The first results from the 2021 Census were published earlier today. Besides being a source of amusement for our descendants to look back on in 100 years’ time and see what we were all up to, the aggregated results are essential in understanding the shape of the population at a local level – which in turn informs all sorts of things from local service planning to housing targets.
Using Census figures taken from the middle of a pandemic will make these essential tasks much more difficult, and in some areas, the more detailed data (when released) will be odd to say the least.
Take the map below, for instance. It compares the population of each Local Authority area from the 2021 Census data released today against what the most recent ONS Sub-national Population Projections thought the population would be in 2021. This shows some very significant swings in population compared with what was predicted.
Major university cities in the North and Midlands – Liverpool, Sheffield, Birmingham, Coventry, Newcastle and so on – almost universally saw their populations drop substantially vs the 2018 projection, as students attended lectures over zoom (often from their parents’ homes elsewhere in the country). Similarly, rural areas popular with second home owners, such as Cornwall, Shropshire and the Suffolk Coast, also saw sharp declines with non-essential travel banned.
The results also capture the ‘exodus’ from London, with sharp declines in many Inner London boroughs and strong increases in the western parts of the South East of England (particularly Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Hampshire) – reflecting both temporary and permanent moves out of the capital.
With many of these peak pandemic trends already proving to be temporary, the 2021 Census results appear increasingly likely to be seen as an anomaly. The loss of a key data point for meaningful planning will be lamented by many, but it should also serve to focus efforts in bringing forward the planned shake-up at the ONS of how population data is assembled and analysed.
In the meantime, we will be looking further at these results – and other data sources – as we focus on future planning and development activity across the country, and in London in particular as part of our London, City of Tomorrow campaign.