Is my Building Suitable for Airspace Development?

Is my Building Suitable for Airspace Development?

Airspace development uses existing properties in urban areas to help tackle acute housing shortages.

In the UK, it is a form of property development that has official backing.

A recent Government White Paper instructed local councils to consider airspace development as a way to boost their housing stock.

In London, the need is greatest. Across the capital, there is, according to an official release from the Mayor’s office, a requirement for 66,000 new homes to be built every year. Separate data from a London Council’s briefing highlights that the overall housing deficit could reach 559,000 homes by 2021.

Individual boroughs are taking note, in September 2019 Southwark released a statement saying: “with available land in short supply, the council is now looking at new and innovative ways to build more housing, including a special focus on unlocking potentially hundreds of new homes with upward extensions on existing blocks”

This deficit cannot be tackled simply by finding new sites and creating new developments.

Innovative solutions such as airspace development are required.

With existing leaseholders and freeholders also keen to see their building undergo airspace development for reasons we outline elsewhere (link to blog post on this), it can be a solution that truly benefits all.

However, not all properties are suitable for airspace development and, when work is done on an unsuitable building, major problems can ensue.

Here we look at some of the factors to consider when assessing whether a building is suitable for airspace development.

Unmet Demand

Airspace development is common in areas where there is high level of unmet demand for housing,  typically, major cities. 

In the UK, the vast majority of airspace development occurs in London.

Elsewhere there might be properties that would be suitable for development but the lack of ongoing, unmet demand makes the project less appealing to any developer.

Lack of alternate development options

The lack of other development options ties in with the unmet demand criterion. 

Across the UK, there are many local areas where there is some level of unmet housing demand, however airspace development is not common. 

In many settings, it is possible to explore other more traditional options, for instance, the building of new housing estates on unused plots of land, or re-purposing sites that have gone into disuse.

In London, it is less likely that there is an option to simply build a new housing estate on a few spare acres of land. Major cities do not have large plots of unused land. What they have instead is a huge stock of existing properties. Building upwards rather than outwards becomes an eminently practical solution.

The Building’s Structural Integrity

If airspace development is properly undertaken, with specialist developers contracted, the building’s structural integrity will be assessed at the earliest stage.

A structural engineer would determine whether a building has the capability to withstand the extra storey required for the development.

Quite simply, if the building is not suitable, the project will not proceed. 

It is worth noting that not all companies are so conscientious.  Airspace development is an attractive revenue stream for non-specialist builders. Consequently, a concern is that the lack of expert knowledge among non-specialists will cause projects to be considered that are wholly unsuitable for this form of development. 

Will The Expansion Justify The Expense?

For airspace development to be a justifiable form of development it has to lead to a sufficient number of new homes being created to justify the investment, upheaval and time spent.

The development has to be financially viable to the developer by creating enough properties to cover their costs, but it also has to be viable to the local council. With the London housing shortage so acute, authorities will consider how many homes the work creates in any decision as to whether to grant approval.

If a project only leads to a very small number of new homes, they might deem that the potential upheaval in carrying out the work is not justifiable.

Experienced airspace developers are again best placed to assess whether a property is suitable under this criteria.

How much upheaval will the work create?

Development in a city such as London is always likely to lead to some degree of disruption, the local authority is tasked with assessing whether the level of disruption is justifiable.

Airspace development can cause a degree of disruption for those already in the property as well as disruption to the local area, for instance to traffic with materials moved to the site.

There is no easy formula that can state X amount of upheaval is acceptable for Y amount of long-term benefit, instead there are decisions made based on the available evidence and the cases presented.

An experienced airspace developer is able to minimise the amount of disruption. At Upspace, for instance, we carry out a large proportion of the work off site, with on-site development kept to a minimum. 

By using off-site development, partially built elements can be created away from the property, with just the final assembly and finishing carried out on site.

Off-site development has a number of advantages, it reduces construction time by up to 50%, reduces disruption to existing residents and can lead to higher quality work with greater ability to refine individual elements than would be possible under on-site conditions. 

To explore the advantages of offsite construction in further detail, please see our feature ‘Why offsite construction is taking the headache out of renovations for residents’.

Seek Expert Opinion

Ultimately, it is impossible to say whether a building is suitable for air space development without assessing the site.

About Upspace 

If you believe your property might be a suitable candidate for this form of development, please contact us at Upspace.

We specialise in residential rooftop developments in London – transforming under-utilised spaces into high-end liveable accommodation.