What are ‘air rights’?

category

Property development

author

Mick Haley

Architects, developers and local councils are continually searching for ways to ease London’s housing shortage. For those exploring the potential of air rights, things are looking up.

‘Air rights’ refers to the development opportunities in the space above existing buildings, so that new residential properties can be built without taking up any extra ground space. This solution is more environmentally friendly, as it minimises the need to sacrifice green belt land to ease housing shortage.

Back in 2016, Tesco pioneered the large-scale development of air rights. The supermarket chain is currently working with property developers to build hundreds of flats on top of it’s superstores and car parks – creating up to 150k new homes. Last year Property Week reported that B&Q and some retail park and shopping centre landlords – even the Royal Mail – are exploring the possibility of building residential flats above their properties. Speaking to Property Week, managing director of Apex Property Development, Ash Bhatti, said “there are a lot of people sitting under roofs that are worth a fortune. Once people start looking at their roof spaces, it will bring a lot of changes to the market.”

“This solution is more environmentally friendly, as it minimises the need to sacrifice green belt land to ease housing shortage.”

Provided it’s structurally possible, all buildings – not just shops and supermarkets – are entitled to air rights. In fact, Apex estimate that there is 14.3million square meters of potential developable air space across London, enough for 80,000+ new homes.

A project designed by uvarchitects that is currently under construction at Sandhurst Court in Brixton utilises air rights to add two new stories to an existing residential block. “Roof spaces are generally a great place to build new homes as they have fantastic views – who doesn’t want to live in a penthouse!” says Nicholas Smith from Smith Street Estates, the developers behind Sandhurst Court. In addition to creating nine new flats, this project has helped to fund the refurbishment of the communal areas. “This provides an uplift in values for the existing owners,” explains Smith. “Plus, an attractively designed roof space development can give the whole building a more edgy and contemporary feel.”

“An attractively designed roof space development can give the whole building a more edgy contemporary feel.”

Air rights developments naturally come with structural challenges. In the case of Sandhurst Court, the 1930s concrete structure is well-designed to take a heavy load. “Engineers meticulously designed the structure so that every supportive column was designed to suit its particular loading criteria,” says uvarchitects director, Mick Haley. “This means that the building is incredibly stable, but it also meant we had to carry out individual assessment of almost every column and slab, which took some time.”

The other challenge when building on mixed ownership schemes like Sandhurst Court is that the freehold of the building is owned by many different people. “Building on top of an occupied residential building can be very challenging and needs the full support of the whole block,” says Nicholas Smith. “Residents are bound to suffer an extended period of noise and disruption, so it is essential to get everyone on board from the start.”

If you are a developer with an air rights scheme that you would like to discuss, please get in touch.

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