Population growth in Greater Manchester is unequal, finds UrbInfo

Updated: Nov 28, 2018

Central Manchester is growing at an unprecedented rate - but what about Greater Manchester's peripheral areas?

We all know Manchester is booming. Since 2007, the Greater Manchester area has seen an increase of 200,000 people. The ONS has again released its ward-level mid-year population estimates data so, just like last year, we decided to look at the way those 200,000 extra people have been spatially distributed throughout the region.

The following bar chart shows the population of Greater Manchester's ten boroughs in 2007 vs 2017. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the City of Manchester accounted for the lion's share of the region's population uplift: 37% (74,963 people). Despite it making up just 9% of the region's land area.

A lot happened in Greater Manchester in the ten years to 2017. The credit crunch, the recession, the Northern Powerhouse initiative, rail improvements and the rapid expansion of the Metrolink network. Greater Manchester has become a global tech hub, and is now attracting financial and technology firms from across the globe. Home-grown companies such as The Hut Group and Boohoo. com are going from strength to strength, employing thousands more people. It seemed as though Manchester was the first region outside London to witness significant growth once the recession subsided in 2012-13. We're now still in the midst of a post-recession Mancunian property boom, which is seeing tens of thousands of apartments, hotel beds and student accommodation, as well as millions of square feet of office space, being built all over the city. So it's no surprise that the borough at the centre of all that activity - Manchester - has grown the fastest by far:

The City of Manchester is now home to 74,000 more people than it was in 2007. Neighbouring Salford registered the second-highest increase in population in the ten years to 2017: +28,000. The fact that Greater Manchester's two most central boroughs have witnessed the greatest increase in population should come as no surprise. There has been a concerted effort to regenerate areas of inner Manchester and Salford, and to repopulate the city centre. Against this backdrop, development of greenfield land further out has been severely restricted, resulting in a population vacuum towards the core of the conurbation.

The map below shows how Greater Manchester's population change has been distributed at ward level. As the key demonstrates, areas coloured in red have seen their population decline in the ten years to 2017. Those in orange have seen growth, but not much. Purple areas are those which have seen 'moderate growth' - an increase in population of between 500 and 1,000 people, or roughly 50 to 100 people every year. Yellow-shaded areas have grown at a steady pace, between 1,000 and 2,000 people over the ten year period. Then light green areas have seen fast population growth, of between 2,000 and 5,000 people, while areas that have seen extreme population growth of over 5,000 people are marked in dark green.

View an interactive version of this map

15% of Greater Manchester's wards have declined in population over that time - nearly all of them are on the very periphery of the metropolitan area. 27% have seen low growth, while the majority - 28% - have seen moderate population growth of between 500 and 1,000 people. 20% have grown steadily, while 10% have seen either fast or extreme population growth.

The area around central Manchester has seen phenomenal growth. Over 50,000 people moved to Manchester city centre and the areas immediately surrounding it between 2007 and 2017. That's nearly 100 people every week, which means that if Manchester is to keep up this level of growth, we'll need to build an average of 50 apartments per week to accommodate them.

Leftbank apartments in Spinningfields. If Manchester's population growth continues at its current pace, the city would need to build an apartment block of this size every month to accommodate everyone

With an increase of 12,172 people, the City Centre ward had the highest growth of any other ward in Greater Manchester. On average, 1,200 people moved to the City Centre every year in the ten years to 2017. The highest year-on-year increase for the City Centre was between 2015 and 2016, when 2,949 people moved in. Ordsall ward - which encompasses Greengate, Central Salford and Salford Quays - saw its population more than double to nearly 19,000 in the ten years to 2017. The ten fastest-growing wards in Greater Manchester were all under 1.5 miles from Manchester city centre.

Inner Manchester - the wider area around central Manchester - is also seeing incredible growth. This area, bordered by the M60 motorway, increased its population by 102,021 people between 2007-17, 51% of the Greater Manchester total. Here, just 8% of wards are in decline, compared to 18% for outer Manchester. 75% of all wards which saw growth of more than 2,000 people in the ten years to 2017 were located inside the M60.

Wards with a declining population

Only 8% of wards inside the M60 are in decline, compared to 18% of wards in outer Manchester

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The wards which are in decline tend to be those right on the edge of the conurbation. Rural or semi-rural places such as Ramsbottom, Littleborough, south Marple and Norden. This correlation is even evident in declining wards which are further into the urban area - such as Failsworth East and Didsbury East, which both sit on river valleys acting as green fingers piercing the urban area. These areas tend to suffer from a lack of connectivity. The Metrolink network, shown in yellow, serves only a handful of these places. They are peripheral , sometimes quite remote areas. The biggest decline was seen in Crompton, a semi-rural area on the outskirts of Oldham. The borough of Bury contains the highest number of declining wards in the region (6), and this borough is also the least populated in Greater Manchester, and the one with the lowest population density and the most rural land.

Wards with low population growth (up to +500 people)

A very similar thing can be said for wards which experienced only low population growth (up to +500 people) during the ten years to 2017, shown below:

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Again, low growth wards tend to avoid the area inside the M60. Just 22% of low growth wards were located in inner Manchester, while 37% of wards in outer Manchester saw only low population growth. This builds a picture of a two-tier city. Inner Manchester: which is growing and changing rapidly, and outer Manchester: which is seeing mainly sluggish growth.

Similar to wards in decline, low growth wards are also in peripheral areas. Such as Little Lever and Breighmet, on the outskirts of Bolton; Aspull, on the outskirts of Wigan; Saddleworth; Bowdon; and Marple.

Moderate growth areas (+500-1,000 people)

This next map shows wards which have experienced moderate population growth. 28% of Greater Manchester wards have experienced moderate growth, between +500 and 1,000 people over the ten year period. Moderate growth wards are also relatively evenly split between wards outside and inside the M60. 23% of inner Manchester wards have experienced moderate growth, compared to 30% of outer Manchester wards.

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Moderate growth wards enroach on the urban area - and the area inside the M60 - much more than low or declining wards. Higher Blackley, Eccles, Fallowfield and Burnage in inner Manchester have all grown by between +500 and 1,000 people during the ten year period. As have more rural places such as Wardle and West Littleborough, Saddleworth South, Cadishead and Moorside in Bury. This makes it more difficult to assert that urban places closer to central Manchester are growing quickly, whereas peripheral rural areas are growing slowly.

Steady growth areas (+1,000-2,000 people)

22% of wards inside the M60 have seen steady growth of between 1,000 and 2,000 people over the ten year period, compared to 19% for outer Manchester.

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The Metrolink network plays a much larger part in steady growth wards. Particularly in Trafford, where there is a ribbon of steady growth areas from Old Trafford all the way down to Sale, almost hugging the line to Altrincham. A similar picture can be observed on the line to the Airport, which snakes through Wythenshawe and wards such as Brooklands and Sharston. These areas have become more popular since the arrival of the Metrolink a few years ago.

Fast growth areas (+2,000-5,000 people)

The following map shows a major shift in activity to the inside of the M60. 67% of fast-growth wards are inside this area. The only fast-growing areas outside the M60 are on the Metrolink network - Altrincham in the south and Oldham in the east. To what extent Metrolink is responsible for this growth would be difficult to uncover.

67% of fast growth wards are inside the M60

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Extreme growth areas (+5,000 people)

Extreme growth areas huddle around the very central areas of the conurbation. They are the manifestation of over two decades of local and national planning policy geared towards repopulating and regenerating Britain's inner cities. Manchester's 'City Centre' ward saw the largest uplift in population between 2007-17 of any other Greater Manchester ward - an increase of 12,172 people. This ward has seen such steep population growth that, in 2018, it was split into two new wards: Deansgate and Piccadilly. Second was Salford's Ordsall ward, which encompasses Salford Quays all the way to Greengate and Chapel Street. It has doubled in population since 2007, and, like the City Centre ward, will be split into three separate wards in 2019: 'Quays', 'Ordsall' and 'Blackfriars & Trinity'.

View an interactive version of this map

In just one decade, nearly 40,000 people moved into the area highlighted in the map above. The steep population growth seen here is set to continue on the current trajectory for the foreseeable future, and may even speed up. There are currently nearly 20,000 apartments under construction across the areas which have already seen extreme levels of population increase over the past decade. With an average of 2.2 people living per apartment in central Manchester, this could easily create an extra 40,000 residents.

The future

There will be a continuation of current trends, with inner Manchester seeing the majority of Greater Manchester's unequal population growth. Local and national planning policy is likely to continue encouraging the development of inner city, well-connected brownfield land over that of remote greenfield land. This means places like the city centre, Ordsall, Miles Platting, Hulme and Ardwick will keep growing while Bowdon, Norden and Littleborough will continue to stagnate.

But the future will also bring repopulation for Greater Manchester's large towns. Oldham and Altrincham town centres have already seen promising population growth in the past decade. Stockport, Bolton, Stretford, Sale and Bury all have major redevelopment plans for their town centres - with residential accommodation playing a huge part.

The prospect of Metrolink-led growth

Perhaps a revaluation of green belt policy would help to stem the decline of Greater Manchester's more remote, peripheral areas. Releasing green belt land which is near Metrolink stations would allow for new sustainable urban extensions, whilst also encouraging developers to contribute towards the cost of building new Metrolink lines. This would mitigate, to some extent, the negative effects of building on green belt land as the new residents would be able to commute by tram, and therefore wouldn't be placing massive pressures on the road network. Declining areas benefit from the introduction of new residents (and the council tax they bring), while Greater Manchester benefits from private sector investment into its transport network. This follows a similar model to how London Underground's Metropolitan line was funded and delivered. This sort of plan would need to be co-ordinated by TfGM in tandem with the GMCA, with a planning mechanism set up to agree the release of green belt land to developers, so long as those developers fund the construction of new Metrolink lines before being allowed to build new homes alongside the lines.

Solutions to future problems

Where young city centre residents move to when they grow older and their circumstances change should be a priority discussion for the next ten years. They may want to move to somewhere with a garden, but with plenty of amenities on their doorstep, and good transport links. The popular south Manchester suburbs of Didsbury and Chorlton immediately spring to mind. But they won't be able to cope with thousands of former city centre residents moving in to raise their families. Perhaps this is where areas like Levenshulme and Victoria Park - with their large Victorian villas and excellent transport links - will step up.

Suburbs like Chorlton will seem attractive to ageing city dwellers - but will they all fit?

However, what is really needed are new, well-planned, medium-density family housing districts on the outskirts of the city centre. In places like Salford, Ardwick, Hulme and Ancoats. Townhouses with gardens, or small apartment blocks where each flat has its own large outdoor terrace. Such neighbourhoods would have to be carefully planned, with schools and medical centres to make family living attractive. They would have fully pedestrianised streets for kids to play on - and 20mph zones on all main roads through the neighbourhood. They would have plenty of green space, perhaps in the shape of a large park. This would provide the perfect 'next step' for Manchester's young city dwellers looking to start a family, without them putting too much pressure on places like Chorlton and Didbsury. Or worse: moving out of Greater Manchester altogether.

Manchester City Council's masterplan for the Mayfield area - near Piccadilly station. A family-orientated neighbourhood with townhouses, parks, doctor's surgeries and schools. A model for the regeneration of areas surrounding Manchester city centre