An imaginative solution to the housing shortage?
The sixties rock band ‘The Who’ have recently been on tour. There was a clear irony in seeing the 71-year-old Roger Daltrey belt out their classic hit My Generation and sing his famous refrain, ‘hope I die before I get old’.
We are living longer. According to a recent report from the International Longevity Centre (ILC), the age at which we will die is increasingly going to be nearer 90, than the current 80. The fact that male life expectancy has increased by 14 years since the 1950s is going to have a startling effect on the provision of living accommodation and the property market in general.
So it is therefore with some interest that I see a report from the WSP Group construction consultancy arguing that there is apparently room for 630,000 new homes in London without encroaching on the green belt or cementing over the Thames. The idea is that the public sector can refurbish and rebuild public buildings. This would be financed by adding new floors of apartments in the ‘air space’ above hospitals and other government-owned premises, which could then be rented or sold.
Apparently his idea was mooted for above London Bridge station during the development of the Shard. Engineering new accommodation above or on top of existing building is well within our capability and WSP estimates that there are around 77,000 new homes that could be built as part of NHS hospitals alone in London. This idea need not be restricted to hospitals, however. How about libraries, schools and even prisons? Do not think this just applies to London alone. The housing crisis is a UK-wide issue, and there are publicly owned buildings all around the country.
The solution is not new. In space-squeezed New York the world famous Mount Sinai Tower mixed student accommodation with the world famous teaching hospital of the same name, long before there was an accommodation shortage in the city.
So perhaps in time we could be in the situation where a student nurse will literally live above the shop, take the lift to their work in the hospital below whilst listening to a 90-year old belting out another classic from the ‘The Who’ in the conveniently situated retirement accommodation next door.
Richard Steer is Chairman of Gleeds Worldwide.
Opinion piece first published in Property Week on 15th April 2015