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Government / Local politics

New figures confirm that England's population is shifting remorselessly to the south

England’s population is shifting further south, according to the latest official population projections. The overall population is growing fast, and growing almost everywhere – but the growth is disproportionately in London and the South East.

The Office for National Statistics “Sub-national Population Projections” (SNPP) are the first local breakdown of the official 2014 projection for England’s growth. Today’s new figures – and the household projections that will later be based on them – are hugely important for planning. They frame the debate on where we need to build more homes, and will eventually feed through to the housing targets set in local plans.

The last breakdown, two years ago, projected growth almost everywhere, but disproportionately in the South East. These latest projections confirm this trend. There are projected to be 7.1m more people in England in 20 years time, 13 per cent more than now. But London is shown growing by 21 per cent while Greater Manchester grows only 10.2 per cent.


If these projections are correct then the capital would account for over a quarter of all England’s new population, while Greater Manchester’s share of the national population would fall.

These are trend-based projections, not forecasts and do not take account of policy decisions – Greater Manchester is currently reviewing its housing targets, and a more ambitious growth plan could help it keep up with national growth rates.

While the overall pattern is a shift in the balance of population to the South, there are plenty of exceptions, with the Midlands also showing strong growth. Corby and Coventry are both projected to grow by more than 1 per cent a year for the next 20 years.

Of particular interest to planners is how these projections differ from the previous ones (these are based on trends in the 2014 data; the last were 2012-based). Here the picture is more mixed with growth revised up or down across the country.

In the map below, while almost everywhere is growing, the pink areas show areas where those growth projections have been scaled down; blue is where the projected growth has been raised.

The fastest-growing district, Tower Hamlets in London, has also had the biggest upward revision of its growth, with a projected increase of 35 per cent in the next 20 years, compared to 30 per cent previously projected. The population of the fastest shrinking district (Barrow-in-Furness) is now projected to fall by 8 per cent rather than 4 per cent.

In between these extremes the pattern is very varied, with the biggest proportional reductions in growth projections coming in East Cambridgeshire, Swindon and Slough. The north-south population shift is still progressing rapidly, but on these projections it is not accelerating.

DCLG plans to bring forward the household projections that are based on these population projections, with publication possibly this summer. I previously discussed household projections and their implications here.

Barney Stringer is a director of regeneration consultancy Quod, who writes about cities, economics and infrastructure. This article was originally posted on his blog here.
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