London can revive its industry and double house-building by getting creative with its space

Richard Blakeway
Ensuring enough developable land is available is at the heart of the housing challenge (Source: Getty)
The average Briton spends eight hours and 41 minutes using digital devices each day, according to Ofcom – more than they sleep. It is therefore little surprise that we are also the biggest online shoppers in Europe, and this rapid growth in e-commerce partly explains London’s resurgent industrial sheds market, required to stock goods. Transactions and deal sizes are up, and rents are rising.

What’s striking is how demand for new employment premises interacts with residential, with a wider lesson for London. The capital’s massive growth, contained within its existing boundary, is putting increasing pressure on land uses. Demand for space for logistics throws this into sharp relief, with housebuilders often considering sites where industrial sheds could thrive too. In London, a sizeable amount of industrial land has already been released for residential. But the London Plan wants to both preserve important strategic industrial land and double housebuilding to at least 49,000 completions a year. How?

This month, the mayor announced a major new partnership with industrial property firm Segro to masterplan, develop and manage almost 90 acres owned by the GLA across three East London boroughs. This will result in the creation of more than 6,000 permanent jobs and includes a new Enterprise Quarter to foster SMEs. It is a huge boost to jobs and the regional economy.

The GLA’s partnership with Segro will result in a strong local job offer on vacant land that would never credibly have been developed for housing, but that economic boost will also help to accelerate the 30,000 homes which can be built along London Riverside. This includes major regeneration schemes like Barking Riverside, shortly to benefit from a new rail link.

There’s also a question about whether residential and employment uses could be integrated further, and to what extent land uses need always be binary. Indeed, many activities on industrial land are non-industrial: at least 87 places of worship have received planning consent on industrial land in recent years. Of course, integration is not straightforward – there are good reasons why some employment and residential activities are not compatible – but there are some successful examples in the UK and Europe. One of the most notable is the massive regeneration of the Ebbe waterfront at HafenCity, Hamburg, where every building is mixed-use. And Segro has plans for the former Nestlé factory at Hayes in Middlesex, which may include homes.

Ensuring enough developable land is available is at the heart of the housing challenge. It is part of the task of the London Land Commission, which will soon publish the first complete list of all the capital’s publicly owned land. The Commission will co-ordinate the release of land and procurement between public land owners, building on the work of the GLA, which has released 99 per cent of its sites to build 40,000 homes.

This could go much further. There is an appetite to do more to assemble land, including aligning London’s housing growth to new transport infrastructure, potentially Crossrail 2 or an improved suburban rail network. It is notable how the bodies delivering new transport infrastructure in other cities, like MTR in Hong Kong, also develop the real estate around the stations. This previously happened in London, with Metropolitan Railway Country Estates formed in 1919, responsible for building numerous garden suburbs along that tube route. The Housing Zones initiative, entailing the designation of areas for intensive residential development, with planning, funding and infrastructure support, has seen GLA powers converge to accelerate housing in particular places. It is this sort of creativity which will be key to supporting London’s growth over the coming years.

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