24,400 commercial properties in London are currently empty and could be used as housing or office space, according to one think tank.
Research by Central for London revealed that 22,500 of these properties have been empty for at least six months. The total area amounts to a floorspace fifteen times the size of Westfield London.
The number of empty properties in London has grown over the past few years, with figures from Live-in Guardians showing that over 10,000 commercial properties in zone 1-3 are left empty. This rise has been attributed to high property prices and rising business rates in the capital.
It is clear from London’s empty properties are not currently used to their full potential. The report has found that utilising them more effectively could have both commercial benefits, with the potential to accommodate between 160,000 and 200,000 workers, and also have social value by using them for temporary housing, especially in the context of the on-going housing crisis.
One of the key recommendations of the report was using these empty properties for ‘meanwhile uses’; temporary projects such as popup retail parks, community gardens and work spaces.
However, the planning and licensing systems can make such projects difficult to convert properties into ‘meanwhile spaces’. Therefore, the report recommends that the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority demonstrate how projects of this kind can deliver both social and commercial benefits.
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It also calls on the government to encourage landowners by making it easier to sublet empty spaces. Leaving buildings and land empty is costly in terms of security and property taxes, but the study found that landowners often overestimate the risks of using empty spaces for temporary projects.
Nicolas Bosetti, Research Manager at Centre for London, said:
“London is full of spaces, small and large, that could be given over to meanwhile uses, but are not.
“Meanwhile spaces offer opportunity to try out new activities and to make things happen in parts of the city needing greater economic vitality. They can also provide affordable space for the next generation of entrepreneurs, activists and artists.
“While London has seen a flurry of meanwhile projects in the last decade – from allotments, art galleries, football pitches – it has not yet reached its peak. The Government and the Mayor can play a role in pushing up supply.”