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The report

WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff on potential London housing solution

Bullet Do hospitals and schools hold the key to London’s housing crisis?

Our findings show there’s room for 630,000[i] new homes in London by building apartments above public buildings including hospitals, schools and libraries. 

In our report, Building Our Way Out of a Crisis, we show how there is the potential to provide all of the 488,000 homes needed in the next decade[ii] and provide upgraded public facilities for Londoners at the same time by capitalising on the ‘air space’ directly above the sites.

In such an arrangement the private sector would refurbish or fully rebuild the hospital, library or school, paid for by adding several floors of apartments above the new facility that could be rented or sold. In support of the idea, a survey of Londoners[iii] found that 57 per cent believe public facilities are in need of regeneration and 61 per cent think building homes above public facilities is a good idea.

Director at WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff Bill Price said: “This isn’t about replacing schools and hospitals with apartment blocks, it’s about using the existing land more effectively with the added bonus that you can regenerate community facilities at the same time. It makes so much sense; these sites by their very nature are ideally located for new homes, close to transport and amenities. So why isn’t it being done already?

“The problem isn’t building them – the engineering design needed is far less challenging than what we did on the Shard. What we realised is that the challenge is more about the perceived issues of people living above places like hospitals because it’s not the ‘done thing’ in the UK. But it’s being done elsewhere.”  

One of those perceived issues is whether or not there is a market for homes above hospitals, libraries and schools. However, our survey found that 63 per cent said they would happily live above a library – more than those who would live above other flats (59 per cent) - while 23 per cent would be willing to live above a school or hospital.

Jonathan Seager, Director of Housing Policy at business group London First, backed the report, saying novel solutions were needed for the capital’s housing crisis. “We are building less than half the homes we need in London and we will have to embrace bold new ideas like using ‘air space’ above sites if are going to turn this situation around.

“London is sleepwalking into big social and economic problems; our research shows large numbers of people are struggling to live and work in the capital, with three quarter of businesses warning the housing shortage is a significant risk to the city’s economic growth.”

In the report, WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff looks at the real life example of St Thomas’ Hospital estates in Lambeth, which is earmarked for redevelopment[iv]. The study found that if the council partnered with a private developer to deliver 12 storeys of housing above the new facilities it could provide 4,150 homes - half of Lambeth’s 2021 target.

You can read the full report here.

Read the press release that accompanied the launch of the report here.

Thanks to all those who attended our recent event to mark the launch of the paper.

[i] WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff's research allows for 100m² per apartment and uses a mixed height overbuild development strategy, with a combination of 6 and 12 storeys.

[ii] According to the GLA

[iii] 1000 Londoners were surveyed by Comres in September 2014

[iv] According to the Lambeth Core Strategy Plan 2011


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 industry view

The design

The research

The Maths

The environment

The Politics