Here are five maps showing how London’s population is changing

A generic photograph of London to illustrate this story about London. Image: Getty.

London’s population is changing at a rapid pace. But how much do we know about the changing face of the city? Where do new Londoners come from, and where do Londoners who leave the city go to? What are the most popular languages? Which areas are seeing the biggest influx?

To answer these burning questions and more, here are five maps which paint a picture of the Londoners of today.

Foreign arrivals

London has long been an attractive destination for people from outside the UK to come to, seeking work and opportunity.

They need a national insurance number (NINo) to legally work in this country – and registration data shows how the numbers and location of these has changed over time.

Total registrations fell 16 per cent in the last year, to just over 58,600, with a divergence in the number of EU and non-EU registrations. Though NINo registrations from the EU increased 11 per cent in the last decade, since 2014 they’ve fallen by 15 per cent. In contrast, whereas non-EU registrations have fallen by 45 per cent in the last decade, the last four years have seen an 11 per cent increase.

 

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While some areas of London have remained a hotspot for new arrivals over this whole period, others have seen their fortunes fade. Outer North and East London boroughs have seen the largest percentage declines in NINo registrations – with the highest falls in Redbridge (-27.6), Harrow (-23.5) and Newham (-22.9). Lambeth and the City fell by only -1.9 and -4.1 respectively, the lowest falls recorded.

London’s languages

With an increasingly foreign-born population residing in the capital, London’s children are more likely than ever to speak English as a second language at home. And the change has been happening faster in some areas of the city than others.

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The picture is diverse across the capital. Comparing 2017 to a decade earlier, outer London boroughs show a more significant change in the proportion of primary school students who speak English as a second language, albeit often from a low base.

Though the gap has largely narrowed by the time they reach secondary school, pupils with English as a second language (EAL) often lag behind at primary level. Language needs represent a challenge to primary teaching, particular given that many are facing funding cuts.

A growing population

Population projections – though often wrong – anticipate that London’s population will continue to grow quickly well into the middle of the century.

London’s population is undergoing significant changes, with internal population churn combining with newly arriving residents to create a patchwork of areas with falling, slowly increasing and rapidly growing populations.

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Some of the areas with highest forecast growth include along the Thames and Lee Valley in East London – where new developments are set to transform whole districts – as well as other locations across the capital where large developments will house future Londoners. While no borough is forecast to see a fall in its population over the next decade, parts of Bromley, Hillingdon and Barnet are likely to see the slowest growth.

A shifting population

While London welcomes many new arrivals each year; it also bids farewell to those departing. The next map shows where Londoners are moving from, and where they are choosing to move to. While 416,000 Londoners moved across London’s borough boundaries, 336,000 people left the capital in the last year, and only 230,000 people from the rest of their country made their home here.

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Undeterred by a 19 per cent squeeze on new starter wages since the financial crisis, university towns such as Oxford, Cambridge and Exeter, continue to feed a high number of graduates into the capital, as do Birmingham, Brighton and Bristol. The map also shows an outflow of residents from London’s suburbs, with commuter boroughs to the east of London such as Dartford and Thurrock faring the worst, with net losses of over 3,000 people.

An ageing population

While London is a young city – and will continue to be so, relative to the rest of the UK – it is growing older; with the number of people aged 65 set to grow to 1.2 million by 2024. This will have big implications for service delivery, particularly healthcare and social care, but also accessibility, with only 27 per cent of London’s tube stations currently step-free.

While all boroughs are ageing (as measured by the change in the old age dependency ratio), those to the North and West show the most significant increases. In Harrow, 15 per cent of residents are aged 65 and over, compared to just 9 per cent in Barking and Dagenham.

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Much of London policy is predicated on continued population growth. Yet London’s population grew at just 0.6 per cent in the year to mid-2017, its slowest rate in over a decade, and almost half the growth rate of the year previously.

Expectations of continued growth are reflected in yearly projections, and though the city isn’t yet shrinking, its growth is falling short of forecasts, with most recent figures 0.9 per cent lower than expected.


London’s population is in flux, yet it is far from a city of transients, with 70 per cent of Londoners living here for at least a decade – and London identity as strong as it was 40 years ago.

Erica Belcher is research assistant at Centre for London, on whose blog this article first appeared. You can follow her on Twitter, if you wish.

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So why is Peterborough growing so quickly?

Peterborough Cathedral. Image: Jules & Jenny/Flickr/creative commons.

The latest instalment of our series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities.  

The 2001 census put the population of Peterborough at 156,000. Some time before next spring, it’s projected to pass 200,000. That, for those keeping score, is an increase of about 28 per cent. Whether this makes it the fastest growing city in Britain or merely the second or the fourth – the vagueness of Britain’s boundaries means that different reports reach different conclusions – doesn’t really matter. This is a staggering rate of growth.

Oh, and since austerity kicked in, the city council has had its grant from central government cut by 80 percent.

Expansion on this scale and at this rate is the sort of thing that’d have a lot of councils in our NIMBY-ish political culture breaking out in hives; that seems to go double for Tory-run ones in Leave-voting areas. This lot, though, seem to be thriving on it. “I think the opportunity in Peterborough is fantastic,” says Dave Anderson, the city’s interim planning director. “We’re looking at growing to 235,000 by the mid-2030s.”

More striking still is that the Conservative council leader John Holdich agrees. “I’m a believer in ‘WIMBY’: what in my back yard?” he says. He’s responsible, he says, not just to his electorate, but “to our future kids, and grandkids” too – plus, at that rate of growth, a lot of incomers, too.

All this raises two questions. Why is Peterborough growing so quickly? And what can it do to prepare itself?

If you’re a little uncertain exactly where Peterborough is, don’t worry, you’re in good company. Until 1889, the “Soke of Peterborough” was an unlikely east-ward extrusion from Northamptonshire, far to its south west. Then it was a county in its own right; then part of the now-defunct Huntingdonshire. Today it’s in Cambridgeshire, with which it shares a metro mayor, the Conservative James Palmer. When I ask Holdich, who’s giving me a whistlestop tour of the city’s cathedral quarter, to explain all this, he just shrugs. “They keep moving us about.”

Sitting on the edge of the Fens, Peterborough is, officially, a part of the East of England region; but it’s just up the road from East Midlands cities including Leicester and Nottingham. I’d mentally pigeonholed it as a London-commuter town, albeit a far flung one; but when I actually looked it up, I was surprised to discover it was closer to Birmingham (70 miles) than London (75), and halfway up to Hull (81).


The more flattering interpretation of all this is that it’s on a bit of a crossroads: between capital and north, East Anglia and the Midlands. On the road network, that’s literally true – it’s where the A1 meets the A47, the main east-west road at this latitude – and railway lines extend in all directions, too.

All of which makes Peterborough a pretty nifty place to be if you’re, say, a large logistics firm.

This has clearly contributed to the city’s growth. “It has access to lots of land and cheaper labour than anywhere else in the Greater South East,” says Paul Swinney, director of policy at the Centre for Cities. “Those attributes appeal to land hungry, low-skilled business as opposed to higher-skilled more knowledge-based ones.”

That alone would point to a similar economy to a lot of northern cities – but there’s another thing driving Peterborough’s development. Despite being 70 miles from the capital, the East Coast Main Line means it’s well under an hour away by train.

In 1967, what’s more, the ancient cathedral city was designated a new town, to house London’s overspill population. The development corporation which owned the land and built the new town upon it, evolved into a development agency; today the same role is played by bodies like Opportunity Peterborough and the Peterborough Investment Partnership.

The city also offers relatively cheap housing: you can get a four-bed family home for not much over £200,000. That’s fuelled growth further as London-based workers scratch around for the increasingly tiny pool of places that are both commutable and affordable.

The housing affordability ratio shows average house prices as a multiple of average incomes. Peterborough is notably more affordable than Cambridge, London and the national average. Image: Centre for Cities data tool.

It’s made it attractive to service businesses, too. “London has probably played quite a big role in the city’s development,” says Swinney. “If you don’t want to move too far out, it’s probably one of the cheapest places to move to.”

The result of all this is that it has an unusually mixed economy. There’s light industry and logistics, in the office and warehouse parks that line the dual-carriageways (“parkways”) of the city. But there are also financial services and digital media companies moving in, bringing better paying jobs. In a country where most city economies are built on either high value services or land-hungry warehousing businesses, Peterborough has somehow managed to create a mixed economy.

Peterborough’s industrial profile: more services and less manufacturing, and more private and fewer public sector jobs, than the national average. Image: Centre for Cities.

At the moment, if people think of Peterborough at all, they’re likely to imagine a large town, rather than the fair-size regional city it’s on course to become. Its glorious 12th century cathedral – the hallmark of an ancient city, and at 44m still by far the highest spot on the horizon for miles around – is stunning. But it’s barely known to outsiders, and at least twice on my tour, the council’s communications officer proudly announces that the Telegraph named her patch as one of the best towns to live in within an hour of London, before adding, “even though we’re a city”. 

So part of the council’s current mission is to ensure that Peterborough has all the amenities people would expect from a settlement on this scale. “What the city needs to do is to adopt the mind-set of a slightly larger city,” says Anderson. Slightly smaller Swansea is developing a new music arena, of the sort Peterborough doesn’t have and needs. He frets, too, about retail spend “leaking” to Cambridge or Leicester. “Retail is now seen as a leisure activity: in the core of the city it’s important that offer is there.”

To that end, the early 1980s Queensgate shopping centre is being redeveloped, with John Lewis giving up a chunk of space to provide a new city centre cinema. (At present, the area only has road-side suburban multiplexes.) There’s major office, retail and housing development underway at North Westgate, as well as work to improve the walking route between the station and the commercial centre, in a similar manner to Coventry.

Fletton Quays. Image: Peterborough Investment Partnership.

Then there’s the city’s underused riverside. The council recently moved to new digs, in Fletton Quays, on the far bank of the River Nene from the centre. Across the river from the Embankment, the city centre’s largest green space, it’s a pretty lovely spot, of the sort where one might expect riverside pubs or restaurants with outdoor seating – but at the moment the space is largely empty. The Fletton Quays development will change all that, bringing more retail space and yes, new homes, too.

Jobs in Peterborough are unusually distributed around town: in many cities, most jobs are in the central business district. Image: Centre for Cities.

The big thing everyone agrees is missing, though, is a university. It already has the University Centre Peterborough, where degrees are provided by Anglia Ruskin University. The plan is for the site – a joint venture between ARU and Peterborough Regional College – to go its own way as an independent institution, the University of Peterborough, in autumn 2022. That should help provide the skills that the city needs to grow. A growing student population should also bring life and cash to the city centre. 

How big could Peterborough get? Could its enviable combination of good location and cheap housing and grand ambitions combine to make it the modern equivalent of Manchester or Liverpool – one of the great cities of the 21st century?

Well, probably not: “I think the optimum size for a city is probably about 250,000,” says Holdich. But that’s still a whole quarter bigger than now, and the council leader even discusses the possibility of refitting his dual-carriageway-based-city with some kind of light rail network to service that growing population. Peterborough’s not done growing yet.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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