Brexit and Covid put the brakes on population growth forecast for Cardiff
Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter
Cardiff’s population is now expected to grow much slower than previously thought, affecting the number of new homes the city needs.
In 2016, the number of people living in the city was expected to grow by 39,436 between 2018 and 2026. This forecast has now been massively reduced to an increase of just 8,696, more than four times less.
Cardiff council leader Huw Thomas said the massive drop is likely due to Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic.
But the changing forecast matters because the forecasted population growth was used to justify the decision to build more than 40,000 new homes across Cardiff—the largest expansion of the city in decades—with more than a quarter of these on greenfield sites.
The Local Development Plan (LDP), a key council document, sets out how development and the use of land across Cardiff should take place up to 2026. It was signed off in 2016, and shortly after led to controversial developments getting approval at Plasdŵr and Churchlands.
The LDP predicted the population to grow from 364,248 in 2018, to 403,684 in 2026. New analysis from the Welsh Government has revised the forecasted population in 2026 to be just 372,944 — much less than thought when the LDP was signed off.
As the LDP is now out of date, the council is beginning the long process of replacing it. The new LDP will review the predicted level of growth of Cardiff’s population, potentially calling for fewer homes to be built and reducing the need to build on farmland on the city’s outskirts.
Councillor Caro Wild, cabinet member for strategic planning and transport, said: “The city’s current LDP had to respond to an extremely limited local housing supply which meant it needed to bring forward a high number of new homes to meet our needs.
“Without this house building, and associated affordable and social housing, our housing crisis would be far worse, with even more people unable to afford to buy or rent a home. As these homes are now being built, we expect our new LDP to have a different starting point, with a stronger housing supply in place at the outset.
“But it will have to respond to new challenges that we face, such as tackling the climate emergency, poor air quality, maximising the wellbeing of future generations and responding to the issues raised by the ongoing pandemic.”
The first of several public consultations on the replacement LDP will begin in May. The lengthy process is expected to finish in October 2024. The new plan will run from 2021 to 2036 setting the vision of how the city should develop until then.
The revised forecasts are “regrettable”, according to Cllr Adrian Robson, leader of the Conservative group on Cardiff council, as some greenfield sites on the edge of the city might not have needed building on.
During a cabinet meeting on Thursday, March 18, Cllr Robson said: “I don’t want to say I told you so, but we always said the population figures were well out when preparing the current LDP. So it’s interesting to see that, but regrettable because it means there are sites being used for housing that might otherwise not have been used.”
Cllr Thomas—who became council leader in 2017, after the current LDP was signed off—said the massive reduction in forecasted population growth was likely due to Brexit. The LDP was signed off in January 2016 after a years-long process. The Brexit vote was in June later that year, and the UK only left the EU in January 2020, when the pandemic first began.
Cllr Thomas said: “When this [LDP] was passed, nobody envisaged in any reality that Britain would be leaving the European Union or that we would be experiencing a once-in-a-century pandemic. Those are just some of the measures that might have impacted on the population projections, the Brexit vote in particular.”