Setting the context for Sheffield’s future housing challenges

Guest blog post by Professor Gordon Dabinett, Professor for Regional Studies, Sheffield University, and co-author of the State of Sheffield 2015 report

At the recent Sheffield Civic Trust housing event, David Rudlin director of URBED outlined his views on how Garden City extensions might be relevant to the future challenges faced by Sheffield, based on the premise that the city needs more houses.

Sheffield has certainly undergone a significant transformation in the last twenty years. Despite facing a legacy of declining heavy industry, it has seen the creation of new employment opportunities and businesses; the two Universities have significantly increased student numbers and capital investment; neighbourhoods have been renewed; and the city’s image radically reshaped with a series of high profile regeneration projects. Like most other medium sized cities in Europe and the UK, Sheffield has experienced recent population growth, reflecting the outcome of migration to the city and increases in the living age and birth rates.

The recent Census of Population 2011 has provided a detailed picture of this population change in Sheffield, as the resident population increased by 7.6% from 513,200 in 2001 to 552,700 in 2011, reversing the previous decline. In particular there has been a significant growth in the number of 15-24 year olds living in the city, and there over 55,000 university students. The community profile of the city has also changed: in 2011 there were 109,500 people from ethnic minorities, more than double the 55,200 in 2001. These changes largely mirror the country as a whole and other English Core Cities.

The general trends mask what are very different experiences across the city though. The Sheffield Fairness Commission in 2012 revealed significant inequalities, with areas in the south and west of the city in the least deprived 20% of the country, whilst nearly a third of Sheffield’s population lived in areas that fell within the 20% most deprived in the country, largely located in the north and east of the city. As a result, Sheffield on average remains one of the least deprived major cities in England, but also one of the most unequal.

Whilst the city population has continued to grow, some wards saw a decline in their populations between 2001 and 2011, such as Woodhouse (-3.1%), Southey Green (-4.4%) and Birley (-6.6%); other areas experienced significant growth such as Burngreave (+14.7%) and Darnall (+11.6%).  These later two wards also have the highest proportion of their populations who are 15 years old or younger (over 25% compared to 16% in the city as a whole), and consequently more households are made up of married couples with dependent children in these areas. These neighbourhoods are also the most culturally diverse, with the BME communities accounting for 62% and 49% of the population in these areas respectively. The most spectacular growth over this period has been in the city central ward where the population increased by 19,098 people which more than doubled the population of this area to 36,412 people.

The changing population of the city has clearly had impacts on the provision of housing in Sheffield and how local housing markets might provide desired residential offers for a diverse set of demands. There is a high degree of ‘place attachment’ in Sheffield’s housing, and the city is largely regarded to be a self-contained housing market area, since 72% of residential moves take place within the city boundary. There are important links to neighbouring districts, especially Rotherham, Barnsley and adjacent Derbyshire. Migration patterns are subsequently localised, and whilst Sheffield loses population to surrounding districts, it gains population from those undertaking long-distance moves (mainly young professionals with families) and international migrants (including students).

Furthermore daily commuting figures show that in both absolute and proportionate terms, the flow of people commuting out of the wider Sheffield city region for work is greater than the flow commuting in for work, and both flows have increased over the last decade. These patterns in part reflect the city region’s employment gap or low employment density, which results in many residents having to seek work elsewhere, in particular north to Leeds and Wakefield, and south to other areas in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

Within the city region, Sheffield has the highest proportion of residents who also work within the same local authority area (78%), but it also has the highest number of workers who commute in from elsewhere everyday (nearly 64,000). In contrast, Barnsley and Doncaster have the highest number of residents who work outside the city region, and North East Derbyshire and Bolsover have the highest proportion of residents who commute to work outside their own local authority (75% and 70% respectively).

I would therefore suggest that to be able to respond actively and positively to the recent growth in population raises not only the question of where new homes should be built, but also the far more complex and significant questions:

  • What sort of city might Sheffield be in the future, and what changes will occur in the many and varied neighbourhoods that currently constitute the city?
  • As new and more jobs are created, what new links will emerge between home and work in the wider city region, and how will commuting patterns change?
  • What is the future for public services and the related wellbeing of diverse and ageing populations in an already unequal city?
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