East London: Who’s gained from its growth?

New data maps the rapid growth in east London since 2001. But with evidence that gentrification is pushing marginalised people to the outskirts, Kirby Swales asks who has gained from the millions of pounds spent regenerating the area?

East London was in the spotlight last year as host to the 2012 ‘regeneration’ Games. The Olympics, however, was just the latest in a series of regeneration programmes that have transformed the area over the last two decades.

The latest census data offers an opportunity to quantify the changes in the area over the last ten years, and to reflect on the response from the authorities. In particular, the data maps the process of large-scale, property-led regeneration and gentrification on an area that for decades was defined by poverty.

The traditional ‘east end’ grew up outside the walls of the City of London, driven by the industries associated with River Thames and London’s global hub role in shipping. With the railways it expanded, with waves of residential Victorian and suburban development.

‘East London’ is now generally known as the boroughs of Hackney, Tower Hamlets, and Waltham Forest in inner London, and Barking and Dagenham, Havering and Redbridge in outer London. It also includes Newham, officially classified as outer London but which shares many characteristics of inner London.

In inner east London, the population peaked in 1891 and growth was restricted to the outer boroughs, until east London’s urban footprint was finally constrained by the green belt. By 1971 the population had peaked in every borough and the entire area was experiencing a population dip, driven by a decline in the manufacturing and dock-related industries together with social housing policies, which saw many east Londoners moved out into the new estates of Essex.

In response to this economic and population decline, east London was the site of many regeneration initiatives, not least in London Docklands. This was home to the largest of all the development corporations – the Thames Gateway Development Corporation (TGDC) – but there were also many other regeneration initiatives from city challenges to the single regeneration budget.

The Olympics (and associated Westfield site) represent the second mega investment in the area and were very much billed as the ‘regeneration’ games.  A strategic convergence target was set stating that ‘within 20 years the communities who host the 2012 Games will have the same social and economic chance as their neighbours across London’.

New data from the 2011 census suggests that some convergence is already taking place, with inner east London boroughs in particular making significant improvements in skills and qualifications levels. However, these changes appear to be as a result of the in-migration of a new, younger, richer population to areas like Hackney and Tower Hamlets, while a more marginalised resident population has been gradually pushed to outer east London, to areas such as Barking and Dagenham.

2001-2011: A DECADE OF CHANGE*
The population of east London rose by 19% – or 280,000 people – between 2001-2011. A change of this scale is pretty significant by modern standards and has been driven by an increase in the working age – and younger – populations in inner east London, where the population is almost a quarter higher than it was 2001.

Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Newham have all experienced an increase in the working age population of over 30%, which must make them the most changed places in the whole of the UK by population growth. Most of east London has actually witnessed a reduction in people aged 65 or over, bucking the national trend.

Despite this dramatic growth, it is worth noting that most of the east London borough populations are below their historical peaks and there is a large variation in population density – suggesting, in theory, potential for further growth.

Alongside population change, a number of other important trends can be observed from the census data, including:

  • Increasing ethnic diversity: in all east London boroughs apart from Havering, the white British population is now in a minority. The change in Barking and Dagenham has been particularly marked; the numbers of white British people in the area fell from 81% in 2001 to 49% by 2011. Newham has a white British population of 17% (compared to London average of 45%) and almost a fifth of residents have lived in the UK for less than 5 years.
  • Most of the population growth has occurred through a significant increase in the private rented sector, which more than doubled in much of east London. By contrast the owner occupied sector has contracted slightly and the social rented sector has remained broadly constant. There are a couple of interesting exceptions – owner occupation has increased in Tower Hamlets (a Docklands effect?) and the social rented sector has fallen by a tenth in Newham.
  • New housing has predominantly taken the form of flats rather than houses. There were approximately 77,000 more dwellings in east London and, of these 72,000 (93%) were flats and 65,000 (84%) were flats in purpose built blocks.
  • More people living without cars, with almost half (46%) of all households not having a car in inner London boroughs like Hackney and Tower Hamlets. By contrast, these rates have remained unchanged in outer east London like Havering (10%) and Redbridge (13%).

So, the 2011 census confirms significant change in east London – it has become younger, denser, more diverse, less car dependent and more dominated by flats and renting – in many ways, more like the rest of London and less like the rest of the UK.  London Survey shows overall satisfaction remains relatively high and stable, and traditional concerns such as crime are giving way to more of the issues associated with growth, such as the cost of housing and traffic congestion. But does the new upwardly mobile population in east London mask increased deprivation and marginalisation? How far has the area’s growth trickled down?

East London has become newly desirable – an effect reinforced by the Olympics – but it still contains one of the largest proportions of people living in social housing in England, a tenure which is closely correlated with low income. According to the Index of Multiple Deprivation 2010, the three English local authorities with the highest levels of income deprivation are all in East London (Tower Hamlets, Newham and Hackney).

So, what about the convergence target and economic well-being? The table below shows the skills and employment position for east London boroughs according to the census statistics:

  • All boroughs in east London have more people with no qualifications than London as a whole but there has been a clear narrowing of the gap with the London average  – particularly in Newham and Tower Hamlets.  Progress is present but less marked in terms of higher level skills.
  • Havering and Barking and Dagenham are two outliers – with significantly higher proportions with no qualifications. They also have about half the levels of residents with high level qualifications than London as a whole.
  • Employment rates are mostly lower than London as a whole, but there has been a significant narrowing of the gap in Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets.

The general picture of partial convergence is backed up by other data sources, especially in terms of lower level skills and employment rates.

So, some socio-economic convergence has taken place but it is probably no coincidence that areas showing most progress are also those with most demographic change. We need more detailed and longitudinal data from the census and elsewhere to be sure, but it is likely that the convergence is largely driven by demographic change rather than improving skills and employment rates for existing residents.

In addition, east London was always the relatively affordable part of London, allowing middle income households to move onto the property ladder: in 1997 in Newham for example, house prices were 2.8 larger than average earnings, whereas that figure was about 9 at the peak of the boom in 2008.

Yes, this was part of a wider London and nationwide trend but the relative position of places like Newham and Hackney has also changed, making them more polarized between those with the ever higher incomes needed to afford private sector housing and those that are eligible for social housing. Changes in the last decade have further reduced the potential for east London to house those on middle incomes.

These changes in the housing market are probably largely driving the outward movement of deprivation to places like Barking and Dagenham. In 2000, 17% of the population in Barking and Dagenham lived in the most deprived wards; by 2010 this had increased to 48%. These early indicators of change have now been confirmed by the census.

Growth in east London – both in people and economic terms – has largely been a positive force. It shows the ability of growing cities to attract and absorb people looking for a more prosperous future (both from overseas and the UK). However, it raises serious questions about the governmental response:

1. IS EAST LONDON’S GROWTH BEING HARNESSED TO IMPROVE PLACE-MAKING? Most developments appear to be ‘property-led’ rather than ‘community-led’. Although much effort has gone into master-planning the Olympic Park itself, much of the surrounding areas are littered with disparate buildings and styles. Is there a continued case for an East London Development Corporation that can oversee some of the larger development programmes  to make this happen? How can the approach be improved, building on the lessons of TGDC in their Passing the Baton report. More fundamentally, how can development corporations ensure local communities get a bigger slice of the development benefits, which currently mostly go to major institutions and overseas investors? A current dispute over the re-development over an estate near the Olympic Park shows the tensions created when rising land values interact with an established local community. Co-operatives, community development and land trusts all have the potential to help local people have a more direct stake when their area undergoes physical development, but are currently at the margins of mainstream thinking.

2. IS GROWTH BEING HARNESSED TO PROVIDE MORE OPPORTUNITIES FOR LOCAL RESIDENTS? There are relatively few specific mechanisms to link local people to new economic growth, beyond the formal education system and mainstream employment and skills services. There have been significant investments in the formal education system but the broader skills position is not so good, and much more in the way of soft skills and work preparation is probably needed to enable east Londoners to compete with commuters. Could the strategic convergence targets be reframed in order to pick up change among low income and existing residents, especially those in social housing? Also, do we need a step change in the scale and design of programmes and strategies to encourage social mobility?

3. HAS THE PROCESS OF GROWTH AND CHANGE BEEN MANAGED EFFECTIVELY? Again, there are few specific mechanisms to manage the change process itself especially in terms of the impact on existing working class communities. London is struggling to provide basic childcare and primary education for growing numbers of children, which suggests a lack of capacity for forward and sophisticated planning. But it should go beyond the basics – in terms of a better mix of housing tenure and type, sensitive allocations approaches and encouraging social connections and cohesion to help embrace diversity. In particular, the outer London boroughs have become relatively more vulnerable in economic and population terms. Could more have been to monitor trends, and identify ways of helping integrate different communities, especially given the availability of census and other small area data? Without a government neighbourhood renewal strategy, how will joined up action to help priority places be stimulated and sustained in the future?

This short article has attempted to provide an overview of important changes in east London over the last decade, and pose some reflective questions to help prepare for the next decade. It confirms other evidence that has suggested regeneration programmes still find it much easier to encourage physical development than to genuinely uplift prospects for disadvantaged residents who were the reason for the area receiving regeneration money in the first place. Also, it shows how hard it is to make meaningful links between different sectors and spatial scales.

East London is an exciting and growing place, which has the potential to help lead London and the UK out of recession, showing the power of cities to be dynamic. However, London will need to invest fairly in all its residents and its capacity for place-making to become a truly progressive and great place.


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11 years ago

Millions of pounds have been spent on regenerating East London but the premise that there have been ‘billions of pounds spent on regenerating the area’ is flawed. Billions have been spent on hosting the Olympics.

Louise Hunter
Louise Hunter
11 years ago

This article affirms what those of us who live and work here already know.

Two points
-Local economic strategies, apart from property-led grands projets, are tragically missing, largely as a result of area -based funding having stopped.

-The effects of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 will have big impacts on the East End of London, and we should be looking at early indications.

Captain Cae Os
Captain Cae Os
11 years ago

Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Newham have all experienced an increase in the working age population of over 30%, which must make them the most changed places in the whole of the UK by population growth.

Just to let you know that Hulme in Manchester, after receipt of major Regeneration on a massive scale to “help communities and support long term benefits”?

In 2001, with population at 10,314 the ward had a lower than the City average rate of economic activity, with a lower proportion of employed residents, lower proportions of self employed economically active residents but a much higher proportion of full-time students in employment than Manchester as a whole. Unemployment was higher than the Manchester average.

In 2001, around 55% of households in the ward contained a single person,

Hulme population stood at around 15,200 in 2010, an increase of 47.7% since 2001. Continued growth in work age residents are predicted to increase by 29% between 2010 and 2015.

CACI produce classifications of areas by category, group and type. The dominant ACORN type in Hulme Manchester is described as ‘suburban, privately renting professionals’, sitting within the subset of the ‘educated urbanites’ group and the ‘urban prosperity’ category.

Demographic profiles report it’s a predominant student community? No mention of those pesky poor now!

Whilst social housing remains high on SOA stats, they are isolated islands and less identifiable now so JOB DONE, regen over, Hulme is the brave new world.

Oh and they just decided it would be a great idea to give MMU 20 acres of that employment zoned land to relocate their south Manchester Campus, with a further 1,400 student apartments.

Glad we only got the commonwealth games.

Otherwise we would all be moved out by now, but hey with the welfare reform changes affecting those unlucky enough to be housed in dilapidated social housing and lived through 20 years of building work, allocated a home now subject to “over occupancy”.

(In 2001, around 55% of households in the ward contained a single person,)

It’s a good job they forgot to build ANY single person apartments, during regen or through the other bright ideas like “housing market renuwell”?

Glad I don’t profess to be be a regeneration, development, community design or housing professional, otherwise “I’d feel really silly now and my incompetence might get me the sack”.

Ha Ha only joking. That would never happen!

11 years ago

Thanks for commenting on the article:
Yes – I agree there is an important difference between classifying spend as ‘regeneration’ as opposed to ‘development’. Much of the Olympics and other spend has been on mixed-use development (i.e. not regeneration). Significant funding has gone on more genuine improvements to existing facilities – particularly schools and the Decent Homes programme, but I agree that there is a gap left by area-based funding programmes. I think the lack of a joined up area-based strategy, with funding, is a worry – hence the question “without a government neighbourhood renewal strategy, how will joined up action to help priority places be stimulated and sustained in the future?”

The Welfare reform changes are going to have a number of negative impacts, one of which will be the further polarization of neighbourhoods. The role of the private rented sector in supporting low to middle income households (especially families) will be very constrained – making it hard for there to be a housing ‘ladder’ – those in social housing will feel increasingly trapped, and it will be harder to create mixed income communities. I agree we should be looking at early indications – interested in what these may be.. e.g. impact on housing lists, school mobility, and demands for services.?

As to Hulme, I remember vividly the ‘cresecents’ from being a student there in early 90s. Ruth Lupton once did analysis of the position of low income areas in 1991 and 2001. There was a very high correlation shown on this graph (i.e. poor neighbourhoods remained poor) but Hulme was the obvious exception – and most changed low income area in the whole country by a long way. But, as your analysis points out, this is largely represented by huge changes in the demographic structure. This is unlikely to happen on the same scale in East London because the high rates of social housing will remain in the future, but it is a risk. This brings us back to the perennial challenge and focus for the article – how to ensure local people genuinely benefit from the advantages of East London rather than be displaced, and to feel ownership of the process too.

Please come along on 4 March and try to work this out with us?

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