Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Those population figures

I was contacted by both the JEP and BBC radio Jersey today for a  comment on the latest population figures. The report from the statistics unit can be found  at. PopulationUpdate2012 . The headline figure is we are now at 99,000 or 846 people per square kilometre. I was rather sorely tempted simply to say I told you so.

The report usefully distinguishes the natural increase - the difference between local births and deaths - from the inward migration.  Ethically there is little we can do about the former, though we do still have to understand the immense implications of relentless increases.  We can do something about the latter.  And the evidence that we can is in the figures coupled with a little knowledge of population policy.  You only have to look at the figure for 2003; 0 net inward migration: it is possible.

When the J-cat policy was introduced the idea was that those coming in would have ten years  in which time they would train up locals to take the roles, and then leave.  I have tried to find evidence for this training element , and for J-cats leaving after 10 years, but without success.  I rather suspect that is because it is simply not happening.  As so often happens an expedient temporary measure ends up as a permanent fixture, even when its purpose no longer stands, much as income tax was introduced as an emergency measure in Britain to fund war against France in 1799.

By 2007/8 the Jersey inward migration rate was up to 1100 and 1700 a year. (No longer driven by French emigrees fleeing the revolution!)  By no coincidence the abysmal and rightly condemned Imagine Jersey 2035 exercise in opinion management was undertaken at that time with the astounding outcome that we should indeed deliberately increase the population.  Though even that could only engineer support for a maximum 540 persons a year. The outcomes of Image jersey 2035 are still available at ImagineJerseyFinal Report 2010 03 23

But we knew long before that of the immense impact on our Island of population pressures.  Queen's Valley reservoir was completed in 1991 ( seeThe watermills of Queen's Valley for a view and history).  20 years later in 2011 work had to be undertaken as Val de la Mare to facilitate future expansion (see Val de la Mare makes a splash) .  What do you imagine we shall do in another 20 years time, flood another valley?

Of course new arrivals need and expect decent housing.  There is only so much 'brown field' infill and renovation that can do to provide for an extra  900 people annually, or say 400 households. Inexorably more agricultural land is rezoned for housing.  Naturally those extra people themselves then have children and the problem grows exponentially. 

We now have an almost 50:50 split agricultural and developed land in the Island. And it matters. Chatham House issued a document only the other day on how food supplies in the UK are threatened, as reported by the BBC  Jersey imports a much bigger proportion of its food than the UK. We are taking a much bigger risk when we increase population and reduce the available land.  Even if we could organise to grow enough wheat to make bread to feed 100,000 how would we mill it and bake it? 

In the last lifestyle survey we came 30th out of 37 for environmental quality and one the significant factors there was access to open areas.  That is not just a nice to have, it is the sort of factor that contributes to mental and psychological wellbeing.  Take it away and you only pile up costs in the health service treating the resulting conditions. 

Another aspect of environmental quality in the longer term is our greenhouse gas emissions.  Emigrants don't add much to the overall picture, but the growth in local born numbers certainly does.  Each one, whether born here or immigrant, makes it that much harder for us to meet our Kyoto commitments to an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050.

We rely absolutely both directly and indirectly on the eco-services provided by nature for our own well being as well as the health of the systems that feed and supply or water.  We concrete and tarmac them over at our own peril and the ability of future generation to withstand turbulent times and events. And for sure we live in increasingly uncertain times.