England is now the most overcrowded country in Europe. It has more people per square mile than the Low Countries, which has long been the most densely-populated region of the continent, MPs have been told.
Only tiny Malta, an island city state with a population no bigger than that of Bristol, has greater population pressure among the 27 EU members.
The confirmation of England’s position at the head of the European overcrowding league table was given by the highly authoritative House of Commons library, which examined figures from the Office for National Statistics and the EU’s Eurostat.
Officials said that by next year England will have 402.1 people for every square kilometre, overtaking the figure of 398.5 in Holland and 355.2 in Belgium. The density of the population in England by 2011 will be more than four times that of France, which has 99.4 for each square kilometre.
According to the Commons Library estimates, it will reach double the density of Germany in 20 years’ time, when there will be nearly 460 people for every square kilometre in England against 224 in Germany.
The overcrowding figures come in advance of fresh official figures on immigration and its impact on the size of the population due for release today.
Ministers have promised to bring in a cap on immigration next year to bring numbers of arrivals down to 1990s levels and ease population pressures. However some members of the Coalition, notably Business Secretary Vince Cable, are hostile to any move to reduce immigration and sympathetic to calls from industry to allow more foreign workers into the country.
The Commons figures showed how overcrowding is increasingly affecting England, which attracts almost all of the migrants who arrive in Britain. England, it said, will hit a density level of 402.1 people for every square kilometre next year, which will rise to 524.1 in 2061.
But in Scotland the population density will barely increase at all, going up over the same period from 67.0 to 70.9 people for each square kilometre. Over the whole of the UK, the density measure will go up from 256.9 next year to 326.9 in 2061.
Recent EU figures have shown that Britain accounted for nearly a third of the total increase in population across the whole of Europe last year, with 412,000 extra people in this country in 2009.
Whitehall has also acknowledged that 100,000 new homes will be required each year for the next 25 years to cope with the growth of population as a direct result of immigration.
The figures have underlined concerns over the effects of rising population on transport and housing, and on both cities and countryside, as numbers rise towards the officially predicted level of 70million by 2029. James Clappison, Tory MP for Hertsmere, said: ‘Population density of such a level is an issue which politicians must address. Immigration is the major driver of population increase.’ He added: ‘This is something which the last government studiously ignored and this Government must deal with.’
The Commons figures for Holland differ from those used by the Luxembourg-based Eurostat in that they take into account the whole area of the country. EU estimates use just the land area and do not count Dutch inland seas.