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Hospitals and schools key to London’s housing crisis

There is room for 630,000 new homes in London by building apartments above public buildings such as hospitals, schools and libraries, according to a report published by WSP.

Building Our Way Out of a Crisis , published today (12 November), says there is the potential to provide all of the 488,000 homes needed over the next decade and provide upgraded public facilities for Londoners at the same time by capitalising on the “air space” directly above the sites.

In such an arrangement, the private sector would refurbish or fully rebuild the hospital, library or school in question, paid for by adding several floors of apartments above the new facility.

In support of the idea, a survey of Londoners found that 57% believed public facilities were in need of regeneration and 61% thought building homes above public facilities was a good idea.

WSP director Bill Price said: “This isn’t about replacing schools and hospitals with apartment blocks, it’s about using the existing land more effectively with the added bonus that you can regenerate community facilities at the same time. It makes so much sense; these sites by their very nature are ideally located for new homes, close to transport and amenities. So why isn’t it being done already?

“The problem isn’t building them – the engineering design needed is far less challenging than what we did on the Shard. What we realised is that the challenge is more about the perceived issues of people living above places like hospitals because it’s not the ‘done thing’ in the UK. But it’s being done elsewhere.”  

WSP’s survey found that 63% of respondents said they would happily live above a library – more than those who would live above other flats (59%) – while 23% would be willing to live above a school or hospital.

In the report, WSP looked at the real-life example of St Thomas’ Hospital estates in Lambeth, which is earmarked for redevelopment.

The study found that if the council partnered with a private developer to deliver 12 storeys of housing above the new facilities, it could provide 4,150 homes - half of its 2021 target.

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