Driving innovation: can carparks solve the housing crisis?

A trend towards urban living has disproportionately put a strain on the UK’s town and city local authorities to allocate sites for residential development – typically in areas where land is unavailable. Could car parks represent a solution?

JLL has identified just under 10,500 car parks in the UK’s towns and cities with the possibility to comfortably accommodate up to 400,000 homes, enough to house circa one million people. What’s more, in the vast majority of cases, it is possible to build without the loss of parking spaces.

Environmental-led policy is increasingly seeking to reduce the number of cars in urban areas steering people to alternatives such as public transport or park-and-ride options. Meanwhile the on-set of driver-less vehicles has raised questions over whether there will be a dramatic reduction in human-operated cars altogether.

“Policies for car-free urban centres are becoming increasingly commonplace with the aim of reducing carbon emissions,” said Nick Whitten of JLL Residential Research. “In London, for instance, the Congestion Charge was introduced in 2003 in a bid to drive cars out of the centre of the Capital.

“Meanwhile, technology advancements are beginning to see the onset of driver-less cars. Some forecasters have predicted that within 10 years, driver-less taxis will be prevalent in towns and city centres with human operated vehicles reduced in number for safety reasons.”

An OECD study that has modelled the projected use of self-driving cars has predicted that the number of privately owned cars needed worldwide could reduce by 80% to 90% over the coming decades. If car ownership declines, could space that is currently devoted to parking become available for other uses?

Taking account of another significant change in urban planning – the changing use of cars in town and city centres – JLL has anaylsed the potential for residential development on urban car parks across the UK.

The findings suggest a potential significant contributor to the supply conundrum – the potential to develop up to 400,000 new homes in towns and cities, including 75,000 in London. This boost to supply could provide housing for up to one million people based on the average UK household size of 2.4 people per home.

Crucially, more than half of the car parks that have been identified are in public ownership, under the control of local authorities. This may mean that government has directly within its means the ability to enable circa 200,000 homes to be built on urban car parks. Rail operators directly control sites with the potential for up to 25,000 homes. Sites operated by the private sector have the potential for up to 145,000 homes.

Many of the privately operated sites are let on long leases from a mixture of public and private owners. Of the 10 largest eligible stocks of car parks that JLL has identified as being suitable for residential conversion, three are operated by major private sector operators – National Car Parks, Apcoa and Meteor – who typically operate their sites on a long lease. The freehold on these sites is sometimes also in public ownership.

Will these two factors mean demand for urban parking is likely to reduce? In the short to medium term it seems probable that in some cities self-driving cars are likely to be replacements on a like- for-like basis for existing cars. One certainty is that demand for city centre living is expected to continue to increase, putting further pressure on the provision of sufficient housing.

“There is a growing body of evidence that city centre car parks can be used as housing development sites,” said Whitten. “And, it doesn’t necessarily have to result in a loss of public parking facilities.

“JLL’s report has identified nearly 10,500 car parks in urban areas in need of significantly more housing. Nearly 80% of those sites are surface car parks where, with relative ease, it is possible to build upwards while retaining car parking spaces.”

The office-to-residential PDR policy introduced in 2013 has achieved some success in enabling the creation of new residential development sites. Could a similar car park-to-residential PDR also prove successful?

“Office to residential policy now proposes to allow a developer to knock down a building and re-develop on the notional shell/footprint of that site,” said Whitten. “This concept could be applied to car parks – allowing developers to build to a notional footprint of an existing neighbouring property meaning that the policy could operate within the current confines of PDR planning regulations.”

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