Population boom sees Edinburgh set to overtake Glasgow

The population of Edinburgh is soaring. Picture: Jon Savage

The population of Edinburgh is soaring. Picture: Jon Savage

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EDINBURGH is one of the fastest growing cities in Scotland – a bustling hub of tourism, business and never-ending development.

And now the Capital’s population has exceeded half a million for the first time ever, with current projections indicating it will overtake Glasgow in just a few decades.

Andrew Kerr. Picture: Greg Macvean

Andrew Kerr. Picture: Greg Macvean

A total of 618,978 people will live in Edinburgh by 2037, compared with 498,810 last year, statistics predict. That’s a rise of more than 120,000 in just over 20 years.

Meanwhile, the city’s population has grown by nine per cent in ten years, and currently boasts the highest net migration in Scotland.

In a recent interview with the Evening News, council chief executive Andrew Kerr said Edinburgh would be the biggest city in Scotland in 20 to 25 years. He warned the Capital needed to start preparing itself for a population of “not half a million, but three-quarters of a million”.

This boom will mark a seismic shift in how Edinburgh operates as a capital city, throwing up as many challenges as opportunities.

On the one hand, it signals a strong economy able to create wealth and opportunity for its citizens and attract the key workers it needs to run its public services and fuel new enterprise.

But on the other hand it puts increasing pressure on the Capital’s already stretched infrastructure, pushing our housing provision, schools and transport links to the limit.

Council bosses said Edinburgh’s growth was “an indication of how vibrant the city economy is”, but admitted it “brings its own challenges in terms of issues such as housing and education”.

City leader Andrew Burns said: “Edinburgh’s success is evident from other figures in Edinburgh by Numbers [the council’s annual overview of statistics], such as Edinburgh continuing to be the most prosperous UK city outside London and the percentage of our workforce with a degree level qualification or equivalent being higher than any other major UK city.”

He said a key part of preparing for future growth would be the long-awaited multi-billion pound City Deal, adding: “We are currently in ongoing negotiations with the UK and Scottish governments about ambitious proposals for an Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal to inject up to £2 billion [of public money into the city], with the potential to leverage in up to another £5bn of private money.”

The City Deal – which aims to kick-start major infrastructure developments, as well pumping cash into culture and tourism – was also highlighted by Professor Sean Smith, director of Edinburgh Napier’s Institute for Sustainable Construction.

He said the deal could boost much-needed house building and insisted Edinburgh would “rise to the challenge” of its growing population. But he was also stark about the challenges the city faces. Assuming a population growth of a quarter of a million people over the next few decades, he said 25 per cent of all the houses currently built in Scotland every year would need to be constructed in Edinburgh to allow the city to cope.

His projections mirror those of the Scottish Government. It previously identified a “significant shortfall” in the Capital’s housing over the next five years – requiring more homes to be built every year than “anything historically achieved even in the most positive economic circumstances”.

Officials estimate the city still needs an extra 15,034 new houses by 2019 – a figure many believe simply won’t be met. More than 25,000 extra homes are needed by 2026. Dr Matthew Dutton, a senior research fellow at Napier’s Employment Research Institute, said housing was a “vitally important area”.

He added: “Edinburgh is a very good city by most measures, but you need to have the accommodation for people who work here, for people who stay here, and for people who are retired here.”

The waterfront presents one area builders could target, and Professor Smith argues bringing the trams down into Leith and Newhaven would help the area grow and thrive.

But he also warned expansion into the green belt would be inevitable unless people want “20-storey towers” springing up in the Capital’s historic centre, adding: “The pressure to build will be huge. Locally, we do have the land, but the issue is who is going to fund it.”

And with any increase in population comes further stress on our schools, infrastructure and care homes.

Despite Edinburgh’s high proportion of young workers – 23.2 per cent of all males and 24.8 per cent of all females are currently aged between 16 and 29 – it also has a rapidly increasing older population. In 2015, the number of pensioners over the age of 75 stood at 35,500. By 2037, this is expected to almost double to 61,100.

Meanwhile, the pressure on our schools is rising. In the next two decades, the number of youngsters under the age of 15 will increase by more than 17,000.

Earlier this year, we revealed that two brand new city high schools – James Gillespie’s and Boroughmuir – would be full to bursting within four years due to ballooning school rolls.

Almost £80 million was spent constructing cutting-edge facilities for the secondaries, but projections show they will be over-capacity by 154 pupils by 2020.

Professor Smith said new schools, retirement homes and solid transport links were just as important as housing.

He added: “Yes we need housing. But by putting the right transport infrastructure in place, and by putting the support for schools and retirement homes in these areas, you will create a platform that will work. If it’s done in isolation it won’t work. Housing alone will not solve this.”

Those who come from other countries to help drive our economy forward will also need to be provided for.

In the last three years, 34,600 new workers registered to work in Edinburgh from overseas, with 58 per cent of all those who came from Spain to Scotland registering to work in the Capital.

But despite the huge challenges looming on the horizon, Edinburgh’s growth heralds a city changing and adapting to the modern world – and thriving.

As Professor Smith puts it: “I don’t really see it as a problem. I think Edinburgh will rise to the challenge. I think it can do it. I think it has to.”