June 7, 2016 / 2:39 PM / 4 years ago

'Brexit' debate divides neighbouring English cities

CAMBRIDGE/PETERBOROUGH, England (Reuters) - Cambridge and Peterborough may be less than 40 miles (60 km) apart but the two English cities could hardly be more different when it comes to Britain’s looming referendum on whether to remain in the European Union or to leave.

A British Union flag is seen flying outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, June 1, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Cambridge, famed for its 800-year-old university and booming high-tech sector, strongly supports EU membership, opinion polls show, while Peterborough has turned very eurosceptic under the pressure of high levels of eastern European immigration.

Cambridge’s academic prowess is a big draw for researchers, scientists and innovators from EU countries taking advantage of their right to free movement within the EU. Many fear they may lose the right to work in Britain if the nation votes to leave the bloc on June 23.

“We should be making it easier for the best people to come here and contribute, not make it harder,” said Julian Huppert of the “Scientists for the EU” group and a former member of parliament for Cambridge.

“People who live here, people who work in the universities, people who work in the high-tech sector, in the hospitals, they really are worried what the consequences would be. They can see a really bad effect if we were to leave.”

    But many residents of Peterborough bemoan a dramatic rise in immigration largely from eastern Europe, saying it has put a squeeze on housing, public services and social cohesion.

Placards for the Leave campaign are visible around the cathedral city, which like many other places in Britain has now become home to Polish grocery stores and Lithuanian restaurants, Bulgarian builders and Romanian plumbers.

Peterborough has drawn many migrants to its agricultural sector and packing plants and is among the UK’s fastest growing cities, with growth rates more than twice the national average between 2004 and 2014, according to research group Centre for Cities. In February, it ranked as the second most eurosceptic area in Britain, according to YouGov research.

“I’m all for immigration but this country is getting a bit too over-populated for the amount of land mass we actually have,” resident Hannah Cooper said. “That’s my reason for voting out.”

Vote Leave campaigners say they believe at least 60 percent of Peterborough’s population will vote for Brexit.

But not everyone complains about the influx of eastern Europeans.

“As long as people are working and paying that bit into the economy, then I’ve got absolutely no problem at all with people coming over here,” flower seller Tom Killigrew said. “It doesn’t bother me in the slightest.”

Reporting By Georgina Cooper and Alex Fraser; Editing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Gareth Jones

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