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Population growth drives housing crisis

The  UK’s dramatic population growth projection by the Office for National Statistics – 11 million more people by 2035, equivalent to 22 more Manchesters, mostly in England, already Europe’s most overcrowded country, will have damaging consequences for everyone (except the construction industry), a new Population Matters report on housing  reveals.

The report notes that one million children were estimated to live in overcrowded homes in 2008/9, and this is likely to rise with population growth and falling house sizes. The report references the declining room sizes for UK new builds over the last twenty years to some of the lowest in Europe and the frustration and stress this causes.  Children’s quality of life, health outcomes and life chances are all affected by overcrowding.

Taking the most dramatic example, the report states that London is generally acknowledged to be in a housing crisis. The population is steadily increasing. New home starts fell between 2004 and 2009 although they are now increasing a little. Market prices in London are 70% higher than the country as a whole, while the rents of privately rented accommodation (comprising 20% of London households) are 64% higher. A third of a million families are on social or affordable housing waiting lists. Social trends such as adult children remaining at home and multi-generational families may accelerate in consequence.

It notes the 280,000 homes which lie empty for six months or more, though acknowledging that addressing this is not enough on its own to deal with housing need.  It also notes the growing number of single person households arising from an ageing population and the additional pressure this is putting in the housing stock.

The report looks at the impact of development on biodiversity and amenity: for example, the loss of playing fields to development.  In addition to housing, population growth generates additional demand for food, water, energy, waste, transport, employment opportunities and leisure facilities.  These all require infrastructure and generate demand for goods and services, so increase impact on the environment while reducing sustainability.  Population growth also increases carbon emissions and thus contributes to our climate change challenge.

Looking ahead, the report finds that ‘Population growth is the major contributory factor for housing expansion. In one planning model, the population level accounted for 72% of projected household growth in England from 2008-2033.’ With the prompt introduction of effective low fertility policies and net zero migration, UK population growth from 2010 to 2035 would be 6m, compared to the principal projection of 11m, and the high projection of 15m, significantly reducing the demand for additional housing.

“These numbers are alarming, and this growth is clearly unsustainable.” said Population Matters chair Roger Martin. “Once again, they demonstrate the urgent need for a population stabilisation policy”.