Airspace development is a form of development that many people believe can be instrumental in helping solve the capital’s housing shortage.
Advocates for this form of development point to key benefits – it is development that uses existing buildings, and it is development that does not rely on new plots of land being found.
The Need for New Housing
What is also commonly accepted is that doing nothing is not an option. London urgently requires new housing stock. Figures produced for the Mayor’s office in 2017 highlighted a need for 66,000 new homes to be built every year in London, data in a London Councils members briefing stated there could be a deficit of 559,000 homes by 2021.
The housing shortage is only getting more critical. Between 2001 and 2011, London’s population grew by more than a million yet there has not been a recent decade in which more than 200,000 new homes were built.
However, if the need is ongoing and the crisis is not new, why is airspace development only coming to prominence now? The answer lies in the attitude of central government and how that has filtered down to local London councils.
Development that has come of Age
The Government has continued to outline in the past two years that air space development is crucial to tackling the UK’s housing shortage, documents have gone out of their way to make explicit mention of airspace development as one way of boosting the housing stock.
The National Planning Policy Framework, updated in February 2019, makes repeated mention of airspace development. The Framework builds on previous publications and speeches from recent years.
In 2017, the Government produced a White Paper entitled “Fixing our broken housing market”, this was then referenced heavily in a 2018 written statement. Both the White Paper and written statement had this to say of airspace development:
“The opportunity for new homes is not always an empty plot, or the redevelopment of a derelict site…
“It is important that development uses the space that is available efficiently, and avoids building at low densities especially in areas of high demand such as London. The Government recognises that one of the ways to achieve this is to build up rather than build out, using the space above existing buildings to create new homes.
“Planning policies and decisions should respond positively to suitable opportunities to use the airspace above existing residential and commercial premises for new homes. They should allow residential and commercial premises to extend upwards, where such extensions would be consistent with the prevailing height and form of neighbouring properties and the overall street scene, are well-designed (including complying with any local design policies and standards), respect the privacy of neighbours and can maintain safe access and egress for occupiers.”
The whole statement is available here.
While that statement might be seen as advisory, it established the government’s backing for airspace development and suggested that when suitable projects could be identified it was a form of development with many advantages.
Extra backing was then given through the updating of the National Planning Policy Framework in February 2019 – again, the entire text is available online.
Point 11 talks about options for development, introducing the sub section with the following passage:
“Planning policies and decisions should promote an effective use of land in meeting the need for homes and other uses, while safeguarding and improving the environment and ensuring safe and healthy living conditions…”
The section talks about potentially developing brownfield land and underdeveloped land, but this is in a framework for the whole of the United Kingdom and, as any developer knows, simply finding underdeveloped land in London can be an impossible challenge.
More pertinent are the two passages on air space development which state:
“[planning decisions should] promote and support the development of under-utilised land and buildings, especially if this would help to meet identified needs for housing where land supply is constrained and available sites could be used more effectively (for example converting space above shops, and building on or above service yards, car parks, lock-ups and railway infrastructure).
“Support opportunities to use the airspace above existing residential and commercial premises for new homes. In particular, they should allow upward extensions where the development would be consistent with the prevailing height and form of neighbouring properties and the overall street scene.”
This level of central backing for airspace development, coupled with the need for increased housing stock in London as identified by the Mayor’s Office demonstrates that any potential developments of this nature have a good chance of gaining approval.
However, as with all developments, planning is still crucial and airspace development is a specialist form of development.
Key Considerations for Airspace Development
It is a form of development where expertise is required to ascertain which properties are suitable for this form of development, properties where the increased capacity will also be to the benefit of existing residents. This can occur through upgrades to communal areas, outstanding maintenance issues being resolved and a post-completion increase to property value.
Local councils also factor in the amount of disruption caused, both to existing residents and also the wider community. A specialist airspace developer such as Upspace can carry out much of the build offsite and so disruption is kept to a minimum.
A further consideration will be the ongoing maintenance of the property. Most airspace developers and also builders who try to enter this field look to profit by simply selling the new properties. At Upspace, we differ by maintaining an ongoing interest in the new dwellings, we let them out and so our profits come in the long term. This guarantees a direct interest in keeping the entire property in good repair.
With official backing for airspace development, it is likely more projects will be approved across London in the coming years.
Upspace specialises in residential rooftop development.
We help leaseholders and developers transform under-used property airspace into high-end liveable accommodation – helping address London’s housing shortage.
If you have any queries or are interested in finding out if your property might be suitable for airspace development, please contact us.