London could create up to 300,000 new homes by redeveloping ugly Toys ’R’ Us-style giant sheds surrounded by half-empty car parks and scrubland, a think tank has suggested.
Dubbed “boxland”, these sites are being inefficiently used for retail and light industry and occupy the equivalent of 43 Hyde Parks, the study said.
The report, Better Brownfield, from the Policy Exchange think tank, identified 1,220 locations which could theoretically accommodate between 250,000 and 300,000 new homes in the form of “London-like neighbourhoods” while maintaining existing use.
The report does not call for the commercial uses to be replaced, but suggests they could be integrated into developments “attractive to both residents and businesses”, with terraced streets, mid-rise mansion blocks and green spaces.
Toys ’R’ Us failed in February, leaving 100 empty sheds across Britain. Other retailers on big box sites include Topps Tiles, Carpetright and DFS.
Changing consumer habits mean fewer people are driving to them to do shopping, making much of the parking space redundant.
Of the 1,220 London sites covering 6,122 hectares, 1,120 are industrial and 100 retail.
Authors Nicholas Boys Smith, founder of the urban design charity Create Streets, Alessandro Venerandi, a fellow of the charity, and Susan Emmett, head of housing and urban regeneration at Policy Exchange, claimed their idea could reduce pressure to build unpopular towers.
They urged Sadiq Khan to use his London Plan to remove barriers that stop boxland from being redeveloped for new homes.
The authors suggested the creation of “Elizabeth Towns” along the route of the east-west Crossrail service and “Thames Towns” on the estuary which would not be built from towers. They also called for the creation of boulevards along London’s major arterial roads through suburbs.
The authors said industrial and retail boxland sites are mainly located within suburban London, but can be found in all boroughs: Ealing (with the highest number of industrial sites), Brent, Hillingdon and Hounslow in the West; Greenwich, Bexley, Newham, Barking and Dagenham and Havering in the East; Waltham Forest, Barnet and Enfield in the North; and Sutton, Merton and Croydon in the South.
Central urban areas with stretches of boxland include Southwark, Lambeth, Camden, Islington, Hackney, Wandsworth, Lewisham and Tower Hamlets. Boxland can also be found in Richmond, Kingston, Hammersmith & Fullham and Bromley.
The report said that with so much pressure to deliver more housing, it would be tempting to aim for the highest density numbers, cramming the maximum number of homes onto a site.
But it said this would be a mistake:
“We need more new homes but these must be balanced with the need to deliver workplaces, shops, cafes, well-designed public spaces and the greenery that create attractive and pleasant neighbourhoods with a strong sense of place. Balanced neighbourhoods should be ‘London-like neighbourhoods’.
“They should look like the best of London, built on integrated streets following traditional patterns. Public transport needs to be within a walkable distance or easily accessed and neighbourhoods need to be supported by social infrastructure such as schools and doctors’ surgeries.”
DealMakerz thinks the idea of redeveloping boxland is a good one, as long as it is done properly and creates homes people actually want to live in.