Over the past decade Manchester and Leeds, two of our largest cities, both saw population growth of seven percent. But despite similar overall growth rates, patterns of population expansion within the two city regions are quite different.
In Greater Manchester the core of the city region saw the strongest population growth of 19 percent in Manchester. More peripheral places saw weaker growth and Stockport actually saw a small net loss of 1,300 people.
But in the Leeds City Region the core was much weaker and it was Bradford that saw the strongest net population growth of 11 percent. Leeds saw growth of five percent which was faster than only three other local authorities in the city region.
Figure 1: Population growth in Greater Manchester and the Leeds City Region, 2001 to 2011
A host of interrelated factors cause patterns of growth across city regions to vary.
One factor is the types of relationship economic centres have with their neighbouring areas. As City Relationships showed, Greater Manchester is a ‘monocentric’ city region – Manchester is the main employment centre and pulls in workers from elsewhere. The Leeds City Region is ‘polycentric’ – although Leeds is a significant economic centre Bradford, Huddersfield and Wakefield are also important. The latest Census data suggests that some of the economic centres in these two city regions are now drawing in residents as well as workers.
The housing offer also matters. The number of homes in Manchester increased by 13 percent from 2001 to 2010 compared to an average increase of five percent across the rest of the city region. And housing in the area is relatively affordable too.
The make up of the population provides another explanation. The rate of natural change – measured as the number of births minus deaths – has been consistently higher in Bradford compared to Leeds over the past decade. Yet if we look at international migration, historical data indicates that Leeds has seen more significant net inflows than Bradford.
Ultimately untangling the complex web of forces which cause different places to expand at different rates is challenging. Economic relationships, housing, demographics are amongst the factors that influence population growth.
Yet it is important to remember that measuring population change is a challenge in itself. Leeds for instance had a significantly lower population estimate than had been expected whilst Bradford’s turned out to be much higher than had previously been thought.