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Interactive: Cambridge’s booming population - and 8 things we learned from the new Census data

Cambridgeshire’s population has grown considerably in the last decade - particularly in Cambridge.

The findings come amid debates over the housing, transport and water shortage challenges for the Cambridge region.

Shoppers in Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Shoppers in Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) released the first batch of data from the 2021 Census, which everyone was required to complete during March 2021.

That was during Covid-19 restrictions, which may have had some impact on the numbers living in Cambridge at the time.

The first release of Census data indicates how populations have changed by local authority area, which has implications for council funding, schooling, planning and more.

We’ve been analysing the data to see what we have learned so far.

1. Cambridge had seen the fifth highest population growth in the country

Out of 331 local authority areas in the UK, Cambridge had the fifth highest population growth in the last decade.

The official population of the city rose from 123,867 in 2011 to 145,700 in 2021 - an increase of 17.6 per cent.

Only Tower Hamlets - which witnessed the highest growth of 22.1 per cent - and Dartford, Bedford and the Barking and Dagenham area recorded higher increases.

You can explore the data here.

Cllr Anna Smith, Labour leader of Cambridge City Council, said: “The new figures show that Cambridge and the surrounding areas continue to be an attractive place to live. We are proud that so many people consider it a welcoming and safe place to make their home.

“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. Our aim is to ensure that the city remains ‘One Cambridge – Fair For All.”

2. South Cambridgeshire’s population also rose significantly

There was also significant growth in neighbouring South Cambridgeshire, where the population grew from 148,755 to 162,000, or 8.9 per cent. This placed in the top third of growth areas, at 86th on the list.

We’ve ranked all 331 local authorities by population growth in this table here - search to find any area of the country and its ranking.

3. The population in other areas of Cambridgeshire also grew, but more slowly

East Cambridgeshire witnessed more moderate growth, from 83,818 to 87,700 (4.6 per cent) and was 206th in the list.

Huntingdonshire’s population grew from 169,508 in 2011 to 180,800 in 2021 (6.7 per cent), placing it 135th on the list, while Fenland’s rose from 95,262 to 102,500 (7.6 per cent), placing it 113th out of 332 areas.

4. Cambridgeshire grew faster than the regional average - and the county council argues it deserves better funding

The East of England was the region with the fastest-growing population in the country, growing 8.3 per cent (6.3 million people).

Cambridgeshire’s 9.2 per cent rise was higher than this regional average. The number of people living in the county rose by more than 57,000 in the last decade to 678,600.

The county council sees this as vindication of its earlier contention that the government’s grant allocations, based on previous ONS statistics, have been unfair as they under-estimated Cambridgeshire’s population.

Michael Gove, secretary of state for levelling up, announced yesterday that local government will be given a two-year funding settlement later this year, meaning it is vital that the county makes its case now.

“I am pleased that so many people continue to want to live and work in Cambridgeshire. I am proud of our county’s record in leading on vaccine development. improving healthcare and in developing new technologies allowing greener living,” said Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, the Lib Dem leader of the coalition-led Cambridgeshire County Council.

“Cambridgeshire offers some great examples of how new innovation can help not just the UK but the world to a future where we can live well and not wreck the planet, but we need government to recognise and support that vision – including recognising the costs of the necessary infrastructure needed for a county our size.”

5. We have an ageing population

There was a 26 per cent rise in the number of people in Cambridgeshire aged 65 and over, above the national average of 18.6 per cent.

There were notably high percentage increases in those aged 70-74.

This places additional pressure on health and social care services.

Cllr Nethingsingha said: “We must make sure we can support our county’s potential, particularly for a growing population of older people living in more rural areas, by providing the necessary services that will make Cambridgeshire fairer, greener and more caring .”

6. One in five is now aged 65+ in Cambridgeshire - except in Cambridge

Examining the age structure of the population shows that around 20 per cent, or one in five, people in all areas of Cambridgeshire, except Cambridge, are now aged 65 and over.

Cambridge’s 65-plus age group makes up just 11.4 per cent of its population.

Just 13.5 per cent of the city’s population is under 15 years old, meaning three-quarters of Cambridge residents are aged 15-64.

However, there has been growth across all age ranges in the city, while more rural areas of the city have seen little or no growth in age groups up to 19, and large increases in older populations.

Our graphic shows the 2021 age structure of each district of Cambridgeshire.

7. Cambridge’s population density is the second highest in the East

As you would expect, Cambridge’s population density is among the highest in the region, but is actually slightly lower than Norwich’s.

The ONS statistics show there are 3,580 people per square kilometre in Cambridge, compared to 3,690 in Norwich.

Ipswich is third in the region, with 3,536.

Rural East Cambridgeshire has a population density of just 135 people per square kilometre.

8. The number of households has increased at double the national rate here

Reflecting the population statistics, the number of households in Cambridge has grown significantly, from 46,714 in 2011 to 52,400 in 2021 - a rise of 12.2 per cent.

This is double the 6.1 per cent average rise across England and Wales.

South Cambridgeshire’s household numbers have swelled by 11.7 per cent from 59,960 to 67,000.

But the district with the highest number of households in the county is Huntingdonshire, where numbers grew 10.9 per cent from 69,333 to 76,900.

Cambridgeshire as a whole now has 277,600 households - meaning there are an average of 2.44 people per household in the county.

Try the ONS population game

What’s next?

More data from the Census will be coming out over the next two years from the Office of National Statistics.

Figures on ethnicity, religion, the labour market, education and housing are expected and, for the first time, there will be information on UK armed forces veterans, sexual orientation and gender identity.

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