You may have heard of airspace development and be wondering about the benefits for property owners. If so, your first question might be: ‘Do I own the airspace above my property?’
This article aims to demystify airspace rights in clear, simple terms, and explain what developing above the roofline means for a property owner like you.
What is airspace development?
Airspace development is already well established in New York and Paris, and it is now a growing part of London’s housing expansion. A select group of experienced airspace developers, which includes Upspace, are spearheading this growth in the capital.
Airspace development calls for an understanding of rooftop construction work, the laws around airspace rights, and managing concerns of tenants in the existing buildings.
Upspace are one of the original airspace developers in the UK. We are founding members of ARAD, the Association of Rooftop and Airspace Development, with several rooftop projects in the capital.
If you’d like to find out more about working with us, please email email@example.com. Or read on to learn more about the opportunities airspace development offers.
What is airspace and who owns it?
Do you own the airspace above your property? Let’s look more closely at the legal position regarding your property and its air rights.
In property law, there is a starting presumption that “the owner of the soil is presumed to own everything, up to the sky and down to the centre of the earth.”
Legally speaking, this means a private property owner’s rights are not limited to the surface of the land itself. They extend to air space above the land, and also below the ground.
This prevents, for example, your neighbour building extensions that hang over your property, or having projecting eaves. A business can’t erect advertising signs above your land, house or property.
How far up does airspace extend?
In modern times, the air rights of a property owner don’t quite extend all the way ‘up to the sky’.
Airspace ownership is usually considered to extend to between 500-1,000 feet above a property. This allows aircraft to fly over your property at a reasonable height, in accordance with the 1949 Civil Aviation Act.
What all this means is that the immediate space above your property is available for you to develop. While there are limitations on the control you have of the airspace above your property, case law rulings in the past few years have been helpful on what can and cannot be done with properties of different sizes.
Now that you understand more about your air rights, let’s consider the good sense of building in the air space above London’s roofs, and the many benefits.
Airspace: Why build upwards?
Rooftop construction is an effective way of tackling the capital’s housing shortage. The Mayor of London has set a target of building 52,000 homes in the city each year.
A 2017 report suggested airspace development could create 180,000 new homes. It has been estimated Zones 1 & 2 alone could accommodate 41,000 potential new residences. This could speed up the time it takes to reduce the housing shortfall.
Rooftop construction makes use of existing buildings, rather than building on green spaces, squeezing more buildings on private land, or contributing to urban sprawl. It breathes new life into buildings, and existing residents often see an uptick in the value of their own property.
Can I develop above my property?
In 2020, the government introduced Permitted Development Rights (PDR), allowing development above a property without planning permission where the project meets certain criteria.
Where PDR rules apply, you can develop two additional storeys without planning permission, if your property itself stands two storeys or more. (Read more about PDR here.) Private homes, shops, office blocks, or blocks of flats are ripe for maximising the potential provided by airspace ownership.
Buildings that do not meet PDR criteria may still be equally suitable for successful upwards development. It just means you’ll have to go down the full planning permission route, which we can assist with.
Develop your rooftop with Upspace
Upspace can make developing your freehold in London as hassle free and rewarding as possible. We can offer the right advice on all legal considerations, including those in accordance with the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987.
We’ll ensure airspace is developed to code – including the suitability and safety requirements of the building; daylight and sunlight assessments; and keeping disruption to existing tenants to legal minimums.
Our projects use off-site construction – making many elements off-site – all to the same or higher standards than traditional building methods. The components built off site are then assembled within the roof space far more quickly. As a result, both lead times and, crucially, construction work times on-site are reduced by up to as much as 50%.
These measures also reduce the carbon footprint of the property development, while the finished construction can improve a property’s energy and security rating. Post-construction, Upspace maintains its relationship with the freeholder, as we retain the newly developed properties for the private rental market.
Airspace and your return on investment
What does developing this airspace get you? Property owners get a handsome financial benefit from selling their airspace lease to a developer like Upspace, or partnering with us.
And there are wider benefits too. The upgrades to energy and security efficiencies mentioned above will enhance your property and save existing residents money.
Every development comes with a brand new roof, complete with industry standard guarantees typically exceeding 20 years. Whether private or communal, roofs are often an ongoing expense. Extended warranty peace of mind means a great saving for leaseholders, plus possible increases in leaseholder value.
The building in general will normally receive an upgrade in facilities. These could include new flooring, energy efficient lighting, alarm systems, and repainting or recladding facades to improve a property’s thermal quality and aesthetics.
If shared spaces such as reception areas need redeveloping to accommodate the newly added dwellings, this can also boost your property value.
Essentially, making a building cleaner, greener, and more attractive can add 3%-4% to the value of the existing units in the building.
Ready for the next step?
Now that you know more about the law surrounding air space ownership and development, you may be wondering about the next step? Why not take a look at our FAQs about air space and rooftop construction.
You can also get in touch with us for advice on the viability of your air space project, and to find out more about working with Upspace. We’re leaders in the field and genuinely happy to answer any questions.
We look forward to guiding you through this exciting new world of property development.
PO Box 1334