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Census shows increase in population of the South West as it tops 5 million

Released: 16 July 2012 Download PDF (91.3 Kb)

The population of the South West on census day (27 March 2011) was 5.3 million, an increase of 7 per cent from 2001 when it was 4.9 million. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the first results from the 2011 Census today.
By comparison the population across the whole of England and Wales also increased by 7 per cent to 56.1 million, the largest growth in population in any 10-year period since census taking began in 1801. 

Jil Matheson, National Statistician said:

"I'd like to thank everyone in the South West for their support. The 2011 Census has been a resounding success and I am proud of the incredible effort that has been put in. It is a rich source of information about the population and its characteristics. Across England and Wales around 19 out of 20 people responded and we have excellent statistical methods for ensuring we have a complete estimate of the whole population. These statistics will provide valuable information for planners, policy-makers and the public for years to come."

Most local authorities in the region increased in population between 2001 and 2011, although there was a small decrease in West Somerset (1 per cent). Across England and Wales 17 local authorities decreased in population.

Cornwall was the largest local authority by population in the South West, with 532,300 people, an increase of 32,300 (6.5 per cent) between 2001 and 2011. Swindon was the local authority with the greatest increase in its population, 16 per cent between 2001 and 2011. 

The most densely populated local authority was Bournemouth, with nearly 4,000 people per square kilometre, which equates to 40 people on a rugby pitch. The least densely populated was West Devon with 46 people per square kilometre.

The local authority in both the region, and across England and Wales, with the largest proportion of people aged 65 and over was Christchurch with 30 per cent. City of Bristol had the smallest proportion in the region of people in this age group (13 per cent). Gloucester had the highest proportion of people aged 19 and under (25 per cent), and West Somerset the lowest (18 per cent).

Across England and Wales there was a 13 per cent increase in the number of children aged under five with over 400,000 more in 2011 than in 2001. In the South West there are now 27,000 more under-fives compared with 2001, an increase of 10 per cent. The largest proportion in this age group in the region was 7 per cent in both Swindon and Gloucester, with the smallest proportion being 4 per cent in West Somerset.

The total number of households in the South West was 2.3 million. The smallest average household size was 2.1 people per household, in West Somerset and the Isles of Scilly.

Glen Watson, Census Director said:

 "The whole operation has worked well. We met our targets both for response and quality. We’ve had fantastic support from the public, and also from voluntary groups, community groups and local authorities throughout England and Wales. I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone involved, including the 35,000 people who worked on the data collection and helped to make the census a success."

Read the full report.

Local Authorities in South West ranked by population size in 2011 Census

South West 2011 population 2001 population Change 2001-2011 (per cent)
Cornwall 532,300 500,000 6.5
Wiltshire 471,000 433,500 8.7
Bristol, City of 428,200 390,000 9.8
South Gloucestershire 262,800 246,000 6.8
Plymouth 256,400 241,000 6.4
Swindon 209,200 180,100 16.2
North Somerset 202,600 188,800 7.3
Bournemouth 183,500 163,600 12.2
Bath and North East Somerset 176,000 169,200 4
South Somerset 161,300 151,100 6.8
Poole 147,600 138,400 6.6
East Devon 132,500 125,700 5.4
Torbay 131,000 130,000 0.8
Teignbridge 124,200 121,200 2.5
Gloucester 121,700 109,900 10.7
Exeter 117,800 111,200 5.9
Cheltenham 115,700 110,000 5.2
Sedgemoor 114,600 106,000 8.1
Stroud 112,800 108,100 4.3
Taunton Deane 110,200 102,600 7.4
Mendip 109,300 104,000 5.1
West Dorset 99,300 92,500 7.4
North Devon 93,700 87,700 6.8
East Dorset 87,200 83,900 3.9
South Hams 83,100 81,900 1.5
Cotswold 82,900 80,400 3.1
Forest of Dean 82,000 80,100 2.4
Tewkesbury 81,900 76,500 7.1
Mid Devon 77,800 69,900 11.3
North Dorset 68,600 62,000 10.6
Weymouth and Portland 65,200 63,800 2.2
Torridge 63,800 59,100 8
West Devon 53,500 48,900 9.4
Christchurch 47,700 44,900 6.2
Purbeck 45,000 44,400 1.4
West Somerset 34,700 35,100 -1.1
Isles of Scilly 2,200 2,100 4.8

Table source: Office for National Statistics

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Background notes

  1. The census provides the most accurate estimate possible for the population of England and Wales and has been carried out every 10 years since 1801, apart from 1941, by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The information provided to ONS is used solely for the census, is anonymised and protected for 100 years. Census day was on 27 March 2011. All census population numbers refer to that day.
  2. Government uses the census statistics to allocate funding for services such as education, transport and health. Policy makers in central and local government use the census to identify the needs of different communities and they are also used by commercial enterprises. It also provides the benchmark for future population estimates and for sample surveys.
  3. The ‘median’ is the value halfway up an ordered list of numbers. The median age is the age that half of the population are older than and half are younger than.
  4. For the first time every census questionnaire form could be filled out and returned on-line and 16 per cent of census returns were completed on-line.
  5. The 2011 Census figures will be used to base the 2011 population mid-year estimates which are due for release in September 2012. In due course the mid-year population estimates for 2002-2010 will be rebased. 
  6. National statistics are produced to high professional standards set out in the National Statistics Code of Practice. They undergo regular quality assurance reviews to ensure that they meet customer needs. They are produced free from any political interference.
  7. The second release, due between November 2012 and February 2013, will feature more detailed statistics including national identity, ethnicity, marital and civil partnership status, and religion.
  8. The regions referred to conform to standard statistical regions.
  9. For the latest on census, follow us on Twitter@2011censusinfo
  10. Some facts about the collection of census data:
    • The 25 million 32-page (16 sheets of paper) questionnaires sent to households in England and Wales were printed at the rate of eight questionnaires per second.
    • Stacked up, they would be 200 times the height of The Shard
    • Questionnaires were processed at a rate of 170,000 per day
    • Questionnaires were printed on paper from sustainable sources and 1,700 tonnes were destroyed and recycled after processing.
  11. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting or from the Media Relations Office email:

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