- Project plans
- Project activities
- Legislation and standards
- Industry context
Last edited 18 Feb 2019
There is a great demand for new development in the UK, whether to satisfy commercial needs, or to supply the housing market. However, as our cities become more congested, not only greenfield, but also brownfield plots become more rare. In addition, protections such as conservation area status, listed buildings and so on can make it difficult to clear sites for redevelopment. It has become more common therefore to consider developing below existing properties, in basements, and also above them.
Generally, the owner of a property will also own the rights to the air above the property that they could reasonably use (thus excluding the flight paths of aeroplanes). That is, they may, subject to planning permission, be able to develop above their property. However, these rights can be sold or leased, enabling the construction of ‘air-rights’ buildings. Typically, air-rights buildings are constructed above existing infrastructure such as roads or railways, or over buildings such as low-rise shopping centres that may have been developed when space was at less of a premium.
The first air-rights building in the UK was One Embankment Place, a commercial office building for PwC constructed above Charing Cross station and completed in 1991. Not only did it build above Charing Cross station, but its services and lifts pass through the station itself. Other air-rights buildings include; Alban Gate at London Wall; Broadgate in the City of London and the Cannon Place development above Cannon Street Station.
Air-rights buildings can be extremely complex, requiring negotiations with multiple owners and occupants, sometimes a requirement to keep existing facilities running, issues to do with structural disturbance, access, safety and security and so on. This has inevitable meant that air-rights buildings tend to be more expensive, they take longer and they are higher risk than simply building on the ground. However, following an initial spate of air-rights buildings in the 1990’s there is fresh interest because of the lack of availability of more straight-forward sites. In addition, there has been the development of reliable technologies that ensure sound and vibrations are not transferred from existing structures (such as railways) to new air-rights buildings.
In the USA, air rights can be traded as Transferrable Development Rights (TDR). The rights to construct to a certain level of density above an existing building (typically a heritage building such as a church) are traded with the owner of another plot, enabling them to develop a at greater density (or higher) than would otherwise have been permitted.
In 2014, a report by WSP, Building our way out of a crisis - Can we capitalise on London's public assets to provide homes for the future? suggested that building above public assets in London could provide space for up to 630,000 new homes.
In February 2019 it was announced that Homes England has agreed a £9 million funding deal with 'airspace' developer Apex Airspace Developments to build homes on London rooftops in Tooting, Wanstead, Walthamstow, Putney and Wallington. Ref https://www.gov.uk/government/news/brokenshire-unveils-500-million-affordable-homes-funding-boost--2
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
Featured articles and news
If it is not planned properly even simple a activity can kill.
A disgruntled or ignored stakeholder can easily derail your hard work.
Next generation cementitious materials
Still going strong...one of the great buildings of the 20th century.
Review of the bible for heritage assets and their management.
The David Lloyd Lymington Sports Village was 'Commended' in CIAT's 2018 AT Awards.
How do we make the smart city a reality?
Sir Nicholas Grimshaw has been awarded the UK’s highest honour for architecture.
Protecting the construction industry from Brexit.
Conceiving buildings collaboratively, testing them virtually.
Effective collaboration in post-disaster response and recovery