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February 23, 2017

Redeveloped city-centre car parks could house up to one million people in the UK and go some way to alleviating the country’s housing crisis, according to new figures from JLL, which suggest that nearly 10,500 car parks have the potential to create as many as 400,000 homes.

“The changing use of cars in town and city centres means that space currently devoted to parking could become available for residential development,” says Nick Whitton, from JLL’s UK residential team.

To date, the UK’s housing shortage has been met by government initiatives such as office-to-residential “permitted development rights” (PDR) policies that allow developers to bypass standard planning permission when converting unused commercial buildings. Between 2013 and 2016, this resulted in just under 10,000 vacant offices being proposed for development, which would have resulted in 85,000 homes.

“A similar car park-to-residential P3DR policy could prove as successful in enabling the creation of new residential development sites,” says Whitton.

With the vast majority of these car parks, residential developments can be built without sacrificing parking spaces. Similar conversions in urban locations include London’s Marylebone Square, built over the Moxon Street Car Park, its 115 parking spaces reprovisioned as 95 public spaces in a basement lot; and Swanley Square in Kent, a 3.5 acre town square regeneration that created 340 homes and added 345 new car spaces to the original 200.

Crucially, more than half the car parks identified by the JLL report lie under the control of local authorities, suggesting that the UK government has the power to enable around 200,000 homes to be built on urban car parks. The private sector operates car parks that could be developed into up to 145,000 homes, while rail operators control sites that could be turned into up to 25,000 homes.

Such ‘imaginative planning’ is critical to open up the city’s lesser used spaces.

“There is no one single policy that will solve the housing crisis, and further innovations are needed to increase supply,” Whitton says. “One certainty is that demand for city centre living is expected to continue to increase.”

The UK population has been steadily increasing by about 400,000 people every year, and is forecast to reach 71 million by 2030. To accommodate this, the government recently raised the national housebuilding target from 240,000 to 300,000 homes per year – yet on average, the UK builds about half that.

Whitton adds: “The need for new urban residential development sites has increased significantly, driven by young professionals, students and recent graduates choosing to live close to employment hubs and culture and entertainment quarters.”

Across Europe, repurposing disused industrial and commercial facilities has been a common solution for cities dealing with urban growth.

In Paris, an urgent need for affordable housing in a densely built city has been met with plans to convert former government and state transport sites, including 376 public housing units in the old Ministry of Defence building.

In Amsterdam, the government is currently offering grants for store owners to convert their unused shop space into houses.
And more migration into Europe has inspired some flexible housing concepts. For example, in Berlin and Hannover, designers have proposed building homes on underutilized parking lots and roofs, and in abandoned stations and offices.

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Nick Whitton

JLL’s UK residential team

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