Edinburgh and Lothians to have fastest population growth in Scotland over next decade - here's why

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Population growth in Scotland is projected to be fastest in Midlothian, Edinburgh and East Lothian in the decade up to 2028.

The latest National Records of Scotland (NRS) analysis shows migration has been - and will continue to be - a major driver in population changes for most parts of the country.

Scotland’s overall population grew by 4 percent to 5.46 million between mid-2009 and the end of June 2019, with a further 2 percent growth projected in the decade up to mid-2028 to 5.54 million.

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The fastest growing populations by council area between mid-2009 and mid-2019 have been Edinburgh and Midlothian - both around 13 percent - with growth in East Lothian and Glasgow at 9 percent and West Lothian at 5.8 percent.

Edinburgh and the Lothians are projected to experience higher than the Scottish average population growth in the decade to mid-2028. Picture: SWNSEdinburgh and the Lothians are projected to experience higher than the Scottish average population growth in the decade to mid-2028. Picture: SWNS
Edinburgh and the Lothians are projected to experience higher than the Scottish average population growth in the decade to mid-2028. Picture: SWNS

In the decade to mid-2028, Midlothian’s population is projected to grow fastest at 13.8 percent and the predicted main driver will be net migration from other areas in Scotland, with nearly 10,600 more people expected to move to the region than leave it.

East Lothian’s population is forecast to grow by 7.2 percent over the same 10-year period - the second fastest growth in Scotland - with 7,000 more people projected to arrive than leave the region from other parts of Scotland.

Edinburgh's population of 524,930 (2019) is projected to rise to 552,585 - a 6.6% increase - in the decade up to mid-2028 with overseas immigration the likely biggest driver of this, as well as people arriving from other parts of the UK.

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By contrast Glasgow has 633,120 residents and this is predicted to increase to 644,274 - just a 2.9% rise.

Funding challenges

Edinburgh City Council leader, Adam McVey, said: “Edinburgh consistently tops or compares well in quality of life rankings and it’s no surprise that so many people want to come and live here.

“We welcome everyone who makes Edinburgh their home but we’re planning for the challenge of an ever-increasing population too.”

Mr McVey said recent public engagement has helped shape their vision for Edinburgh by 2050 and acknowledged the need to build the economy back up following the Covid pandemic, with work underway to create opportunities for residents which are “fairer” in terms of wages, working practices, access to housing and education.

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He said the council last week outlined their ambitions for eradicating poverty in the next decade, and that they have “one of the most ambitious” housing strategies of any local authority in the UK with plans to build 20,000 new homes, as well as new schools and projects like the new Meadowbank sports centre.

Lothian MSP Miles Briggs stressed that infrastructure must keep pace with population growth in the region and that the City Bypass is already at capacity with developments like Sheriffhall junction “crucial” to reducing congestion.

Mr Briggs also claimed the SNP Government is already short on delivering more schools and teachers and that “fair funding” for NHS Lothian will be key to meeting increased demand.

He added: “SNP Ministers’ failure to implement an effective workforce plan means that we are already under resourced for the number of doctors and nurses needed in Lothian.”

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A Scottish Government spokesperson said they are “fully committed” to a NHS which delivers consistently high quality healthcare and it is up to each health board to decide how to use funding locally, and their National Health and Social care Workforce Plan supports boards to plan their services to meet growing demand.

Staff numbers in NHS Lothian have increased by around 20 percent to nearly 21,700 full time equivalent roles under the current government, with 370 more medical consultants and 742 more qualified nurses and midwives.

The spokesperson added: “Across the Lothians, our future investment will target improvements in education, the Edinburgh and South of Scotland City Deal including improvements to Sheriffhall roundabout, and investment in healthcare facilities, including the Edinburgh Cancer Centre and Livingston Elective Care Centre.”

Midlothian Council leader, Derek Milligan, said they are “very well aware” that, by far, they have the fastest growing area in Scotland and will need to ensure they get the financial support they need from the Scottish Government to provide adequate services, and that housing developers must also contribute to funding the likes of roads and schools too.

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Mr Milligan said one of their external auditors, Ernst & Young, just published a report which suggests their 2020 population is 2.8 percent higher than the NRS predictions and that the government funding could be below what they should be getting. He said Midlothian Council also contributes a further £1.8 million through a “floor mechanism,” which is money redirected to help other councils including those with declining populations.

An East Lothian Council spokesperson said they have a requirement from the Scottish Government to ensure an extra 10,000 homes in East Lothian in the next decade which will be done “without too much impact” on the character of existing towns and villages, with affordable housing part of this mix.

The spokesperson said they want to ensure new and expanded communities are connected with roads, public transport and walking and cycling routes with adequate education facilities and that land is being zoned for business use to generate local jobs. They said the planned new town of Blindwells is a “national example” of how a development can be progressive while adhering to a wider climate change strategy.

Scotland’s population changes

The report said there were 5,600 more deaths than births in Scotland in the latest year recorded to the end of June 2019 - the fifth consecutive year there have been more deaths than births.

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But net migration has been positive in Scotland since the middle of 2001, notably with the expansion of the EU three years later.

Only five Scottish councils are projected to have natural population growth - where births exceed deaths - in the 10 years to mid-2028 and these are Midlothian, Edinburgh, West Lothian, Glasgow and Aberdeen.

The council areas which experienced the greatest population decline over the past decade were Inverclyde (-5%), Argyll and Bute (-4%) and the Western Isles (-3%). The rate of population decline is projected to rise in each of these areas.

It is worth noting the latest projections do not take into account recent changes, such as the increase in deaths due to Covid-19 or the changes to migration as a result of travel restrictions imposed during the pandemic.

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