THE population of Newport has exploded by nearly 10 per cent in the past decade - the biggest increase in Wales.

Early findings from last year's census - published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Tuesday - reveal huge differences in recent population trends across the Gwent area.

The number of people living in Newport has shot up by 9.5 per cent since the last census was taken in 2011. There are now 159,600 people living in the city and the surrounding villages which make up the council area.

That 9.5 per cent growth is higher than anywhere else in Wales, and is double that of Cardiff (4.7 per cent).

Will this make services less accessible?

With a growing population comes increased demand for services like education and healthcare, and there have been concerns recently that access to GPs and dentists is becoming more difficult.

This week, a surgery in St Brides announced it would close, with around 2,000 registered patients having to be moved elsewhere.

New housing developments have increased pressures on existing services, some local Senedd members have said in recent weeks.

One of them, Natasha Asghar, said on Tuesday the number of people registering with GPs in Gwent was "steadily increasing" and had risen from "606,000 patients in 2016 to over 619,500 in January 2022".

"What action are you going to be taking to increase the number of GPs qualifying each year in Wales from the current figure of 160, to ensure my region of south-east Wales has enough GPs to meet increasing demand," she asked the Welsh Government.

Mark Drakeford moved to reassure her that services were able to keep up with rising demand, and a new super-surgery in Ringland was a "very practical and contemporary example of the way in which the Welsh Government goes on investing" in primary care services. Building work is set to begin this summer.

South Wales Argus: An aerial view of Newport.An aerial view of Newport.

How has the population changed elsewhere in Gwent?

The rest of Gwent has seen modest population growth, while the population has declined in some areas.

In Monmouthshire, the number of residents has increased by 1.8 per cent over the past 10 years, and there are now 93,000 people living there.

Torfaen's population has risen by 1.3 per cent - roughly the same as the Wales average (1.4 per cent) - and the local authority area is currently home to 92,300 people.

Caerphilly county borough's population has fallen by 1.6 per cent since 2011 - there are now 175,900 people living there, in what remains Gwent's most populous council area.

And in Blaenau Gwent, the population has fallen by 4.2 per cent, the second-biggest amount in Wales, behind Ceredigion (down 5.8 per cent). There are currently 66,900 people who call Blaenau Gwent their usual home.

South Wales Argus:

Wales' population is also at its highest on record, up by 1.4 per cent to 3,107,500 in 2021.

But the rate of population growth in Wales across the last decade is lower than the rate between 2001 and 2011

What could be driving the change in Newport?

Newport's population explosion could be linked to the removal of the tolls on the Severn bridges in December 2018 - which effectively saved people a £5.60 daily charge (at the time of the tolls' removal) for driving into Wales.

The move also made South East Wales an immediately more attractive place to live for people in the Bristol and the south-west of England, where house prices were significantly higher than in places like Newport.

South Wales Argus: The Severn Crossing toll booths were closed the M4 in December 2018. Picture: Welsh GovernmentThe Severn Crossing toll booths were closed the M4 in December 2018. Picture: Welsh Government

In the 12 months that followed that decision, researchers found the amount of daily traffic heading west over the M4 bridge alone had gone up by 16 per cent.

Census data shows the number of people of working age (15-64) living in Newport last year was 8.4 per cent higher than it was in 2011, and there are also a great deal more children in the city area, too - up 10.2 per cent from a decade ago.

South Wales Argus:

Every other part of Gwent has experienced a population decline in these age groups, including Monmouthshire, which has also had an influx of arrivals since the removal of the tolls - perhaps weakening the idea that it has played a major role in Newport's growth.

Ageing population

Across Gwent, and across Wales as a whole, there are now substantially more people aged over 65, compared with a decade ago.

Monmouthshire has seen the biggest growth in Wales for this age group, with an increase of 26 per cent (the national average was 17.7 per cent).

South Wales Argus:

Elsewhere in Gwent, the number of people aged over 65 has also increased, including in Blaenau Gwent (up nine per cent), Caerphilly (up 20.1 per cent), Newport up 14.5 per cent) and Torfaen (up 16.7 per cent).

Who took part in the census in 2021?

Mark Drakeford has called the initial census results for 2021 a "success here in Wales".

He said: "Delivered against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, the first digital-first census achieved a response rate of more than 96 per cent in Wales, with more than two-thirds of households completing it online.

"This household response rate far exceeded the ONS’s target of 94 per cent nationally and local response rates were above the target of 80 per cent in each local authority area. I thank the Welsh public for their response."

The ONS will publish further census data in October.