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Solving the housing crisis involves unlocking the UK’s air rights

Sunday 7th July 2019
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The biggest and brightest cities in the world are known for their skylines, where towers and skyscrapers made of glass and steel jostle with one another. In some UK cities, like London and Manchester, the race to the sky is only just getting underway.

So, when it comes to housing supply, how do we find new ways to solve old problems?

One design solution is through the unlocking, and development of air rights: that is, the right to develop the "air space" above a property into additional housing units. In London and other dense urban centres, where available and affordable sites for development are few and far between, intensifying the land use of existing sites is a popular option that brings with it a whole host of benefits.

The most immediate benefit of unlocking air rights is to the freeholder, who by owning the property, will also own the space above it and gain financially as a result.

Subject to planning permission, these air rights can be sold or leased to enable the construction of an air rights development to companies, which will create an additional property - or a number of properties - above the building. In most cases, this involves a substantial financial windfall to the freeholder, while adding meaningful value to the wider property.

And, as advances in modular construction and 'green roof' tech continues unabated, more properties are now suitable for air rights development.

Ultimately, despite the fact that skyscrapers are the hallmark of any city, plans to build upwards in London and other UK cities are all too often met with negativity. Such difficult opposition to tall buildings in urban locations, combined with a chronic lack of sufficient housing in cities, means that there is a need to establish a happy medium.

This happy medium can only be achieved by finding innovative ways to create density beyond the new build model. Traditionally in property, we associate value with land and buildings that are built upon it. But when it comes to air rights the sky's the limit.