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24 Housing speak to Click's MD, Aaron Emmett about the potential of airspace development

Thursday 18th April 2019

Joined up thinking and the potential of airspace development

The potential of airspace development to deliver additional housing stock is something I am in no doubt of.

With land, especially in major cities, in short supply and demanding such high values, creating additional capacity is not easy.

Yet, there is a solution and it’s (almost!) in plain sight: the airspace above existing buildings.

Simply, the construction of new homes atop the roofs of existing residential and commercial buildings is benefit-laden.

Amongst these is the potential to release value for the freeholder of the existing building; the delivery of new homes in reduced time-frames due to off-site construction methods; and the realisation of new homes with minimal disruption to the community around them.

So, when it was recently confirmed in the Spring Statement that Permitted Development Rights would be extended to allow for greater levels of airspace development, I was delighted.

But that delight was couched with caution and realism.

Airspace development isn’t an area of construction that anyone can simply jump on board with (indeed, no construction should be, but that’s not always the case…).

It is highly complex and requires experience and skill.

Special consideration needs to be paid to the logistics of any such project: from road closures, over-sailing during the crane lift, specialist structural surveys and preparation of the existing roof, not to mention the technical skills of each and every professional involved in the build.

And this is where another element of the recent Spring Statement could prove problematic.

Whilst the Chancellor outlined a commitment to returning technical and vocational skills to the heart of the education system, not least of all to support the housing market, what he didn’t acknowledge was the specialist areas, such as airspace development and modern methods of construction, where bespoke technical training is required.

Here, we will need to see government act on its word and ensure in these uncertain times that we remain open to global talent coming to the UK to share their skills.

It is well understood that airspace development and modern methods of construction have an established track-record elsewhere in the world, so we must ensure that we’re able to tap in to this skills base if sufficient talent isn’t homegrown.

Until now, a lack of understanding amongst planning departments has led to total delivery times for airspace developments being extended from an achievable five months, to anything around 18 months.

Whilst this has been an enormous frustration for those of us at the coalface of this type of construction, it has meant that the training sector charged with delivering the specialist skills that airspace development demands could keep up.

So now that the delays and restrictions that have previously held us back from building upwards will be no more and, at the same time, technical and vocational skills will sit at the heart of education, I can’t help but be concerned.

Simply, both commitments must be applauded, but vitally, they must be inherently linked.

A disconnect between the two cannot be allowed to occur if airspace development is to be given the opportunity to realise its full potential.

Joined-up thinking is essential.

You can also read the full article here