Research points to expanding, younger city centres

A report shows that city centre populations rose by more than a third in the first decade of the century, with young, single professionals contributing significantly to this growth.

City centres: focus on retail has been misjudged, says report

Think-tank the Centre for Cities issued new research this week showing that a key driver for the growth of English and Welsh cities has been the expansion of populations in large city centres, which more than doubled between 2001 and 2011.

The institute’s report, Urban Demographics: Where People Live and Work, shows that in such cities – defined as those outside London with a population of more than 550,000 – the number of residents aged 22­–29 nearly tripled. This group now makes up 49 per cent of the population of such centres.

Overall, the report finds that the suburban population of cities grew by eight per cent from 2001 to 2011, meaning that 55 per cent of the total population of England and Wales, 30 million, now live in such areas.

Although just 1.6 per cent of the total English and Welsh population live in city centres, these grew by 37 per cent – from 0.66 million to 0.9 million residents – in the course of the decade.

The report suggests that it is the availability of jobs, rather than factors such as retail offer, that has been crucial in the increasing younger demographic of city centres. These workers also tend to commute on foot or by public transport, it adds.

However, high house prices mean that home ownership levels are much lower in city centres than elsewhere, with 73 per cent of residents renting compared to 29 per cent in the areas described as hinterlands.

Growth in central London’s population has been constrained by high housing costs, it adds.

In the light of these findings, the report advocates more housing development in the centre of large cities. It also says the government’s emphasis on retail in small cities has been to the detriment of encouraging skilled jobs.