Page last updated at 00:53 GMT, Wednesday, 9 June 2010 01:53 UK

Forum for the Future calls for 'open' population debate

By Roger Harrabin
BBC environment analyst

Britain full sign
If the UK's economy fares badly, some immigrants may be deterred

Britain needs a national debate on the effect of rapid population growth on government policy and people's quality of life, a think tank has said.

Forum for the Future says institutions have not begun to consider the implications of having a projected 70 million people in the UK by 2030.

This is the equivalent of adding a city as big as Bristol every year, it says.

It says new houses, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure will be needed and food and water demands will grow.

The report by Forum, a group that focuses on sustainable development, also says that waste and pollution will increase.

'Grown-up' debate

The authors say London, the south east of England, the Midlands and the north west of England will become even more crowded unless government encourages population growth in areas which can best accommodate it, such as Scotland.

They call for improved family planning and say the UK needs a grown-up debate on the implications of immigration, without descending into racism and xenophobia.

Forum director Sara Parkin said: "We'll need more attractive and effective family planning services, and we'll also have to get the right infrastructure into the right places.

"A step change in investment, innovation - and imagination - is essential too so any rise in numbers of people does not mean a rise in CO2 emissions or a fall in quality of life."

The report, Growing Pains, makes the following recommendations to policy makers:

  • Plan for what is coming All major public infrastructure bodies should begin detailed planning to ensure there are adequate public services, infrastructure, jobs and training
  • Use what we have more efficiently Zero-carbon homes, maximising the use of technologies based on renewable energy, improved water efficiency, innovative ways to reduce flood risk and an efficient transport system will all be essential. Policy should direct population growth to parts of the UK best able to support it
  • Rethink 'growth' Our current economic model, which relies on constant population growth to supply skills and pay for an ageing population, is an unsustainable pyramid scheme. We need to come up with alternative economic models and evaluate success on the basis of well-being and quality of life, not consumption
  • Develop new attitudes to ageing We should value the contribution older people can make to society, and adopt a more flexible approach to family, work and education throughout people's lives. We need more focus on healthier lives throughout old age, not just longer lives
  • Enhance family planning We should improve targeted education and make contraception more easily available in the UK and worldwide. In the UK about 40% of pregnancies are unplanned

The report comes at a particularly challenging time as many of the recommendations on infrastructure entail public spending while budgets are being cut.

There must also be a question mark on the accuracy of the government's 2030 projection of a 70 million population.

If the UK economy fares very badly over coming years it is possible that some immigrants will be deterred from seeking to build lives in the UK.

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