Hull: Where regeneration has accompanied immigration

Hull, a city of 260,000 people was the National Conversation’s 44th stop. The citizens’ panel in Hull were a balanced group, who centred fairness in how they saw both the contributions and challenges brought by migration. They felt that migrants often took jobs that British people “don’t want to do”, such as factory work with long hours, or work in meat processing plants, and that this had brought economic renewal to parts of the city that had experienced a long period of depopulation and neighbourhood decline.

“In Spring Bank, it’s shop after shop of foreign owners. Without them, how many would be open? It’s just supermarkets taking over everything else.”

Hull was once the UK’s third largest port. But fishing quotas, containerisation, the loss of manufacturing industry, together with poor road and rail links dealt Hull a severe blow.  Jobs were lost and people moved away dried up much of the commerce in this once thriving city. In 1931 Hull’s population stood at 309,000, but by 2001 it had fallen to 244,000. People continued to leave Hull at a time when other northern cities were seeing a reversal of their population decline and were growing. By 2009, Hull was the UK’s poorest city in terms of average weekly wages, its housing stock was dirt cheap and its schools were under-performing.

Decades of decline have now started to be reversed, with the city centre and the old docks seeing considerable regeneration. There has also been recent investment from large companies such as Siemens. Hull was the UK City of Culture in 2017 which brought many visitors and jobs to the city, as well as £100 million for civic improvements. Most of the citizens’ panel had attended City of Culture events which seem to have contributed to a growing civic pride in the city.

Industrial decline and high unemployment meant that Hull saw little immigration until recently.  At the time of the 2001 census, nearly 97% of its population was of white British ethnicity. Hull’s overseas born population were mostly international students. But the introduction of a Home Office dispersal system in 1999 meant that Hull began taking in asylum-seekers.

The arrival of a new group of people in poor and overwhelmingly white neighbourhoods was met with resistance. An asylum-seeker was stabbed and another lost an eye and racist attacks were frequent. But both the citizens’ panel and the stakeholders we met felt that attitudes had changed since then. A local panellist told us:

“Because we are in the far end of nowhere, and we have one road in, one road out, it’s a bit of a culture shock for a lot of people recently, I think. If you go to somewhere like Leeds, it’s a lot more multicultural, and I think for Hull in particular, it was just a bit shock, for some people, or some people are just seeing what other people have seen for a long time”

There was a recognition that asylum dispersal had prevented houses becoming derelict in the poorer parts of the city. Job growth had also brought EU migrants to Hull. By 2016, 9% of its population was born abroad, including an estimated 6,000 strong Polish community.

As in other parts of the UK, the arrival of EU migrants has been met with concerns and questions. Our citizens’ panel felt that immigration sometimes put pressure on schools and the health service. They had little trust in the Government to enforce its immigration rules and talked about “a broken system”.  But they also felt that many new arrivals had made a positive contribution to the local economy, with some setting up businesses and reviving the poorest neighbourhoods in what had been a “dying city”.

Most local residents have made the association between migration into Hull, investment and a reversal of the city’s decline. Greater prosperity has had a positive impact on most people in Hull and contributed to a growing and inclusive civil pride in the city. We felt that our visit to Hull showed how regeneration can help improve community relations where its benefits are shared fairly.

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