Rooftop building won’t solve housing crisis in the north

Sajid Javid who wants to see more "building up" to create more homes on existing buildings Photo: PA
Sajid Javid who wants to see more "building up" to create more homes on existing buildings Photo: PA
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THE government wants more rooftop building in cities but is it really any use in Yorkshire? Sharon Dale reports.

The response to the government’s latest salvo against the housing crisis has ranged from glee to lukewarm with the biggest round of applause coming from London

The announcement by Housing Secretary Sajid Javid revealed a forthcoming relaxation of planning rules to make it easier to construct new homes on top of existing buildings. The “build-up” policy is included in the revised draft consultation version of the National Planning Policy Framework, which will be published soon.

Under the changes it will be easier to build up to two additional storeys on existing blocks of flats, houses, shops and offices, as long as the height is in keeping with the roofline of other buildings in the area.

Mr Javid said: “The answer to building new homes isn’t always an empty plot, or developing on a derelict site. We need to be more creative and make more effective use of the space we already have available.

“That’s why we are looking to strengthen planning rules to encourage developers to be more innovative and look at opportunities to build upwards where possible when delivering the homes the country needs.”

Delivering development in built-up areas is a big part of the government’s housing white paper proposals but reaching for the sky is not a panacea for the whole country. In London, where property values are high, this kind of development stacks up financially and, according to one specialist rooftop builder, there is potential to build another 180,000 homes in London using only a single-storey rooftop extension. In the capital, modular construction has been used to minimise disruption, with extensions built in a factory and craned on to rooftops, though this is expensive and may not be viable in the north.

Jonathan Morgan, managing director at Leeds-based city living specialist Morgans, says: “We have plenty of empty buildings and hundreds of empty upper floors above retail units in Leeds so capacity for more homes isn’t a problem. It’s just a question of time. Why would anyone go to the trouble of building on top of an existing, building when it doesn’t make financial sense and it is a logistical nightmare?”

Simon Grundy, Head of Planning North for Carter Jonas, believes there are exceptions in high value hotspots like York and possibly Harrogate. “I don’t think the government will restrict the relaxation in planning rules to cities,” he says.

He adds that the “build-up” policy could be useful for those tackling major refurbishments and those making use of permitted development rights to convert offices into homes. “It certainly opens up the possibility of making more of a conversion, though in York, the local authority wants to protect long-range views of the Minster so there could be concerns there. I think we will see developers actively looking for properties where they can make use of the relaxed planning provisions.”

Adding extra storeys to inhabited buildings is more unlikely due to disruption and the cost of moving tenants out and compensating them.

“Developers would have to weight the cost against the end value,” says Simon, who says the real answer to York’s housing issues is for the city council to get a Local Plan in place, which identifies land that could be developed, including greenbelt sites.

Jonathan Morgan adds that the housing minister should concentrate his efforts on delivering homes for first-time buyers. He wants to see local authorities building affordable homes on council-owned sites via joint ventures with developers and housing associations. He’d also like to see the council teaming up with small developers to build housing on corner plots and pockets of infill land.

“We need a strategic 20-year plan to deliver to deliver schemes like this,” says Jonathan, who is working on a project to persuade the owners of retail units to convert the empty space above into flats.

“It’s a long-term plan and it is challenging because a lot of the retail units are owned by big investment funds but I think we will see it happen in the next few years” he says.