterous climate changes.
a large sealevel rise removing a large area of land
Do you think other countries would be willing to share meagre supplies with us?

  • 64.
  • At 01:40 PM on 27 Nov 2007,
  • T wrote:

The article says the fil shows that New York "was so overpopulated that Charlton Heston had to step over the sleeping bodies occupying the staircase of his apartment block". People seem to forget that there are many homeless people today too.

  • 65.
  • At 02:02 PM on 27 Nov 2007,
  • Sarah wrote:

i live on the quaint little island of Jersey and its no bloody joke here. its all migrant workers, you cant get any help from social security becuase its all being taken up with migrants and ageing population that move here. If thats the projected number of people in the uk lets all move to the countries that the migrants are leaving and make them better

  • 66.
  • At 05:24 PM on 27 Nov 2007,
  • Steve Burdon wrote:

The UK can certainly accomadate the numbers that you refer to, however the infrastructure and the goverment can not. Its as simple as that.

  • 67.
  • At 08:06 PM on 27 Nov 2007,
  • steve johnson wrote:

As usual Evan Davies has attempted to be fair but he is blinded by the same free market fundamentalism as the Blair/Brown regime.Yes much of Britain is farmland, but this only provides 60% of the food required for 60 million people.I admit some land is set aside at present but even so,how do you feed 70million plus in a future warming world in which most other countries are also increasing their populations.Assuming we give up on nature conservation and accept we have to live in tiny houses,do we really want to depend on others for food? We already have the murderous hand of Putin on the gas tap!The current policies seem to be greatly beneficial to property developers.But then look at today's revelations.We need to think long term for everyone not just a few.

  • 68.
  • At 08:09 PM on 27 Nov 2007,
  • steve johnson wrote:

Oh! I forgot to mention that I am a life long Labour voter

Post a comment

Please note Name and E-mail are required.

Comments are moderated, and will not appear on this weblog until the author has approved them.

Required (not displayed)

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites