As urban cities run out of brownfield sites, innovative developers are looking upwards for inspiration. Stephen Penn takes a closer look at the rise of rooftop living in the heart of the capital

Londoners know better than anyone that their city is in the grip of a major housing crisis – they live with the consequences every day. It’s a serious economic issue – the biggest factor in the shocking cost of city living and a huge block to improving productivity and increasing growth.

With more and more of a push to retain green spaces in densely populated areas - the urban sprawl mantra to be mindful of retaining quality, design and public space is increasingly an issue. In a bid to make a transformational change for good, last year Knight Frank published its 2017 Skyward Report, which analysed the potential of every building in the capital.

In doing so, it identified opportunities and potential for build adaptations that could be implemented without changing the character of the skyline.

Findings indicated that as many as 41,000 new dwellings could feasibly be built in PCL using rooft op space, equating to an additional residential footprint of more than 28 million square feet and a potential value of £51 billion. Now, innovative developers have switched their gaze from shoehorning in square footage on ground level sites, and are instead looking upwards, on top of existing buildings.

Fully fitted pre-fabricated modules, constructed off -site in specialist factories, are being placed on top of existing multi-storey buildings as an alternative solution to high-end housing. Minimal disturbance to existing residents is one clear benefit. So too, are the spectacular views afforded to new roof top residents at a fraction of the price.

“The value of London property has reached a point where plot values are now calibrated in a number of ways, so it’s viable to create additional floors to buildings,” says Martin King, partner at Architects Douglas and King. “There’s huge potential, provided projects are undertaken in a diligent and carefully planned way.”

Not surprisingly, hurdles to build projects of this nature are there to be overcome. Building regulations require any new structure at roof level to be self-supporting in the event of a catastrophic failure, while older buildings also require strengthening. But instead of shying away from this, firms like Mara Build (www.marabuild.co.uk), which recently launched London Penthouse – a dedicated arm of the business for rooft op development – are tackling the challenge head on, not just creating new property stock, but renovating existing buildings within the city limits.

“As part of any build agreement, we give the freeholder a premium for that roof space, but we’d also undertake to overhaul the common parts of the building such as stairwells, roofing and landscaping,” explains director Joe Griffin. “In doing so, it adds value not just to the new property, but the entire building by some 15%, and at no cost to owners. It’s a win-win for all those involved.”

While there’s a slew of red tape holding up the pace of growth of this sector of the market, airspace property pioneers are nevertheless pushing the government to implement policy changes to further open-up build opportunities. And they’re starting to see a shift in response.

“Over the past year, we’ve been invited to 10 Downing Street to meet and discuss our delivery model with the Prime Minister and the Communities Secretary,” explains Val Bagnall, Managing Director of Apex Airspace (www. apexairsace.co.uk). “We’ve held meetings with the Housing Minister and senior government housing advisors. The upshot has been significant movement towards changing government planning policy for airspace development.”

Now set to form part of the London Plan, this new sector means the city should soon see a boom in sky living projects; an encouraging sign for housing stock quotas in the long term.

“This is a huge opportunity to make real, lasting change to housing volumes, and it’s refreshing to know it’s moving up the political agenda,” explains Patrick Brightman, director of First Penthouse (www.fi rstpenthouse.com) which recently added seven penthouses to the rooftop of an elegant Grade II listed mansion block in the heart of Knightsbridge. “In the past, planning issues have acted as a deterrent, as have the challenges of producing the modules - as every milimetre counts. But projects like this really can make a significant impact.”

Adds Brightman: “We may not be able to single handedly solve the housing crisis, but we can certainly make a dent in the bottom line.”

IMAGE CREDIT: First Penthouse

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