Is airspace development the catalyst for further property development of industrial or residential sites?

29 Oct 2019
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Intensification of industrial development has been a topic of much discussion in recent years as the pressure to provide more housing in London increases.

At our recent Economic Breakfast Briefing, our panellists spoke at length about redeveloping industrial sites to mixed-use in a way that industrial and residential accommodations could co-exist. Specifically, the possibility of airspace development was discussed and all seemed to agree that from a development perspective, the best way is to build up, rather than out. Tom Alexander, an architect at Aukett Swanke, suggested that we should put "public realm up in the air" and build residential accommodation above industrial. Examples like Manhattan, Singapore and Hong Kong were cited as examples of major cities having built upwards for years. 

To be able to increase upwards development in London, considerations like architecture, construction and design aside, changes would have to be made to the planning regime to allow it to become a catalyst to this shift, rather than a deterrent. However, it appears, as though right on schedule, we are beginning to see some changes, specifically for planning up for existing residential properties.

At the recent Conservative Party Conference, the Housing Secretary announced that introducing permitted development rights, in respect of residential properties, would allow "the freedom for anyone to build upwards, to add up to two storeys to your property, where [me] as secretary of state grants that rather than you having to ask permission to do so, so your home can grow as your family does too." It appears that this right will be made available to purpose built blocks of flat in January 2020 and then eventually extended to all detached properties in the future. 

Specifically from a planning perspective, this is likely to bring challenges for the local authority. Prior approvals will be needed if clients want to exercise this right. Prior approvals are often less detailed and easier to deal with than full planning applications, which will facilitate upwards developments.

However, the prior approval will need to include certain impacts. It has been confirmed that prior approval will be required from planning authorities in respect of design and appearance. It remains to be seen what other impacts, if any, the prior approval will cover. The challenge in this respect for local authorities will be to find a balance between placing conditions with respect to the impacts without making the system so restrictive as to render it ineffective.

Clearly, even if permitted development rights are introduced to allow airspace development for residential properties, this will not guarantee similar proposals for mixed-use airspace development.

It remains to be seen how our planning regime with evolve over time to accommodate and promote mixed-use airspace development. Although it would appear to be headed in the right direction, like with most things, the devil will be in the detail.



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