London leads the way in UK population increase

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The Independent Online

The population of London is expected to increase by almost 20 per cent over the next two decades. The total will have grown by more than a million, to about 8.8 million, by 2029.

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) yesterday revealed that the capital's population growth will be the biggest for any of the regions of England. The predictions underline the need for a rapid increase in house-building in London and the South-east.

According to ONS analysis, the number of people living in England as a whole will increase by 12.7 per cent, from 50,093,100 in 2004 to 56,456,600 in 2029. The estimates are based on the assumption that current population trends continue for the next 20 years.

They also show how rates of growth vary widely between the different areas of England. Predictions for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are not yet available. Population growth will be slowest in the North-east, where the number of residents will rise by 3.7 per cent to an estimated 2.6 million.

Outside London, the fastest growth will be seen in the South-west, where the number of people will rise by 16.4 per cent to almost six million. Demographers say the population growth in the region will stem from the continuing trend for people to retire to Devon, Cornwall and other rural counties and a growing desire to escape urban pressures for a life in the countryside.

The trends are also being fuelled by the ageing population of the country. In 2004, 3.8 million residents were aged 75 or over; by 2029, 6.3 million people will be in that age group. By contrast, a much more modest increase in the number of children within the English population will occur over the next 20 years, from 2.8 million under-fours in 2004 to 3.04 million.

Population growth will be slower in regions such as the North-west, at 7.4 per cent, and the West Midlands, 7.8 per cent. But it will be almost double those rates in Yorkshire and Humberside, where the number of residents is expected to increase by more than 13 per cent over the period to 5.7 million people.

A larger than average increase will also be experienced in the East, of 14.9 per cent, from 5.4 million in 2004 to a 2029 estimate of 6.3 million.

Much of the predicted increase in England's population will come from immigration. Figures released last month by the ONS showed that the population of the whole of the United Kingdom passed 60 million for the first time in 2005. Two thirds of the 375,000-strong increase in people living in the UK last year was attributed to international migration, while a third was a result of "natural change" - more births and fewer deaths.

A Home Office spokesman said: "This country needs migration; tourists, students and migrant workers who make a valuable contribution.

"The UK has many highly skilled migrants working in the finance and IT sectors as well as skilled professionals like nurses, doctors and teachers in our key public services."

In response to claims that the influx of migrant workers, particularly from eastern Europe, was leading to rising unemployment and falling wages, the spokesman said: "Research has found no evidence that migration as a whole has a significant adverse effect on the employment rates or wages of the existing population."

He added that population increase in London and the South-east was the consequence of a free market economy and a flexible labour market, with more than 600,000 job vacancies in the UK, many of them in London and the South-east.