Saturday, 16 May 2015

OVER THE LAST TWO DECADES, one of Wisbech's most ardent campaigners has been Victoria Gillick. Here is PART FOUR of her report on the effects of immigration on Wisbech.
I make no claim over the accuracy of the statistics, and I neither endorse or refute her personal conclusions
. The report is long and detailed, so it will be published in sections over the next week or so. I have put statistical information in blue font. The remainder are Mrs Gillick's own views. YOUR VIEWS ARE WELCOME, both for and against, and you can make them known via the contact form at the bottom of the blog, or via Twitter -


A dozen or so miles down the road from King's Lynn, and sitting astride the banks of the tidal River Nene on the borders of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, is the old market town of Wisbech. Rightly designated the 'Capital of the Fens', the Town rose to prominence and architectural glory during its wealthy Mediaeval and later Georgian eras, due (it should be noted) entirely to the land skills, money know-how and dogged hard work of Fenland people. Radical to the core and with nary an aristocrat in sight, the Townsfolk stand proudly by their local reputation: Wisbech do different!
Peoplewise, Wisbech has grown huge in recent years. Today it's practically bursting at the seams, with ugly stretch marks beginning to show up all over the place. Hardly surprising really, considering the population has increased more in the last ten years than in the whole of the previous forty. But how huge is it exactly, and what's it costing the Town? And does anybody care anyway?
Well local people probably care quite a bit, the more so since no one in the citadels of Cambridge and Fenland seems very keen to discuss the subject with them. Leastways not in public. Yet backstage the bureaucrats must know what's going on here? The busy little bees must have accurate facts & figures to hand, and a host of joined-up policies in place to help Wisbechians cope with the Town's mushrooming foreign population......surely?, seemingly not.

                                      The background story

isbech Urban Area consists of the Town itself and the nearby villages of Emneth, Friday Bridge, Elm, Parson Drove, Wisbech St Mary, Gorefield and Leverington.  Forty years ago this rural area was blessed with an unusually homogeneous population of 17,015 which grew steadily during the 1970s to reach 22,930 by 1981, fruitfully replenished by a third more 20-35 year-olds than two decades earlier.13
During the early 1980s Wisbech was indeed humming in grand style, with a busy working Port, an Industrial Area and several large food processing factories. It had a Town Hall & Registry Office, plus a large District Council Office. Also a Police Station and Magistrates Court, a Main Post Office & Sorting Office, a Driving Test Centre and two local Newspaper offices. There was a General Hospital, a small Maternity Hospital and two GP surgeries. It had two Comprehensive Schools, ten Primaries, and a Special Needs school; also a free Grammar School, a Catholic Convent and a College of Further Education & Horticulture. There were four supermarkets in the Town, several chain stores, scores of independent shops and 40-50 stalls on the twice-weekly Market; also daily auctions both on and off-street, for furniture and local produce. The Town also boasted a Museum, a Library, two cinemas, two theatres, over 30 pubs and a twice-yearly Statute Fair.
                                 A developing community

By 1991 the population of Wisbech and its villages had risen by a further two thousand to 24,981, the Town's schools, shops and rural economy having been boosted during the 1980s by hosts of incoming young families, drawn to the area's affordable homes and plentiful jobs, and also by older folk seeking a blissful haven from the rat race of the big cities. A year after the Millennium festivities, the population had reached 28,380, and the age balance was looking pretty healthy.     
                                               WISBECH : 2001                                       
                                               0- 5 ................ 6%
                                               5-17 ............... 16%
                                              18-29 .............. 13% 
                                              30-49 .............. 14%
                                              50-64 .............. 25%
                                              65+ ................. 26%                                       
                                   Uncounted migrants

With the passing of the Millennium the whole social landscape of Wisbech altered, as it found itself the epicentre of an unprecedented wave of foreign settlers, though how many had come here was anybody's guess. The 2011 Census had the population of Wisbech Built Up Area (the Town and its villages) rising by 4,109 over the decade, up from 28,380 to 32,489. This figure included all the East European migrants, whose total was said to be a mere 3,289, with the main age group of working migrants, 25-34 year-olds, numbering only 1,241. Utter nonsense of course; there were obviously many thousands more than this. Nevertheless this seriously flawed Census continues to be quoted by public authorities and lazy university academics even today. 
Cambridgeshire County Council compiled its Fenland population statistics from the ONS 'annual estimates of population growth' based on the 2011 Census. Consequently it believes that the population of Wisbech Town by itself has grown by only 2,630  from 20,200 to just 22,830.15                                                     
Fenland District Council's Migrant Population Strategy (2007-10) guessed that East Europeans in Wisbech numbered "about 2,000".  In 2014 it was still quoting from its 2010 'Index of Multiple Deprivation in Fenland' which had stated that "....Fenland is becoming increasingly ethnically diverse, however a greater proportion of the population (than the national average) are White British (96.9%). (Please note: figures are from 2001 Census - no update available)....." 16    

Cambridge University
researchers evidently made no effort to visit the Town before compiling their £20,000 report for the County Council in March 2014 ('Economic analysis of the Wisbech travel to work area'). Instead they simply quoted the nonsensical 2011 Census statistics on employment in Wisbech, which had just 718 residents working in agriculture, and 1,758 in food manufacturing.

Meanwhile, take a walk through Wisbech any day of the week and the real state of affairs becomes only too glaringly apparent. As long ago as 2005 a local Estate Agent reported the cheerful news that a quarter of the Town was now made up of East Europeans.17 In other words, the Town's former population of around 20,200 had been swelled by almost 7,000 foreigners.                                                     
No wonder the Estate Agent sounded so chipper. A year earlier they had only two or three rental properties on their books, and now already had between 15 and 20. By that time, of course, speculating landlords had begun buying up every otherwise unsaleable property in the Town, kitting them out as 'multi-lets' and charging the foreign newcomers £50 - £60 per person/per room.
The future was indeed looking jolly rosy......for those in the letting business. 
Then in March 2014 a railway study, undertaken for the County Council by engineering firm Mott MacDonald, disputed the 2011 Census total of 22,830 for Wisbech Town, as their own research suggested it "....could be significantly higher -around 35%- due to the substantial migrant labour population serving the agri-food industry, which are not captured in the official figures."18 

The truth was out at last: the Town's migrant workers had numbered around 8,000 in 2011. On top of that figure, however, one must add the many non-working migrants (children, pensioners and unemployed) plus all those arriving here since the Census. Taken all together, the current population of the Town is therefore nearer 33,000, a third of whom are foreign migrants.

Wisbech has thus grown by 63% in the last 13 years, with the proportion of East Europeans rising inexorably year on year.
                                      Vanishing locals

he 2011 Census could at least be trusted on its figures for the indigenous population. These revealed that since 2001 the number of local people in Wisbech and its villages had actually fallen by 580, to 27,791. The decrease was largely due to a thousand fewer 25-34 year-olds (those born in the 'baby-bust' years of the mid-1970s and 80s). At the same time there has also been a steady exodus of skilled and unskilled young adults quitting the Fens in search of jobs and homes elsewhere. The loss of so many local men and women in their 'parenthood' years has inevitably meant less Wisbechian babies too, hence almost 500 fewer under-16s than a decade earlier.                                       

                                WISBECH & Villages (Built up Area)  :  2001 - 201114