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Utilising Airspace To Build More New Homes

Posted 3 November 2021 by Lizzie Leigh

Rooftop schemes show how the sky’s the limit for building much-needed new homes in London and the South East...

We talk to Charles Pear, group director and partner of Gracewood Group, about the potential of rooftop schemes across London and Essex.

Charles, what was your route to becoming group director and partner?

I started working for Gracewood Group nearly 15 years ago, initially in the acquisitions department. I then worked and grew across the business in planning, construction and PRS as we evolved into what we are today. There are no short cuts, just lots of hard work.

You specialise in rooftop schemes, can you explain what these are?

Airspace and rooftop development refers to building new homes on top of existing structures, typically residential on residential, although it can also be delivered above commercial and industrial space. We believe it is an innovative, long-term solution to unlock London’s potential for housing where there’s a shortage of land and when available it is at a premium.

Gracewood focuses on developments across London and Essex, how have these areas performed during the pandemic?

While the market naturally slowed, the appetite for housing here remains high – ultimately supply still can’t keep up with demand. There’s a lot of opportunity in these locations and great infrastructure changes like Crossrail that are opening up faster access.

We are currently seeing a surge in demand for property, particularly in the rental side of the business. Many people, particularly the young have been treading water for the last 18 months, living with friends and family but it seems they have now taken that step forwards and have committed to city living. I see a big uptick in the London property market as life settles back to some form of normality.

You’re currently developing the largest airspace development scheme in the UK, based in Mile End – how’s it going?

Working with Eastend Homes, we are delivering 142 new homes on the Eric Estate along with further estate refurbishment work that will improve the whole environment for residents. Almost 80% of homes will be affordable which is historically unheard of. Construction is progressing well – we have just completed the initial part of the project, some disabled accessible units converted from redundant garage space, with the first phase of airspace works scheduled to complete in Q3 2022.

Mile EndMile End

How under-utilised do you think airspace development is in the capital right now?

There is a huge opportunity but it requires specialist expertise and understanding to make it happen as you are usually dealing with occupied buildings. Communication and carefully phased works are vital to the successful delivery. The government has recognised the potential of airspace via its Permitted Development rights, however we actually prefer to go down the full planning route as it delivers a better end product for all parties.

Do you find that people are open to the idea of buying or renting in these developments?

While the average consumer probably isn’t familiar with airspace development, the reality is that living in an airspace home is no different to any other type of new build property. We are typically using modern methods of construction (MMC), resulting in homes that are precision built and usually more energy efficient – meaning lower running costs for residents. Ultimately you would not tell the difference between one of our roof top developments and a new build block of flats but, what you will get is a much better located development within an established community as rooftop projects allow you to build in locations where land is normally not available.

You’ve also got a new development of high spec mews houses being built in Canning Town, tell us more!

Canning Town is an area undergoing widespread regeneration. Like many parts of East London, it is unrecognisable from what it was 20 years ago. We currently have a development of mews houses at the bottom of the Barking Road, within two minutes’ walk to the station, which will be aimed at families/young professional sharers and are due for completion in 2022.

Gracewood Group focuses on working in partnership with other organisations too, how does this work in reality?

The majority of Housing Associations do not have the capacity to develop their own homes and without collaboration from the private sector they will simply not be able to meet housing targets. Our partnership model provides a win-win solution – we can develop new homes for sale which can help fund wider estate renovation and the delivery of affordable housing stock.

Of course, there are challenges. Airspace is not an area that Housing Associations have traditionally explored or understood – people always have to be convinced about new things. However, once they understand how we would do it and what we’ve done in the past they see us a breath of fresh air as we’re not talking about demolishing existing homes or decanting residents.

What else do you have in the pipeline for the next 12 months?

2022 looks to be an exciting year for us, we have a handful of developments penciled in already. These are predominantly in East & South London and Essex. In fact, it should be a record year for the business.

And finally, what are your thoughts on last week’s Budget in regard to the residential property market?

The Chancellor has made the right noises with the announcement of funding for building new homes and redevelopment of brownfield land. However, as with previous announcements, we wait with bated breath to see how these pledges come to fruition.


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