A growing population

A growing population

1.4  London’s population is likely to continue to grow. By the 2020s there are likely to be more Londoners than at any time in the city’s history.

1.5  The changes to London’s population since 1971 are shown in figure 1.1. London’s population grew until immediately before the Second World War. By 1939, London’s population reached its peak, at 8.6 million, following a period of large-scale development – the part of Middlesex now making up north-west London grew by around 800,000 in the 1930s. This period also saw the beginning of policies to constrain London’s physical growth (such as the Green Belt), encourage development in other parts of the country and reduce the density at which Londoners lived. Decentralisation accelerated in the post-war years with measures like the building of the new towns. As a result London’s population started to fall, reaching a low of 6.7 million in 1988.


Figure 1.1 Annual population change 1971 - 2011
Figure 1.1 Annual Population Change 1971-2011

1.6  London’s population has grown every year since 1988; even during the quite severe economic downturn of the early 1990s – indeed, growth accelerated then. It has accelerated again, and to an extent much greater than was anticipated in the 2011 London Plan.

1.7  Informed by projections that average growth between 2001 and 2011 would be in the order of 46,000 pa, that Plan was based on the assumption that London would grow by an average of 51,000 pa in the two decades to 2031. However, the 2011 Census showed that during this decade London grew at a much more substantial rate – by an average of 87,000 pa, to 8.2 mll in 2011 rather than the 7.8 mll expected by the 2011 Plan.

1.8  To understand what this might mean for the future it must be borne in mind that population projections are not based simply on historic trends, but also on the complex relationships between natural change (births and deaths which in turn are a function of age structure) and migration (flows in and out of London from internal UK and international sources). Analysis of these relationships during the inter-censal decade shows that the well-established trend for London’s births to exceed deaths continued, and indeed accelerated as expected in the projections which informed the 2011 Plan.

1.9  With the exception of a period of elevated international inflows in the middle of the decade associated with the accession of Eastern European countries to the EU, international migration flows showed little overall change over the course of the decade. Domestic net migration, however, took a different path, reducing in the second part of the decade from an annual loss of around 100,000 pa to under 50,000 pa. The level of internal in-migration grew from 170,000 pa at the start of the decade to 190,000 pa by 2008. After 2008, inflows saw an uptick, rising to over 200,000 pa.  Out migration was over 260,000 pa until 2008, after which point it fell to 240,000 pa and has yet to return to pre-2008 levels. The net effects of these migration trends during this period, driven in particular by the reduction in internal out-migration and increased domestic in migration, combined with established and significant positive natural change, underpinned higher annual increments to the population, especially since 2007.

Figure 1.2 London's population 1971 - 2036

Figure 1.2 London's population 1971 - 2036

1.10  The issue for an Alteration to a long term strategic plan such as this is not only the scale of the change itself, but whether, on balance, it is likely to be sustained consistently in to the future. This was an issue which was faced in preparing strategic plans for London in the late 80s/early 90s when it took two iterations of Strategic Planning Advice/Guidance to establish that London’s population had in fact ‘turned round’, going from decline in the post war years to growth from the late 80s.

1.10A  As noted above, there is evidence to suggest that London may not now be facing such a radical, structural change. The significant acceleration in population change highlighted by the 2011 Census appears to have coincided with a major economic downturn, albeit not one as severe (in job loss terms) as that which faced London in the late 80’s/early 90s. This nevertheless did have a major impact on the London housing market and that of the wider South East. Between 2007 and 2009 the volume of house sales fell by 53% in London, and by 47% in the wider South East, disrupting the established out migration flow between the capital and its hinterland. While transactions are again picking up, it is too soon to know what the migration implications of this may be and how they will bear on future population trends. The recently identified major up-turn in population growth may, in part at least, be based on cyclical rather than structural factors. Just how far that may be true will only become clear once data is available to test whether the trend has ‘bedded down’, and if so at what level.

Map 1.1 Distribution of London's population growth 2011 - 2036 (% growth)

Map 1.1 Distribution of London's population growth 2011-2036 (% growth)

1.10B  In such circumstances, the soundest response for this Alteration is to recognise this uncertainty and to plan for it.  The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has to some extent also recognised this, publishing projections for only the period 2011-2021. These suggest London could on average grow by some 117,000 pa to 9.37 mll in 2021.

1.10C  To provide perspective on the uncertainty in future domestic migration patterns, the GLA has produced three demographic scenarios.  All three are trend based – projecting forward using recent trends in mortality, fertility and migration. The three projections differ in their domestic migration assumptions beyond 2017. The “High” scenario assumes that the fall in net outmigration since 2008 is a long-term structural shift and that recent migration propensities will continue. The “Low” scenario assumes a return to pre-2008 domestic migration trends for projection years beyond 2017, with outmigration propensities increasing by 10% and in-migration propensities decreasing by 6%. The “Central” scenario takes the mid-point of these two sets of assumptions, with propensities increasing by 5% for outmigration and decreasing by 3% for in-migration. These projections suggest that London could grow by 91,000 – 106,000 pa in the decade to 2021, and over the term of the Plan to 2036 by 64,000 - 88,000 pa. This Alteration has been prepared using the Central population projection.

1.10D  This degree of uncertainty reinforces the importance of taking a ‘plan, monitor and manage’ approach to accommodating London’s growth. As the remaining chapters of the Plan make clear, substantial development capacity has been identified and proposed through this Alteration to seek to accommodate London’s growth in the short to medium term. This is in line with the Plan’s underlying philosophy - to seek to accommodate growth within the capital’s boundaries and without intruding on its protected green and open spaces. In the circumstances, this is the most sound approach which can be taken to London’s current demographic challenge.

1.10E  The central population projection used in preparing this Alteration therefore anticipates London’s population rising from 8.2 million in 2011, to:

  • 9.20 million in 2021;
  • 9.54 million in 2026;
  • 9.84 million in 2031; and
  • 10.11 million in 2036.

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