Redbridge: is London its very own ‘crowded island’?

The National Conversation continued its tour around the country, visiting Redbridge, an ethnically diverse outer London borough. Redbridge’s houses and streets tell a story about integration in Britain. It is a place where generations of immigrants settled, on their journey from the East End to the Home Counties. Many Redbridge residents have Irish ancestors and there is a large Jewish community. The Bangladeshi community in Redbridge is growing, too, as first generation migrants are moving out of central London to more affluent neighbourhoods. This trend, alongside increased longevity, has led to population growth, with Redbridge’s residents numbering 241,000 in 2001, growing to 299,000 by 2016.

Our Redbridge citizen’s panel reflected this migration journey, with most of its participants having parents, grandparents or more distant forebears who came to the UK as migrants.

“I’m the son of an immigrant, as maybe a few of us are here. It has a lot of bearing on what I think… The UK is the golden opportunity and the doors are wide open and I just think there needs to be a limit, that’s all.”  

Much opinion polling has suggested that London’s population has more positive views about immigration compared to the rest of the UK. Family histories of migration – as we saw in Redbridge – alongside everyday social contact between people of different ethnic groups are factors that may cause these differences. The visit to Redbridge gave the National Conversation the opportunity to compare the views of people living in London with those of the rest of the country.

“In general, immigration has been good, but it’s the way it’s been handled. Too many, too soon.” 

The majority of the citizens’ panel participants felt that immigration had had an overall positive effect, suggesting that London did fall on the liberal side of the immigration debate. There was agreement in the room, though, that the speed and numbers entering the country and entering Redbridge had some negative effects, as investment in public services and infrastructure had not caught up with population growth.

There was a real concern that rapid migration over the last 15 years had placed major pressures on housing and public services. Participants told of their personal experiences in struggling to book GP’s appointments. While the panel was clear that migrants were not personally at fault, they felt that rapid migration had worsened shortages of social and private-rented housing. While such views about housing and NHS pressures had been raised elsewhere in the country, uniquely this panel felt that immigration had worsened the borough’s traffic jams.

“I’ve lived in this area all of my life…  and now getting here can take like twenty minutes, half an hour to go not far at all. And I think that’s a result of how many people we’ve got moving into the area”. 

The idea of a crowded island was raised throughout the meeting with participants feeling that London had experienced uniquely high levels of immigration.

“I think a lot of people are trying to come to London, maybe it’s the first people dispersing outside of London, it’s certain boroughs, and certain regions that are taking the most weight, and it’s like, well maybe you could spread that out”.

London may seem exceptional in its views on immigration, but just as elsewhere in the country, common themes as well as more locally focused issues were raised by those we met. Population pressure was the dominant local issue in Redbridge, which was raised by everyone, irrespective of their ethnic origin or family history. Over the last 15 years, 60,000 have been added to the population of Redbridge:  it is understandable why there was a heightened concern that .

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