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Interactive: Cambridge has fastest-growing population in the Eastern region

Cambridge’s population has swelled at almost three times the national average over the past decade.

King's College Chapel, Cambridge. (61626209)
King's College Chapel, Cambridge. (61626209)

Population growth has slowed in all four UK nations, but in Cambridge it increased by 17.6 per cent between the last two Censuses, from just under 123,900 in 2011 to around 145,700 in 2021.

The city’s population saw the largest percentage increase in the East of England, while the region grew by 8.3 per cent.

Although the population of England rose by 6.6 per cent this was down from 7.4 per cent over the previous 10 years.

Cambridge is also among the top 20 per cent most densely populated English local authority areas at the last Census. In 2021, Cambridge was home to around 25.6 people per football pitch-sized piece of land, compared with 21.7 in 2011.

There were 52,472 households in the city, with just under 3,600 people per square kilometre.

The percentage of households including a couple without children rose from 17.5 per cent in 2011 to 18.3 per cent in 2021. During the same period, the regional percentage fell from 19 per cent to 17.2 per cent.

The data has led Cambridge City Council to consider the added pressure on housing, transport and service.

Leader Cllr Anna Smith said: “We now need to ensure that all residents can benefit from the city’s growth and success over the last 10 years even as we emerge from some difficult times. We need to continue to work together to tackle serious challenges like the cost of living crisis and the climate and biodiversity emergencies.”

Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire District Council are currently preparing their joint Local Plan, which will set out how Greater Cambridge will develop over the next 20 years. The planning blueprint will guide the development of nearly 49,000 homes in the region.

As Cambridge grows, it continues to welcome people from across the globe. In the latest Census, around 86,100 Cambridge residents said they were born in England. This represented 59.1 per cent of the local population. The figure has risen from around 82,900 in 2011, which at the time represented 66.9 per cent of Cambridge’s population.

India was the next most represented, with just under 4,000 Cambridge residents reporting this country of birth (2.7 per cent). This figure was up from around 2,100 in 2011, which at the time represented 1.7 per cent of the city’s population.

The number of Cambridge residents born in China rose from around 2,300 in 2011 (1.9 per cent of the local population) to just under 3,500 in 2021 (2.4 per cent).

Some 66.2 per cent said they have one or more UK identity only, while 26.9 per cent said they have a non-UK identity only.

Just over one-third of Cambridge’s population (35.2 per cent) identify as Christian, reflecting the national decline over the past decade. A much larger (44.7 per cent) proportion have having no religion, with just under 10 per cent preferring not to say. The largest group among the other religions represented in the city was Muslim, with 5.1 per cent.

The 2021 Census took place during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the lockdowns, social distancing and furlough measures will have had a dramatic impact on the labour market. In Cambridge, the percentage who were employed rose from 51.9 per cent in 2011 to 52.4 per cent in 2021. During the same period, the regional percentage fell from 58.4 per cent to 57.3 per cent.

The percentage of people aged 16 years and over who were unemployed (excluding full-time students) in Cambridge fell from 2.5 per cent to 1.9 per cent, while the percentage of people aged 16 years and over who were retired (economically inactive) decreased from 13.2 per cent to 11.7 per cent.

However, there continues to be a high level of deprivation in some areas of the city, which has previously been named the UK’s most unequal city by Centre for Cities.

Deprivation is measured by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in four ‘dimensions’, which classify households on four household characteristics relating to education, employment, health and housing.

Around a third of households in Arbury (33.4 per cent) and King’s Hedges (33.5 per cent) are deprived in at least one dimension, with more than half of those same households in King’s Hedges (16.1 per cent) deprived in two dimensions.

In Trumpington, almost 56 per cent of households are not deprived in any dimension. This compares to 50.6 per cent in Arbury and 45.2 per cent in King’s Hedges.

The data also shows that the majority of Cambridge residents commuted to work by active travel in 2021 – walking or cycling or by using public transport. However, at the time of the Census, a ‘stay at home’ rule was in place due to Covid-19.

Of those commuting, 49 per cent of Cambridge residents aged 16 and over used active travel, including 31 per cent who commuted by bicycle and 18 per cent by foot. This is significantly more than England, where 14.2 per cent commuted by active travel.

The figures also shows that even during the pandemic, of those who were commuting to work, 7 per cent of residents did so by bus, minibus or coach.

The number of Cambridge residents who commuted to work by driving a car or van is significantly lower in the city (35 per cent) than in neighbouring South Cambridgeshire (72 per cent), East Cambridgeshire (78 per cent) and England (45.1 per cent).

South Cambridgeshire is now home to 162,000 people

Population growth in South Cambridgeshire was higher than the average for the East of England region over the past decade – but the rise was not as sharp as in Cambridge.

Census data shows the population in the district increased by 9 per cent from around 148,800 in 2011 to around 162,100 in 2021.

This compares with an overall population growth of 8.3 per cent in the East of England and 6.6 per cent in England. Over the same period, Cambridge’s population rose by 17.6 per cent.

South Cambridgeshire is expected to continue to grow over the coming years, with the district’s population forecast to increase by a further 27 per cent by 2031.

Writing for the Cambridge Independent, South Cambridgeshire District Council leader Cllr Bridget Smith said growth remains a factor behind the need for more homes to be built.

She said not building them will drive up prices even further, leaving people with “no choice but to live in cheaper areas and have the additional cost and stress of driving long distances in to work”.

“Cambridgeshire is already seeing really high growth. The 9.2 per cent rise is higher than the East of England average, which in itself is growing faster than the rest of the country,” she said.

Cllr Smith continued: “In the last decade the county’s population grew by 57,000 and this includes a 26 per cent increase in people over the age of 65 against a national average rise of 18.6 per cent.

“It is the rural areas that are seeing the greatest increase in the percentage of older people. All of these people, young and old, deserve a decent, affordable home close to where they work or learn or receive their support.

Bridget Smith leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, Cambourne. Picture: Keith Heppell. (61660052)
Bridget Smith leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, Cambourne. Picture: Keith Heppell. (61660052)

“We can only achieve that by meeting the housing need in our area and by ensuring that those homes are well connected, environmentally sustainable and as cheap to run as possible.”

In South Cambridgeshire, the number of people aged 65 to 74 years rose by just over 3,400 – an increase of 26.2 per cent, while the number of residents between 20 and 24 years fell by around 850 – a 12 per cent decrease.

This meant that the area had a slightly higher median age – 42 – than the East of England as a whole in 2021 – 41 years – and a higher median age than England at 40 years.

South Cambridgeshire also saw England’s largest percentage-point fall in the share of households including a couple but no children, from 22 per cent in 2011 to 18.7 per cent in 2021.

And the district witnessed the East of England’s joint second-largest percentage-point fall (alongside Central Bedfordshire, Babergh and East Hertfordshire) in the share of people aged 16 years and over and in employment, who said they usually worked over 49 hours per week. This fell from 14.9 per cent in 2011 to 11.7 per cent in 2021. Across the region, only Uttlesford saw a greater fall.

However, working hours recorded in the Census are likely to have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Median age of residents increases in East Cambridgeshire

East Cambridgeshire has had an ageing population over the past decade according to Census 2021 data.

The number of people aged 65 to 74 years in the district rose by around 2,200 – an increase of 28.6 per cent, while the number of residents between 35 and 49 years fell by around 1,100 – a 5.9 per cent decrease.

This led to the median age rising by three years from 40 to 43 years of age between the last two Censuses.

The median age is the age of a person in the middle of the group, meaning that one half of the group is younger than that person and the other half is older.

East Cambridgeshire had a higher median age than the East of England as a whole in 2021 (41 years) and a higher median age than England (40 years).

Angele Storey, head of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Ageing Analysis team, said: “While living longer is something to be celebrated and our ageing population presents opportunities, it also has implications for the economy, services and society.

“Knowing the size and structure of the population is fundamental for decision makers and policy makers in the UK.”

An ageing population also highlights the challenges facing older people.

Dr Aideen Young, senior evidence manager at The Centre for Ageing Better, said: “Older people are a highly diverse group in terms of health and wealth, and within that group there are people very much in need – who are living in poverty, in poor housing and in poor health.

“Their precarious situation has been exacerbated by the cost of living crisis. They are the people that we really need to pay attention to.”

Over the past decade the population of East Cambridgeshire has increased by 4.7 per cent from around 83,800 in 2011 to around 87,800 in 2021 – and significantly less than in neighbouring Cambridge city.

This increase was by a smaller percentage than the overall population of the East of England (8.3 per cent), and England (up 6.6 per cent since the 2011 Census).

A total of 85.6 per cent of the district’s population said they were born in England, with Poland the next most represented country of birth.

Around 1,300 East Cambridgeshire residents reported this as their country of birth (1.5 per cent).

This figure was up from around 1,000 in 2011, which at the time represented 1.2 per cent of the population of East Cambridgeshire.

East Cambridgeshire also saw the region’s third-largest percentage-point rise in the share of lone-parent households (from 6.6 per cent in 2011 to 8.3 per cent in 2021).

Despite the increase, the district was in the lowest 15 per cent of English local authority areas for the share of lone-parent households in 2021.

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