Yesterday we had this headline in The Independent – Bishops slam Cameron’s refugee crisis response and urge him to take in 50,000 Syrians. Leaving aside the fact that the Prime Minister cannot physically take in anyone – but some would say has taken in the whole electorate – their point is that Britain should provide more space for refugees. However none of the bishops seemed to have a plan for how that could be achieved on the temporal, rather than spiritual, plane.
In unrelated news last week we had the strong rumour that more British steel-making plants are expected to close soon. This story coming just weeks after the demise of the steel plant at Redcar. And for Redcar this meant that their main employer had gone bust with no prospect of being replaced. The town now seems certain to see an exodus of population, decline in trade and increase in state dependence. The obvious answer was to re-nationalise the plant and sell UK steel to UK businesses at a loss – assuming that cheap imports could not be banned. But that solution has already been dismissed out of hand by the Government.
So rather than seeing this as two problems, one issue could turn out to be a solution to the other. In summary the plan is – make Redcar into a Special Economic Zone (SEZ), move out the remaining residents and move in the Syrian refugees. Clearly this would create objections from the local NIMBYs but since they are mainly English working-class they could be totally ignored. And all the Redcar properties / businesses would then be purchased – as they have been elsewhere to accommodate things like high-speed railways.
The practical advantages of this plan over spreading the Syrian arrivals around the country are obvious. First property prices in Redcar are low – one bedroom flats are on the market for as little as £29,000 even before these plans were announced. So every home could be purchased for much less than in most other areas, especially the South East. All the properties would then be set controlled, affordable rents.
Second keeping all the new arrivals together in one town would avoid the cost and delay of teaching everyone English – both the language and standards of behaviour. Just the local signage would need to be changed. A task that could provide a little local employment.
Third this SEZ status would mean that the steel works could be reopened and operated in the same way – with the same economics – as those in China. This would provide the UK with local steel at Chinese prices and without the delay of shipping halfway round the world.
Fourth the town already has the facilities that all new migrants need when they arrive anywhere – homes, shops, schools, hospitals, GPs, dentists, fire services, police, gas, electricity, water, sewage treatment, roads and even a railway. And with the existing, reduced Redcar population of around 36,000 moved elsewhere the new Redcar SEZ should be able to handle at least 40,000 incomers without overcrowding. Apparently many of the Syrians are already trained and qualified as teachers, doctors and such; so could readily fill the posts vacated. Of course the displaced Redcarians would need to housed somewhere else but they would be much easier to assimilate – having lived in the UK long enough not to need language training, etc.
So there we have it – that’s another two problems solved. True there are a few details that need to be tidied up and legislation passed. But Grandad cannot take all the glory and would happily let some politician claim credit for this master stoke.
With more steel-making cut-backs expected to be announced tomorrow it is likely that a second Special Economic Zone will also be needed as a solution for Scunthorpe in Lincolnshire. But this is not a problem. With a current population of around 72,000 a Scunthorpe SEZ would have the capacity to accommodate twice as many as Redcar. It could, therefore, cope with both natural growth and the expected arrival of the families / relatives of the initial wave of Syrian migrants over the next few years. Sorted.