The biggest pressure is expected to be on housing, with an estimated 42,000 new homes needed every year to keep pace with population growth.
Just before the start of the Second World War London had the largest population in its history: just over 8.6 million people. This peak was reached after two decades of extremely fast growth. However, with the onset of war in September 1939 its population dropped with evacuations from the threat of bombing and men leaving to join the colours. After the war, planners encouraged Londoners to move to new towns throughout England. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, London’s population had declined by two million people to 6.6 million. Now, however London has rebounded in the last 30 years or so and is set to overtake the 1939 population peak according to the London Evening Standard. And according to Barney Stringer, director of planning consultancy Quod:
“Great cities rise and fall, but few in history have bounced back so strongly from losing more than two million people. London’s growth is so exceptional that it’s time to change our whole perspective on it.”
Some estimates have suggested that the historic landmark of just over 8.615 million people could have been reached as early as 6 January 2015, but at the very latest should be reached by early next month. And London’s growth is not expected to end there. In fact London is expected to continue at an annual rate of around 100,000 people a year and at that rate it is likely to hit 10 million by 2030. This is of course a mixed blessing, as Professor Tony Travers, director of research group LSE London, notes:
“This is both good news and bad. On the one hand it is far better to be living in a city that people want to come to rather than a declining city.
But there is always the risk that people will feel there is not enough space, not enough transport, too much congestion. Such a large population inevitably means substantial investment in roads, railway, hospitals and all the elements that make a city work. Clearly, there is not enough investment going into London at the moment.”
Stringer argues that the current gradualist approach is no longer enough: he argues that London should learn from the Chinese approach to investment being made in the great megacities of China. Mayor Boris Johnson has recognised that population growth needs to be managed by the city’s leaders. He stated that:
“Plans need to be finalised to meet the stark needs that will face this city over the next half century. Londoners need to know they will get the homes, water, energy, schools, transport, digital connectivity and better quality of life that they require.”
The biggest pressure that this population growth will place on resources is in the area of housing: apparently London will need 42,000 new homes every year to keep pace with population growth. It will be a surprise if the great city on the Thames will not be able to deal with future population growth. Even if that growth is taking it into unchartered territory.