Most of London’s housing need could be satisfied by building in the airspace above the city’s railway, Underground and Overground lines.
A report, Out of Thin Air from engineering consultancy WSP, says that 250,969 homes could be built using rail overbuild on just 10% of the available space and using existing engineering techniques. It envisages 12 storey apartment blocks could be built using just 10m of land on each side of the lines.
The report adds that Brent, Ealing and Croydon and TfL Zones 2, 3 and 4 have the most overbuild potential.
Bill Price, WSP director, says: “We have to be more creative in using existing space in what remains a relatively low rise city. The air rights above rail tracks present an unrealised but significant opportunity to build more new homes on brownfield land. It’s important to emphasise the engineering is absolutely possible and not new. We have been working on projects of this nature in New York for decades. Right now in London we are working on a variety of projects that rise above rail lines including a 50 storey residential tower, homes above a new Crossrail station and even a Premier League stadium.
“There is a wider point about how we can better connect communities and unlock new homes not just above rail lines but adjacent to them as well. In some parts of London rail lines act as accidental segregators. By ‘decking’ over these lines, such as the proposed regeneration west of Earls Court underground station, we can join together sites to unlock an even higher number of new homes and create new vibrant communities.”
Airspace development, but on the top of buildings, is very much on developers’ radar right now. And, as the report points out, building over railway lines or even roads is actually nothing new. It has been done since the earliest days of the railways. All that would be necessary is a willingness to do it at scale. It would, however, give a whole new meaning to the idea of living close to public transport.