Oxfordshire’s housing & population


9th May 2018

If we are being asked to give up our precious and irreplaceable land, then evidencing the need is critical. This article takes a look at some of the statistics behind the headlines and asks ‘Where will all the people come from?’

Where will 150,000 people come from?

Oxfordshire is planning to build 100,000 houses over the next 20 years (2011-2031), following the Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA)1 which allows for economic growth over and above natural growth. This strategy would house approximately 250,000 new people2, a 40% increase in the population of Oxfordshire, bringing it to 900,0003.

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) makes regular projections of population, based on recent trends in births, deaths and migration. Using their figures, the more realistic population of Oxfordshire in 2031 is likely to be 750,0004, a rise of 15% or 100,000 people (although even this figure may be an over-exaggeration based on more recent, post-Brexit estimates).

However, our local authorities’ growth plans mean that in the next 13 years we need to attract 150,000 people over and above those expected to migrate in. Without them, we will have built more than twice as many houses as can be filled, sacrificing valuable land.

Housing the Homeless

But what of our homeless? According to Shelter 0.5% of the population is homeless or in temporary accommodation5. Evenly spread this would be 3,300 people across Oxfordshire – meaning it would take a mere 1,350 homes to house our homeless. We have overcrowded homes too; according to the SHMA this amounts to 3.3% or 8,500 houses in the county6. Generously, we could provide another 8,500 so that each overcrowded house could decant to a second home. Thus, to house all our homeless and the overcrowded, we need 10,000 homes. Nearly 7,000 Oxfordshire homes lay empty in 20177 – a good start for matching the numbers needed.

Similarly, if homeowners were enabled to downsize to smaller houses without losing capital value from savings earned over a lifetime, more than 200,000 bedrooms could become available – 73% of homes in Oxfordshire have at least one spare bedroom8.

How many houses are actually needed?

So how many houses do we actually need to build? To accommodate our expected population in 2031, we need 40,000 new houses. 15,000 had already been built by 20169, so in the ensuing 15 years we need only another 25,000; not another 85,000.

How would we fill the excess houses with 150,000 people?

Certainly there is an intention to turn Oxfordshire into a commuter belt for London. The National Infrastructure Commission estimates that at least 25% of Oxfordshire’s new houses will be for commuters (although this does not appear to be based on any robust evidence and the actual figure could be much higher).

However in general, we must emphasise that these people simply will not exist – there are no surpluses of people elsewhere in the country. The extra people can only be brought into the county by depopulating other parts of the country, or by a massive immigration programme from abroad, counter to the express determination of our government.

The trajectory beyond 2031

This housing growth trajectory from the SHMA is assumed to continue to 2040 by the Oxfordshire Infrastructure Strategy (OxIS) report of 2017; resulting in a further 38,500 houses in nine years.10

Thereafter, the ‘expressway’ to be built between Oxford and Cambridge is intended to ‘unlock’ capacity for one million houses along its route [see page 4]. The road will run through three counties, so Oxfordshire could receive a third of these houses – but let us assume it will be a fifth (200,000 houses), in 20 years to 2050. (We’ll even be generous and assume the OxIS figures in the para above are included in this 200,000, not additional, which is of course a possibility.)

The National Infrastructure Commission, which produced the report which promotes the Expressway, estimates an Oxfordshire population of just over 1.2million by 205011. However, this would be based on a very low occupancy rate.

If all the houses were to be built and occupied, at occupancy rates of 2.4 people per household (still reflecting the forecast decrease in household size due to an aging population), by 2050 there will be 1.4 million residents in Oxfordshire, against the ONS forecast population of 810,000. To get to this point, population growth would therefore need to be seven times greater than expected, and the overall population getting on for double what it is anticipated to be, or the county would be short of some 600,000 people12.

How can Oxfordshire grow?

It is the aspiration of our local authorities that Oxfordshire’s economy, and hence built environment, should grow beyond what is normal or organic, competing with other counties and pulling in people from elsewhere.

Could these people come from surrounding counties, from London, or from the North? This does not really work, since all counties have been obliged to set high housing growth targets, and across England there is a levelling off in population growth.

The trouble is that whatever the eventual reality, decisions on allocating valuable land resource are being taken now.

The disparities between the official population projections and Oxfordshire’s plans are so great that it is clear our leaders are taking a huge risk with our communities, countryside and economy.


Dr Sue Roberts
South Oxfordshire Sustainability

Prof. Richard Harding
Chair, CPRE South Oxfordshire District Committee

An edited version of this article also appears in the Spring edition of CPRE Oxfordshire Voice.   To receive a copy, why not become a CPRE member?  

NEXT STEPS: Write to the Leader of your local District Council and ask for clarification on the disparities between the official population projections and Oxfordshire’s growth plans.


[1] Oxfordshire Strategic Housing Market Assessment – GL Hearn, 2014  

[2] Based on SHMA average occupancy of 2.47 people per household, dropping to 2.4.

[3] Based on ONS 2011 Oxon population, 6540,000.

[4] Based on ONS 2031 Oxon population projection, 748,000

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/nov/08/one-in-every-200-people-in-uk-are-homeless-according-to-shelter

[6] Oxon SHMA 2014 Para 3.74

[7] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/live-tables-on-dwelling-stock-including-vacants – see Table 615 vacant dwellings by local authority district.

[8] Oxon SHMA 2014, Table 11, para 3.78.

[9] Oxfordshire Infrastructure Strategy – AECOM, Sept 17, p.10

[10] Oxfordshire Infrastructure Strategy – AECOM, Sept 17, p.10    

[11] Partnering for Prosperity – National Infrastructure Commission 2017, Table 6, p.28

[12] Oxfordshire population at 2011 was 650,000. The Office of National Statistics projections suggest that by 2050 it will have reached 810,000, an increase of 110,000.   However, under the growth scenario, the population will have reached 1.4m by 2050, an increase of 750,000 ie virtually seven times the 110,000.