What is the effect on the district of migration from the capital? Columnist Dave Wilson explores the “Down From London” phenomenon:
How many Londoners does it take to change a city? Two: one to order the single estate hand-picked cold-pressed Colombian coffee, and one to sit down and write about it.
So here I am, with my coffee.
It is, though, worth considering this seriously: 3,700 people moved into our district from London last year. Clearly, some locals feel that this influx – even though it is only 2% of our population – is having some unwelcome effects. But is that fair?
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Those 3,700 people are of course just part of a continuing trend – Whitstable has long been a location of choice for people moving from London, Herne Bay is also seeing that, and as we build more houses in the district mostly marketed at higher income families this is almost certain to continue.
The High Speed train service has obviously attracted London commuters to our city too, as the swelling numbers on the trains up to London show.
So the question is not whether it is happening or whether it’s desirable, but what the effects will be.
That’s not quite as simple a question as it may appear, not least because although Londoners in general might share some characteristic traits, they are far from all the same. It is arguable that this diversity could be positive for our district.
You might have an idea of a typical Londoner: socially liberal, well educated, well off (having sold their London home for a stupid amount of money), interested in the arts and culture.
While some might fit that pattern, it’s certainly not a universal set of attributes. Humans being so intent on individuality and having different backgrounds and life experiences, it is actually difficult to predict what they might believe and want and do.
It’s probably also a mistake to think that, even en masse, Londoners are generally different from the people who make up Canterbury, Whitstable and the district.
After all, we already have two big universities with their attendant teaching staff who might meet all the characteristics I used to describe Londoners, and some local residents are, in an economic sense at least, quite like those who have moved into Howe Barracks from the London Borough of Redbridge since 2016.
In essence, it’s dangerous to generalise about groups of people based on where they come from. So, of course, that’s what I’m going to do. Because there are some general things we can say about Londoners that, as a whole, can be evidenced.
Firstly, they tend to be more ethnically mixed than Canterbury has been. That, in my book, is a wholly good thing because it not only adds new perspectives and opportunities to our city’s culture, but it creates the chance for locals to see that, at heart, people want the same things no matter their ethnicity.
There is nothing to fear from people simply because they look different. Even in multicultural Britain, most of us share the same aspirations and moral values – British values, we take to heart.
Also, many commuters have a higher average income than others in the district, even after paying Southeastern Trains more than £6,000 a year for their rail fare.
That doesn’t just feed into higher house prices, but into demand for better restaurants, pubs and amenities. It’s not a coincidence, for example, that we now have a Curzon cinema and a Waitrose in the city, which six years ago we didn’t.
And we have better restaurants opening, outside the city centre at least, even while the chains struggle in the high street.
Finally Londoners tend, very slightly, to be more left-wing politically. Obviously that’s not universally true, but in a constituency which suddenly became a Labour marginal in 2017 even a slight majority for Labour among the influx could be critical.
That might be one reason the Tories are so keen to drop Whitstable into a coastal constituency and add Faversham to Canterbury, thereby dividing those pesky Labour supporting DFLs in two.
But if the current rate of migration from London continues, even that might not save them. Only time will tell.
Dave Wilson is a Labour Party member and community activist who has worked in and around local authorities for 35 years. He is a trustee of Kent Savers Credit Union and the Westgate Hall in Canterbury.