It’s a little known fact that home owners also own the space immediately above their property, and that it’s theirs to sell. Now, as the pressure for urban construction sites intensifies, planners and developers are looking to utilise every available corner of a city for building homes. In London, that now includes rooftops.
Airspace has become a commodity and can be traded in the same way as a physical structure or land. “There’s an estimated £54 billion worth of roof space in London,” says Haroon Bhatti, investment director of London-based development firm Apex Housing Group.
A report that the company produced with architecture and urban planning firm HTA Design calculated that rooftops could provide the space for 180,000 extra homes across London, without even taking into account the amount of space above commercial buildings such as supermarkets and warehouses. In the borough of Camden alone there is the potential for 2,485 extra homes, according to the report.
This emerging method of building could be a boon for bodies trying to build much-needed affordable homes while avoiding huge costs for land, says Bhatti. “If housing associations and local authorities took up the space available to them, it could unlock 60,000 homes.”
Bhatti says that Apex, which works in both private and social housing sectors, has been “banging the drum” about the potential to use roof space for the past two years and is seeing a softening of attitudes from planners.
The company has been talking to 12 councils across the capital, as well as City Hall. “We see this as a whole new market for residential property,” he says. He’s got support in high places, too: the new leader of Westminster Council, Nickie Aiken. She has backed the idea of building in airspace, saying that she will ask ministers to “give us a chance. If it works in Westminster, it will probably work anywhere.”