U.K. Predicts a Population Boom in London

By 2024, London’s population will push close to 10 million—but many northern English cities will be increasingly drained of their residents. That’s the stark picture painted by U.K. government projections released Wednesday that predict future growth across England (but not Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland).

Calculating the direction of population growth over the next eight years, Britain’s Office of National Statistics expects that the number of Londoners will reach 9.71 million by 2024. That’s a rise of 1.17 million within just a decade. To get a rough idea of the speed and volume of this growth, imagine the entire population of Brussels (1.14 million) turning up in London and looking for somewhere to live.

Within the U.K.’s capital, East London is expected to see the most dramatic growth in population. The two historically low-income boroughs of Newham and Barking and Dagenham could see growth of 17.4 percent and a 19.7 percent respectively, while the population of the east central borough of Tower Hamlets will rise by a staggering 25.1 percent, according to projections. While these are the boroughs with the fastest predicted growth, London’s expected population rise is high across the city in general, with a 13.7 projected rise overall. In a city that is already struggling to manage its housing needs, this is likely to create intense stress.

London’s growth may be the most striking, but it forms part of an overall pattern that shows England’s population concentrations shifting towards the country’s Southeast. In East and Southeast England, adjacent to the capital, the population will rise by 8.9 and 8.1 percent respectively. Further north, things are slower, but it would be mistaken to paint the picture as entirely doom-laden—no region in England will actually see a population drop. There are nonetheless many northern cities within these regions where the population will fall as people seek out jobs and opportunities elsewhere. Hardest hit will be Barrow-in-Furness and Copeland, both boroughs with lost shipbuilding industries on England’s northwest coast, which are projected to lose 4.3 and 2.4 percent of their residents respectively.

Returning to London, a breakdown of the city’s figures reveals some interesting trends. The capital will simultaneously attract new residents from outside the U.K., and lose residents to other regions within the country. Overall, seven percent of London’s inhabitants will migrate to somewhere else in the U.K. by 2024. These departees will be topped up—indeed exceeded in number—by international arrivals, who will constitute 10.2 percent of the city’s population growth between 2014 and 2024. The largest amount of population growth, however, will come not from migration but from what the report terms “natural change”—that is, the birth rate exceeding the death rate. Greater life expectancy could account for another London quirk: the capital will experience a higher rate of growth in people over 65 than anywhere else in the country.

The broad picture the report paints has some tantalizing silences. The document is not, after all, a fine-grained sociological study but a guide to help English municipalities predict how many residents they will soon need to cater for. We don’t therefor get a picture of exactly who will be leaving London—whether it’s born Londoners, people born elsewhere in the U.K., or international migrants moving on from the capital—and in what proportion. And while we know more U.K. residents will leave London than arrive, we don’t know the extent to which this ex-London exodus is being counterbalanced by other residents from other U.K. regions moving to London.

The overall picture is nonetheless dramatic. It suggests an atomized nation draining its population increasingly towards the Southeast of the country, a region centered on a global megacity destined to grow exponentially—just not necessarily with a clear idea of exactly how.

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