There are few cities more attractive than York, which is why so many people are drawn to it – not just to visit but to live. But are they necessarily the right type of people?
Some on the council think not. A victim of its own success, one elected official called it this week, upon learning that nearly half the flats in a new block at Bishophill had gone to buyers from outside the area.
The pejorative use of the word ‘victim’ in the context of new arrivals suggests that they are not welcome. No one said so in those terms, but it was clearly the elephant in the room.
What was it that had made them undesirable? Not their nationality and certainly not their social standing, for they had each paid around £400,000 for their new homes.
No – it was their age.
These were southerners who’d had the brass neck to retire and up sticks to somewhere more pleasant and still slightly cheaper than Watford.
The “risk”, as someone else on the council put it, was that the more retirees York attracted, the more it would have to spend on social care for them in the years to come.
I’m beginning to sense a pattern. Many communities in the Yorkshire Dales have become almost exclusively enclaves for the rich and retired, to the point where young families are priced out and the long-term survival of the villages threatened. Consequently, initiatives have been put in place to redress the balance before it is too late.
That’s understandable and indeed inevitable, but to discourage retirees from a thriving city like York is another matter entirely. If this were any other demographic, it would be shouted down as discrimination.
Besides, the planners had approved the flats at Bishophill in the knowledge that they would be sold exclusively to those over 60.
It raises the question: if wealthy retirees are not to be welcomed in purpose-built accommodation in a big city, lest they become a burden to the economy, just where are they supposed to go?
I don’t wish to be over-dramatic, but I find this insidious. It’s a micro-economic version of the debate over “good” and “bad” immigration that begat Brexit. You come up here, claiming our benefits – go back to Watford, where you came from; that’s the subtext.
It certainly it made me reassess the back-of-an-envelope calculations I had done on holiday in North Wales last week. Retirement properties along the coast there are ten-a-penny, and the area is supposed to be a haven for those retreating from the rat race.
But would there be an undercurrent of seething resentment were I to pitch up there? It’s not so very long since the Free Wales Army was setting fire to the cottages of unwanted ofcumdens.
And would the reception be any less hostile in Bridlington, Scarborough or the other coastal idylls of the East and North Ridings? Communities there are ageing at twice the rate of other areas, and there were warnings this week from a think tank called the Resolution Foundation, of a generation gap tearing Britain apart. The countryside and coast was growing old, it said, as younger people headed for the cities. Richmondshire in North Yorkshire was among those worst affected.
There is a balance to be struck, obviously. The future of entire towns and villages is more important than the aspirations of individuals.
On the other hand, those who have worked and paid their national insurance for half a century are not pariahs; they are entitled to reap the benefits without necessarily remaining trapped in the commuter belts they buckled themselves into in their 30s.
In the US, there are whole towns that market themselves on the lifestyle they offer to retirees – not just golf courses and hair salons but also tax incentives and free college courses. And while the landscape here is thankfully different – we don’t go around just shooting those we don’t like – there is nevertheless a marketing opportunity for some enterprising council.
As the Resolution Foundation noted, policy-makers and politicians are going to have to get their heads around the economic consequences – positive as well as negative – of the migration of retirees and young families alike. York, with its advantage of relative prosperity, would be a good place to start building bridges, not putting up walls.