19th February 2018
London’s £50bn rooftop potential

With a £50bn potential in London alone, roof development is anything but pie in the sky. Air rights, a relatively new concept in property circles, is an innovative model that is unlocking a whole new market sector in residential development.

Apex Airspace – The pioneers of airspace development

One company that has recognised the potential of rooftop development is Apex Airspace Development, who convert unused ‘airspace’ above residential, commercial and public building rooftops into new homes. The growth of Apex and the schemes they are developing across London’s skyline is proving that unlocking redundant roof space can provide Londoners with more new homes, more affordable homes and greater access to rented homes. Here at Rund, we are acting as their project manager and principal designer on Apex’s innovative rooftop development, placemaking programme.

Apex estimates there is £20bn worth of untapped development on rooftops owned by housing associations and local authorities alone in London. Previously there has been a lack of familiarity with the concept and nervousness about the visual aspect of large-scale rooftop development. The potential, however, has always been there. In 2014, for example, a study by consultancy group WSP and engineering services business Parsons Brinckerhoff said that the ‘airspace’ above London’s prisons, schools and libraries alone had the capacity for 630,000 new homes. More recently in 2016, the DCLG and Mayor of London estimated that only 2% of new homes per year in London come about as a result of an element of ‘upward extension’.

Upward growth

The growth of airspace development is, however, gaining significant momentum, with many releasing the value and asset potential of their air rights and the benefits rooftop developments can make to increase the supply of new housing. In London, for example, the GLA Planning Team are very supportive of greater planning freedoms for rooftop development, with such developments already being encouraged within the London Plan Supplementary Planning Guidance (March 2016).

On 4th February, Housing Secretary Sajid Javid made a commitment to make it easier to build upwards on existing blocks of flats and houses as well as shops and offices. The Housing Secretary said ”The answer to building new homes isn’t always an empty plot, or developing on a derelict site. We need to be more creative and make more effective use of the space we already have available. That’s why we are looking to strengthen planning rules to encourage developers to be more innovative and look at opportunities to build upwards where possible when delivering the homes the country needs”.

Key strategic and financial benefits

Rooftop development has the real potential to deliver key strategic and financial benefits for housing associations, local authorities, retailers, private owners and ground-rent investors. Rooftop development, like brownfield development sites, have complex and challenging constraints that need to be overcome. Such technical design and construction obstacles include:

  • Structural Considerations
  • Access, Height and Fire Safety
  • Service Infrastructures
  • Sound
  • Access for Maintenance Purposes
  • Renewable Energy and Green Roofs
  • Construction Method
  • Legal Considerations

One major name looking to maximise their air rights is Tesco. According to Alan Stewart, Tesco’s chief financial officer, the sale of Tesco’s ‘air rights’ could generate around £400m. Working with property developers, including Apex, Tesco is looking to build hundreds of flats on top of its superstores and sprawling store car parks is central to Tesco’s radical strategy to overhaul its vast store estate.

Rund’s project managers and principal designers are working with Apex to assess sites and take schemes through planning and through all build stages to completion to realise the benefits of airspace developments, which simply no longer can or should be ignored.

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