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Meanwhile uses: not just a novelty

Katy Mourant 25 Jan 2018
Empty buildings and spaces present opportunities, not only for use in the long-term but also in the short-term. In recent years, a diverse range and multitude of pop-ups and temporary (“meanwhile”) uses of vacant sites and buildings have emerged across UK towns and cities; the trend is especially apparent in London. To this end, the Draft New London Plan (published 29 November 2017) includes a policy which specifically encourages the London Boroughs to identify opportunities for the meanwhile use of sites for housing, ‘to make efficient use of land while it is awaiting longer-term development’. On behalf of U+I, Lichfields recently secured planning permission for the temporary provision and use of 72 empty shipping containers on a site (the ‘Old Laundry Site’) adjacent to Shepherd’s Bush Market, in West London. The proposals will create affordable co-working space, with ancillary food and beverage pop-ups, and community space. Proposals at Old Laundry Site The scheme represents the inherent sustainability benefits of meanwhile uses, by bringing an abandoned, brownfield site back into use sooner rather than later. Also, the proposal characterises the social and economic advantages typically associated with meanwhile uses; new jobs will be created, the containers will provide affordable workspace for start-up businesses, the increased footfall will result in an improved economic outlook for neighbouring existing market traders, and the space will cater for community uses and events. The proposals draw on the concept created by Boxpark, with sites in Shoreditch and Croydon. Boxpark also uses containers, to allow for flexibility and for growth in response to demand. Boxpark’s developments to date were specifically conceived as a way of delivering meanwhile uses to create short- to medium-term employment opportunities for the local community. Similar to the Old Laundry Site, workspace is affordable and retailers do not have lengthy and complicated leases. Meanwhile uses can also provide a way of bringing life and activity to an area before permanent development. The temporary use of a site can smooth the transition for local communities, and give them a platform and voice to shape emerging development proposals. The attractiveness of a place for potential future tenants can also be enhanced. For example, the former BBC Television Centre, in White City is subject to comprehensive redevelopment proposals which will eventually result in the creation of a new mixed use, urban quarter. Whilst development has begun on part of the site, elsewhere a multi-storey car park is now being used as a temporary rooftop event space. Named ‘Pergola on the Roof’, the space has views over West London and includes restaurants, bars, music and seating. Who doesn’t love a rooftop bar? Incipio Group, who run the event space, describe their mission as being to “take unloved and unused spaces and turn them into unique, big and beautiful destinations”. Left to right: Pergola on the Roof and Riverside Woodland Escape Similarly, Albert Wharf in Fulham, located on the Thames, is due to be redeveloped for a residential-led mixed-use scheme in 2018. In the meantime, the space was transformed to a ‘beach venue’ with sand, palm trees and beach huts last summer. For the winter, a ‘riverside woodland escape’ was created, comprising lodges, igloos, curling and mini golf. These spaces and the events held in them are vastly popular, probably as a result of their transient nature; people have a fear of missing out on experiencing a new, but soon-to-disappear venue. There is no time for the novelty to wear off. As a result, I’m sure we will continue to see new pop-ups and meanwhile uses in all manner of different locations, as the diverse social, economic and environmental advantages they offer are increasingly recognised.

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Campaigning for the London Mayoral election is well under way and it’s fair to say that the issue of housing has never been higher on the candidates’ agenda, as made evident by Labour candidate Sadiq Khan’s description of the mayoral race as a ‘referendum’ on Tory housing policy.The focus on housing is unsurprising given the huge electoral potential it offers, cutting through all demographics and areas of the capital. As electioneering reaches fever pitch, what are the Mayoral candidates’ approaches to solving the housing crisis? Building New Homes Four of the candidates, Zac Goldsmith (Conservative), Sadiq Khan (Labour), Caroline Pidgeon (Liberal Democrats) and Sian Berry (Greens) have each pledged to build 50,000 new homes or more per annum. Concurrently, each has - somewhat predictably - promised to protect the Green Belt from development. As such, there’s been plenty of theoretical discussion about better exploiting publicly-owned brownfield land; Goldsmith and Khan promise to build on Greater London Authority land, and in particular on land in Transport for London’s (TfL) ownership. And Goldsmith has stated he will lobby the Government to release public land and will require public sector bodies to keep a register of the land they own – no great commitment as both are steps the Government is taking anyway. However, the extent to which this brownfield land can help accommodate the ambitious housing targets is questionable; as shown in NLP’s economic outlook, brownfield land doesn’t seem an effective long-term solution to meeting housing need. Another government pledge to support the increase in housing supply relates to its estate regeneration programme. On this, Khan and Goldsmith both state, unsurprisingly, that they will advocate estate regeneration only where there is resident support, while Berry outlines a presumption against estate demolition.An obvious answer to enable more homes to be built is to build higher. However, tall buildings are politically unpopular. Indeed, Pidgeon pledges to introduce special planning guidance for their regulation. Affordable Homes Another key focus is affordable homes.Khan targets 50% of new homes “being genuinely affordable to rent or buy”. He will support councils to enforce new rules to maximise affordable housing in new developments, including through greater transparency around viability assessments. Khan also seeks to double the construction pipeline of housing associations.Goldsmith criticises Khan’s affordable housing target as “impossible to deliver”. He focuses on providing homes for those on “average salaries” and encourages “mixed communities”. Other suggestions include publishing a league table with the affordable housing delivered by developers, and requiring viability assessments to be publically available ahead of planning decisions.Pidgeon pledges to create a ‘People’s Housing Precept’ to fund affordable homes for first time buyers and defines affordable housing as that which does not cost more than a renter’s or buyer’s income can realistically support. Private Renting The candidates’ emphasis on the private rented sector is unsurprising, as ‘Generation Rent’ is typically faced with high and rising rents, insecure tenancies, rogue landlords and poor conditions.Goldsmith states that he would make it compulsory for letting agents to comply with the Mayor’s London Rental Standard, with the requirement to offer tenancies of between three and five years and with future rent increases agreed from the outset. Goldsmith also promises to build houses specifically for rent, and for them to be considered favourably in planning decisions.Khan’s ‘London Living Rent’ will have a regulated rate, based on one-third of average local wages. He proposes to set up a not-for-profit lettings agency, promote landlord licensing schemes to improve standards, and name and shame rogue landlords.Berry offers a unique approach by suggesting a London Renters Union, to help organise tenants to rein in private rents and expose poor letting agents.Finally, Pidgeon would like all London landlords registered, more support for councils to enforce standards and tighter controls on letting agent fees. Londoners First Goldsmith, Khan and Peter Whittle (Ukip) have promised to give Londoners first ‘dibs’ for new homes. This is clearly an easy political win and perhaps reflects the familiar rhetoric of absentee home owners, typically wealthy foreign investors, being blamed for pushing up London property prices.The candidates vary slightly in their definition of a ‘Londoner’ and whether those buying or renting will be prioritised: Goldsmith suggests the first chance to buy new homes should be given to those who have lived or worked in the capital for a minimum of 3 years and who do not already own a home. Khan pledges that Londoners who have been renting for over five years, especially in outer London, will be offered part-buy, part-rent properties built on Mayoral land. He also proposes to give Londoners the first opportunity to buy new homes built on brownfield public land; Whittle will prioritise those who have lived in London for a minimum of 5 years. Planning Unique measures to facilitate and monitor the planning process include Goldsmith’s ‘flying planners’ which would provide expert support to councils, to interrogate major planning applications. Goldsmith also proposes to introduce a traffic light system to track the progress of GLA-referable applications and will hold LPAs that fail to build to account by publishing their planning approval rates.Khan on the other hand will create a new team at City Hall, bringing together housing, planning, funding, and land owners to raise investment and assemble land. He will set clear guidelines on the call-in process and will focus on developments where planning has stalled and opportunities for affordable homes are missed.All the candidates promise to enforce a tougher stance on land banking. Conclusion It is extremely difficult to estimate the likely impact of the plethora of proposed policies[1] as there are many, often competing, issues that the incoming Mayor must attempt to overcome to even come close to delivering some of the promises being made. Nonetheless, the clear focus on housing within all of the Mayoral candidates’ campaigns will be welcomed by many, as it suggests that they at least recognise the widespread barriers many Londoners face when both renting and buying homes in the city. [1] As discussed by NLP’s Joe Sarling in A Tangled Web.  

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