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Insights

09 April 2019

It's time to look to the skies

There was a time when a conversation on ‘airspace development’ would have been met with blank stares, dubious mutterings and endless questions.

People hadn’t considered the potential value of the space above a building; when introduced to the concept, they feared building collapse or levels of disruption to sitting tenants that made it an untenable option; or they simply questioned its legal and financial complexity and whether it could ever be more appealing than tackling housing supply via more traditional methods of build.

The good news is that the tide is well and truly turning.

We now find ourselves in an environment where both the Government and Greater London Authority (GLA) have demonstrated commitment to this game-changer in housing provision.

Last year, the National Planning Policy Framework incorporated airspace in to its revised document; in last October, James Brokenshire announced that the government would consult on permitted development rights that could allow property owners to extend certain buildings upwards without the usual planning constraints; and the GLA has also included airspace within its draft London Plan.

These are all positive announcements. However, demonstrations of commitment and support are one thing, tangible moves towards greater realisation of this vision are another. The Government’s announcement in October that it had removed restrictions on council borrowing to deliver the next generation of council houses was, therefore, a very welcome move which should make airspace as attractive to councils as it is to private-sector developers.

Furthermore, in the Budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced a consultation on proposed permitted development reforms for airspace development to include the high street – an area under increasing pressure as retail habits continue to shift.

These moves all come at the same time as pressure to deliver more homes, and to be increasingly innovative and agile in doing so, continues. There really has never been a better time to look to the skies and consider the benefits of airspace development.

Indeed, the conversations we’re now having, the questions we’re being asked and the events we’re speaking at, all point towards greater understanding and appreciation of airspace development. The blank stares and dubious mutterings may be receding.

Of course, this isn’t new uncharted territory: it is a well-established approach to development in both Europe and the United States and when coupled with the financial windfall it can create for the property owners, there appear to be few reasons why it shouldn’t appeal all-round.

However for anyone, not least of all investors, requiring further reassurance, the following might be considered.
Airspace development combines strong environmental, logistical and quality proof points. Simply, it is sympathetic to the environment, relies on off-site construction methods that cause minimal disruption and adopts an approach whereby quality is controlled and assured. New technology, meanwhile, can calculate both the extra weight a building can bear, as well as identify the most suitable rooftops for new homes of this type.

Questions of finance remain commonplace when it comes to considering airspace development vis-à-vis other housing solutions. The good news is, though, that this approach actually helps to address the funding gap associated with meeting housing targets through the repurposing of existing assets which hold significant value potential. Our own data suggests that this ‘new’ form of land supply could be worth in the region of £54bn.

So as support grows for airspace development, the team here at Apex Airspace holds firm in in its belief that it addresses the challenges of both land supply and financing streams so often associated with housing supply. But we’re also practicing what we preach: we have ambitious plans to build many hundreds of new homes in this way and numerous partnerships have been signed with Housing Associations and big businesses.

Importantly, we have the scale potential to deliver against the expected growth in this area over the coming years and we hope you’ll join us on this exciting journey.


This article was written by Val Bagnall, Managing Director, Apex Housing Group: T: +44 (0)20 7135 2050 | val.bagnall@apexairspace.co.uk.

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