1. Environmental
February 2, 2015

Where will all those extra Londoners live?

By Jonn Elledge

We hate to say we told you so (actually, that’s a lie, it’s basically what we live for), but we did, in fact, tell you so. So: we told you so.

There, we’ve said it.

Here’s what we told you. According to figures published this morning by London’s City Hall, there are now more than 8.6m Londoners, meaning the city has finally overtaken the previous population record it set in 1939. By 2050, City Hall thinks, that number will have risen to 11m. None of this is news, of course (did we mention that we’d told you so?) but it’s now officially official.

The city authorities are using all this to remind the national government of the importance of giving London lots more money for infrastructure, and to demand more powers over things like property taxes. This is a debate that’s going to run for some time, though, so let’s think about something else. Let’s ask: where are all those extra Londoners going to go?

Working this out will be no easy matter: even the figures covering London’s current population are actually just projections, based on 2011 census figures and the trends observed since. (No one has actually counted those 8.6m Londoners.) Nonetheless, City Hall has published figures showing which bits of London it expects to grow the most.

First, though, let’s look at which bits of London it thinks are growing now. Here’s a bar chart showing the speed at which different boroughs have grown since the 2011 census. We’ve included the same figures for inner London, outer London and the whole shebang.

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A bar chart with 36 different bars can be hard to make sense of, though, so let’s project the same data onto a map.

Here we’ve colour-coded the boroughs by the rate of their recent expansion, relative to their existing population. We’ve also included numbers, representing the extra population in thousands.

Two trends leap out at you. One is that inner London is growing faster than outer London: the depopulation of the city which characterised the decades after World War Two is going into reverse. The other is that much of the growth is crowded into the boroughs bordering the Thames in East London, where there’s a lot of ex-industrial land. It’s a sort of “Greater Docklands” phenomenon.

One slight oddity, though, is Barnet, the large borough that lies way up in the north west. It’s grown so fast recently that officials think it’s now snatched Croydon’s crown to become London’s most popular borough.

So much for the present. Here’s the future:

All the trends we’ve already highlighted are expected to  continue. East London is going to get much more populated; inner London will grow faster than outer London; Barnet continues to boom. But the boroughs of west London are set to get more crowded too, as are the relatively slow-growing parts of East London: one suspects this to be an overspill from the completion of Crossrail.

To give you some more detail, here’s a bar chart. The main takeaway is that inner London is expected to grow quite a lot faster than outer London.

Here’s one last chart. On this one the blue bars represent the boroughs’ populations in the 2011 census. The red section is the additional residents they’re thought to have gained since; the green is those they’re expected to pick up by 2039.

We’ve ordered them by the absolute size of the population increase. The boroughs on the left are getting a lot more populated; those on the right aren’t.

We noted the other day that Bromley, right down in the city’s south eastern corner, could accommodate an enormous number of extra people: at the moment, it’s more than 50 per cent green space. And yet, in the decades to come, it’s hardly expected to expand at all.

So, thanks, Bromley. Thanks for everything.

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