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The industry view


As part of WSP’s Big Housing Debate, in October 2014, WSP held a roundtable discussion with the Architect’s Journal to identify the industry’s views on the idea of capitalising on existing land by building homes above London’s fire stations, hospitals, government administration buildings and other facilities.

The consensus of the group was that while the idea has merit, and there are several examples of similar schemes already underway, there are some specific challenges to address.

Stepping up to the table

  • Bill Price, WSP
  • Jonathan Seager, London First
  • Andy von Bradsky, PRP Architects
  • Caroline Harper,  Jones Lang Lasalle (JLL)
  • Colin Wilson, Greater London Authority (GLA)
  • James Stevens, Home Builders Federation
  • Emma Cariaga, British Land
  • Roger Madelin, Argent
  • Julia Park, Levitt Bernstein Architects
  • Simon James,  NHS Property Services


For sale or for rent?

One of the first issues raised during the discussion was around ownership of the apartments and the difficulties this can present to the owner of the facility below should they wish to alter the building or the primary use. The nature of leasehold land ownership in the UK means that if you were to sell the apartments privately the owners would have 120 year leases. Even minor amendments to the ground level facility could be difficult to progress within this approach, and so it was suggested that private rental accommodation would allow more flexibility for the landlord to retain control of the asset management. 

“There’s an increasing number of schemes coming forward for rented accommodation above, and I think that’s probably the way to approach it because it just gives you as a developer and ultimately the investor that flexibility on the ground floor use, to adapt and change your scheme, which you would have to do over the lifetime of the lease of the residents.” Emma Cariaga, British Land.

Who would live there?

What type of person would be happy to make this their home and would appreciate the benefits of being near to transport links and public facilities the most?

The table’s view was that the accommodation leant itself very well to a few key demographics:

Key workers

Accommodation above a public facility, whether it be a school, police station or hospital has obvious appeal for staff already employed by the facility, or those nearby.

 “I see some potential in what Julia was saying, in which you ask the question, ‘Why doesn’t the NHS actually redevelop its own estate, to provide units of accommodation for its own staff?"  James Stevens, Home Builders Federation

Students and young professionals

Providing accommodation for shorter-term student lets could allow more flexibility for the landlord. There may also be an opportunity to ease the housing headache  of   young  professionals,  who  are  working but  earning  low  wages  and  are  often  found  crammed sardine-like into flatshares well into their thirties.

”I think we need something up from student housing which is like a form of student housing for young professionals who are working but are on very low wages and who are flat sharing. Some kind of shared housing whereby you have a sort of hotel-like suite and maybe four of those suites share a kitchen and a living room and it’s designated for people on low income.”  Julia Park, Levitt Bernstein

Older people

It isn’t hard to imagine that housing older people above a health facility or relevant council building – such as a community centre – could provide a clever solution to caring for the elderly within communities.

 “Compatibility uses, you’ve got such a big need for housing for older people, I think the projections are something like a quarter of a million by 2030 shortfall housing for older people, it’s a huge issue, and why not integrate health and housing in a way that is compatible?”  Andy von Bradsky, PRP  

Planning ahead

In terms of planning, the panel concluded that this was less a case of needing to invent the wheel than of working out how to roll with it. Current policy exists for this type of development, but the diverse nature of the sites and demands of each local environment creates added complexity.

“The planning policy framework is already there for mixed use development and protection of certain uses, it’s effectively how it’s manipulated to deliver something that’s needed by the market and the public.”  Caroline Harper, Jones Lang Lasalle (JLL) 

Take a look at the housing report here and read the rest of our housing debate research using the headings below:

What Londoners think

The reality- case studies

The design

The research

The report

The Maths

The environment

The Politics