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We have reached the stage where growing numbers simply makes things worse, both for our quality of life and for the environment. We would urge government and civil society to address demand as well as supply and to accept than perpetual growth in our population is neither desirable nor, in the long run, feasible. We believe that the UK, as one of the most densely populated of the developed countries, should take the lead in setting a target maximum for population and strengthening policies that would encourage both a lower birth rate and lower migration in order to meet that target. As climate change increasingly shows, continual growth in the human impact on the environment ends in very real consequences.

The latest projections for the UK population by the Office for National Statistics (1) are that our population will rise from 62 million in 2010 to 67 million by 2020 and 73 million by 2035. England is already the most densely populated large European country. The implications of the projected increase include the following:

  • Housing costs will rise, leading to more overcrowding and homelessness. Already, private rents are unaffordable for ordinary working families in over half of local authorities in England. (2)
  • Pressure for development on green field sites will increase, resulting in a further loss of amenity, natural habitat and biodiversity. Currently, draft planning policies are said to threaten the long term health of our countryside. (3)
  • Overcrowding on public transport will worsen. Already, many train services are grossly overcrowded. ( 4)
  • Traffic congestion will worsen. Already, the average speed of vehicles travelling on key urban roads in England at the height of the school day morning peak is 13 mph. (5)
  • Pollution levels will rise. Already 50,000 people a year die prematurely in the UK due to air pollution. (6)
  • We will find it much harder to achieve the carbon emissions reductions targets we need to meet to avoid catastrophic climate change. (7)
  • Water availability will be under threat, particularly in the South East. (8)
  • It will be harder to ensure sufficient energy supplies, something that is already a matter of concern. (9)
  • Fish stocks will be further depleted. Already, many are in a poor state. (10)

Notes

1. Office of National Statistics: National Population Projections 2010 based 26 October 2011
2. Shelter: Rent Watch report 2011
3. CPRE response to the draft National Planning Policy Framework consultation 2011
4. Commons Public Accounts Committee: Increasing Passenger Rail Capacity 2010
5. Department of Transport: Road Statistics 2009
6. Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee: Air Quality 2010
7. Department of the Environment and Climate Change: Carbon Budgets 2011
8. Environment Agency: Water Resources Strategy 2009
9. Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee The UK’s Energy Supply: Security or Independence? 2011
10. Defra: Fish Stocks 2011