COLCHESTER’S population is to grow faster than anywhere in the country by 2018, a Government body has predicted.

The Office for National Statistics believes 33,000 more residents will be living in the town by 2018, compared with 2008.

A report released yesterday revealed the town’s population is expected to rise from 174,000 in mid-2008 to 207,000 in mid-2018 – up 18.9 per cent.

The news comes at a time when hopes have been raised the new coalition Government could halt some of the major developments planned for Colchester, including 2,200 new homes in the north of town.

Colchester MP Bob Russell described the statistic as “very worrying” and called for major new developments in the borough to be suspended.

The Lib Dem said: “I’m continuing as best I can to reverse this march towards greater urban expansion in Britain’s oldest recorded town, because I think we need a period of calm.

“We have to acknowledge that the population of the country is growing and people are living longer, but it does not explain why Colchester is experiencing such continued massive urban growth.

“It does make a nonsense of the county council’s proposal to shut two schools.”

The Gazette revealed last year that between 2008 and 2009, Colchester’s population grew by 5,500.

The number of births outstripped the number of deaths by 800, while 1,600 more people moved into the borough than left.

There were also smaller increases in the number of students and soldiers living in the town, but about half of the increase were immigrants coming to study or work in the town.

Paul Smith, Colchester councillor responsible for resources, described the borough’s growth as “staggering” and said it highlighted the need for more investment. He added: “I must admit I’m a little shocked that we’re right at the top of the growth league for population.

“It does indicate the quality of life in Colchester is good because people do want to live here.

“We’ve got the jobs, but we’re going to struggle to provide the homes and infrastructure for them if we’re growing at this rate.”

Colchester is ahead of Westminster, which is predicted to grow by 18.4 per cent, while other fast-growing locations in the top ten include Norwich, Ipswich and Thurrock.