Which UK cities will suffer most from the end of Freedom of Movement?

Cambridge: well, this is all stuffed, for a start. Image: Getty.

Theresa May’s government has been unclear and uncertain about almost everything to do with life after Brexit: whether Britain would remain in the customs union or single market; whether it’ll mean a bigger state or a smaller one; even whether it will make us poorer. (The prime minister has repeatedly refused to say “no”.)

On one matter, though, May and her minions have remained entirely consistent: Brexit means an end to freedom of movement. All those foreigners coming over here, fixing our plumbing, picking our fruit, caring for our elderly? We’re finished with ‘em. Go on, sling your hook.

This is bad in about 16 different ways, of course. It’s bad because it’s meant two years of uncertainty for three million European people who’ve made their lives here, not to mention their partners, children and friends. It’s bad because it means revoking the rights of British citizens, not just those of perfidious foreigners, and nobody seems, even now, to have given much thought to the question of what happens to those Britons who live on the continent. And it’s catastrophic in the way that it’s given succour to a far right that’s now unshakeably convinced that approximately 52 per cent of the electorate are exactly as racist as they are.

But there’s another, more immediately quantifiable way in which ending freedom of movement is bad: it’s going to knacker the economy. And, not for the first time, we have figures.

The Centre for Cities think tank recently published a report quantifying the contribution EU migrants made to the economies of the major English and Welsh urban areas. It found, in an entirely unshocking revelation, EU migrants were more likely to be in work than their UK-born neighbours (70 per cent compared to 58 per cent). They’re also better qualified (33 per cent have degrees, compared to 26 per cent of Brits).

As much as I love immigrants, this disparity is unlikely to speak of any great superiority in moral character. Rather, I suspect, is’s accounted for largely by age: younger people are both more likely to have jobs and degrees, and to skip countries in search of economic opportunity. But it nonetheless means that EU migrants make up an unusually productive slice of the UK’s population.

You can see this in which cities are going to be hit hardest by any reduction of EU migration, too. Britain’s most productive cities, those which contribute most to the country’s taxbase, are those of what the Centre terms the “Greater South East”: London and its satellites, Oxford, Cambridge and so on. Which cities do you imagine have the greatest number of EU27-born residents?

In what seems unlikely to be a coincidence, and with a couple of notable exceptions (Peterborough, Luton, Bradford), those cities are both a lot richer and a lot less Brexit-y than the bottom 10:

From one point of view – the wrong one, but a point of view, nonetheless – the “problem” of EU migration is solving itself. The Centre for Cities’ report also noted that EU migration to Britain’s cities has already slumped, in 51 out of the 58 English and Welsh cities surveyed.


But as the research suggests, in terms of the economy, freedom of movement was never a problem in the first place: quite the opposite. In fact, that slump in the number of in-comers “raises serious concerns about the ability of these cities to prosper if restrictions on migration increase post-Brexit”.

The report concludes that there is a serious risk that Brexit will lead to labour shortages – and that the government’s “no deal” plans should include a two-year extension of freedom of movement to avoid them. Since the government’s commitment to ending freedom of movement is its single, most steadfast commitment, and since its no deal plans are invisible to the naked eye anyway, I am not entirely convinced this will happen.

This is not the first report which has made the argument that freedom of movement, far from being a drain on the British economy, is one of the key things propping it up. It’s highly unlikely to be the last, either. And yet, we are told that, whatever else happens, freedom of movement absolutely must end.

The government’s entire Brexit strategy, if you can call it such, has been built on a single, questionable assumption: that the British electorate cares more about cutting immigration than it did about the national economy.

There is one, tiny upside to this entire clusterfuck: if that assumption was wrong, we really won’t be waiting long to find out.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites

This article previously appeared on our sister site, the New Statesman.

 
 
 
 

To beat rising temperatures, Vienna launches a network of 'Cool Streets'

A Vienna resident cools off at one of the city's new Cool Streets installations. (Courtesy Christian Fürthner/Mobilitätsagentur Wien)

Over the past several months, Austria has recorded its highest unemployment rate since World War II, thanks to the economic aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. With no job or a suddenly smaller income – not to mention the continued threat of the virus – many Viennese will opt for a staycation this summer.  

At the same time, last year, Austria’s capital experienced 39 days with temperatures of over 30°C (86°F), one of its hottest summers in history according to the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics.

Climate experts expect a similarly sizzling 2020 season, and city officials are now doubling down on efforts to combat the heat by launching a “Cool Streets” initiative as well as a new, state-of-the-art cooling park.

“As the city councilwoman in charge of climate, it is my job to ensure local cooling,” Vienna’s deputy mayor Birgit Hebein proclaimed at the opening of one of 22 new “Cool Streets” on 22 June.

“In Austria, there are already more heat deaths than traffic fatalities,” she added.

Hebein was referring to the 766 people the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Security included in its 2018 heat-associated mortality statistics. The number was up by 31% compared to 2017, and in contrast to the 409 people who died in traffic collisions the same year.

The project includes 18 temporary Cool Streets located across the city, plus four roads that will be redesigned permanently and designated as “Cool Streets Plus”.

“The Plus version includes the planting of trees. Brighter surfaces, which reflect less heat, replace asphalt in addition to the installation of shadow or water elements,” said Kathrin Ivancsits, spokeswoman for the city-owned bureau Mobilitätsagentur, which is coordinating the project.


Vienna's seasonal Cool Streets provide shady places to rest and are closed to cars. (Petra Loho for CityMetric)

In addition to mobile shade dispensers and seating possibilities amid more greenery provided by potted plants, each street features a steel column offering drinking water and spray cooling. The temporary Cool Streets will also remain car-free until 20 September.

A sensor in the granite base releases drinking water and pushes it through 34 nozzles whenever the outside temperature reaches 25°C (77°F) . As soon as the ambient temperature drops to 23°C (73°F), the sensor, which operates from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., turns off the water supply.

The sensors were included in part to allay concerns about legionella, a pathogenic bacteria that can reproduce in water.  

“When the spray stops, the system drains, and therefore no microbial contamination can develop,” said Dr. Hans-Peter Hutter, deputy head of the Department of Environmental Health at the Center for Public Health at Medical University Vienna, in a televised interview.

Hutter also assured the public that there is no increased risk of a Covid-19 infection from the spray as long as people adhere to the one-meter social distance requirement.


But Samer Bagaeen of the University of Kent's School of Architecture and Planning notes that air cooling systems, like the ones used in Germany at abattoirs, have been found recently to be a risk factor for Covid-19 outbreaks.

“The same could be said for spay devices,” he warned.

Vienna’s district councils selected the 22 Cool Street locations with the help of the city’s Urban Heat Vulnerability Index. The map shows where most people suffer from heat by evaluating temperature data, green and water-related infrastructure, and demographic data.

“Urban heat islands can occur when cities replace the natural land cover with dense concentrations of pavement, buildings, and other surfaces that absorb and retain heat,” as the US Environmental Protection Agency states.


A rendering of Vienna's planned park featuring a Coolspot, which is scheduled to open in August. Click to expand.
(Courtesy Carla Lo Landscape Architecture)

Vienna’s sixth district, Mariahilf, is such an area. The construction of the capital’s first “Cooling Park”, a €1 million project covering the 10,600 square-metre Esterházypark, is designed to provide relief. 

Green4Cities, a centre of excellence for green infrastructure in urban areas, designed the park’s main attraction, the “Coolspot”. The nearly 3.40-metre high steel trellis holds three rings equipped with spray nozzles. Textile shading slats, tensioned with steel cables, cover them.

The effects of evaporation and evapotranspiration create a cooler microclimate around the 30 square-metre seating area, alongside other spray spots selectively scattered across the park.

The high-pressure spray also deposits tiny droplets on plant and tree leaves, which stimulates them to sweat even more. All together, these collective measures help to cool their surroundings by up to six degrees.

The landscape architect Carla Lo and her team planned what she calls the “low-tech” park components. “Plants are an essential design element of the Cooling Park,” Lo says. “By unsealing the [soil], we can add new grass, herbaceous beds, and more climate-resistant trees to the existing cultivation”.

Light-coloured, natural stone punctuated by grass seams replaces the old concrete surfaces, and wooden benches meander throughout the park.

Living near the park and yearning for an urban escape close by, Lo says she’s motivated to ensure the park is completed by mid-August.

“If we don't do anything, Vienna will be another eight degrees Celsius hotter in 2050 than it already is,” Hebein said.

Vienna recently came in first in the World's 10 Greenest Cities Index by the consulting agency Resonance.

“There is no one size fits all on how cities respond to urban heat,” says the University of Kent’s Bagaeen, who points out that Vienna was one of the first European cities to set up an Urban Heat Islands Strategic Plan in 2015.

In the short term, prognoses on the city’s future development may be more difficult: Vienna votes this autumn.

Petra Loho is a journalist and photographer based in Austria.