YORKSHIRE is on the brink of a population explosion not seen for at least a generation, with its burgeoning number of residents now outpacing London, the South East and every region north of the Watford Gap.
Research by the Yorkshire Post based on calculations from the Office for National Statistics shows the region's population is expected to grow by more than a million people over the next 25 years – a rise of more than 20 per cent from today's levels.
A steep rise in the birth rate and the relatively high levels of immigration over the past decade, coupled with elderly people's increasing longevity, are behind the forecast rise, which would see the number of Yorkshire residents push beyond six million for the first time around 2026.
Rural areas like Selby and surrounding villages and the East Riding are among the fastest-growing parts of the region.
The figures are described today as "staggering" by the top economist at regional development agency Yorkshire Forward, Patrick Bowes. He also questioned whether the jobs would be available to keep so many people in work.
And he warned that without sufficient investment from central government infrastructure such as the region's transport systems would eventually be "overwhelmed".
Business leaders have hailed the projections as a highly positive sign of the region's underlying economic vitality, but are also backing calls for major improvements to infrastructure to support the growing number of people.
Leeds is forecast to be the fastest-growing city in the north of England over the next 25 years.
Its population is expected to break through the one-million barrier by 2033, a rise of nearly a third from its size today.
Close behind are Bradford and York, both forecast to grow by more than a quarter over the next 25 years.
The implications for Yorkshire of a period of growth unprecedented in recent times will be profound, with hundreds of thousands of new homes required along with significant investment in services as the Government cuts costs.
There are also fears that some of the major new building projects required will cause friction, with local residents unhappy at the prospect of losing cherished green spaces.
Mr Bowes, Yorkshire Forward's chief economist, said: "It is a considerable rate of growth and it does present some challenges. It means the jobs market has to create even more jobs just to stand still."
He added that the Government must now finally accept the region's long-standing call for a fairer funding deal on key services such as transport, health and education. "This rate of population growth is very significant, and is something which simply hasn't happened over the last 30 years," he said.
"It's a major long-term issue, and it's important the Government recognises that Yorkshire needs the necessary level of support. I think it gives us a powerful strategic argument to say to Government – focus on this region.
"At some point this population growth will simply overwhelm our public transport. At that point we would potentially start to turn away growth within the private sector. The cost to business (of poor public transport) already has been well-publicised, and that will be amplified."
His call is echoed by Nick Pontone, director of policy at the Yorkshire and Humber Chambers of Commerce, who said long-term investment in transport would be key.
But he added: "I do think there's a positive story here. A number of our towns and cities were suffering from a decline in population not so long ago. A growing population is a sign of economic vitality."