“Co-location” is an increasingly relevant topic, as London struggles to accommodate an increasing residential population on land that is already developed.
The idea of stacking residential flats on top of new industrial or warehousing space is very logical. We can keep the traffic and the noise associated with commercial activity down at street level, whilst we use roofs as podiums for housing, employing open spaces that benefit from fresher air and better views. However, like most good ideas, the reality is much more complicated than we might wish it to be.
Some of the main challenges are these:
Separation: There is a need tokeep the different uses sufficiently apart. Potential issues to manage include the need for separate entrances, the noise from heavy vehicles manoeuvring and their alarms, the need for storage space for commercial refuse and the potential for emissions from industrial processes. This becomes even more important where commercial space might be used at night as well as during the day. There’s a case for trying to control the types of commercial activity that could occupy the lower level space, though the planning system isn’t really set up for that — the ‘Use Classes’ are not fine grained enough.
Ensuring suitability: It’s sometimes the case that some types of residential use (like student accommodation) may be better able to co-exist with potentially disruptive activity than others. There is also a case for extending the “agent of change” principle, to give industrial/warehousing occupiers some degree of protection from complaints from the residents above. However, early experience suggests that a greater range of commercial uses can be smoothly accommodated than might be initially supposed.
Resilience: Designing industrial/warehousing space that is future proofed and versatile is vital. We need to keep in mind that it’s going to be there for a long time, and we are living in a rapidly changing world. There’s a notable trend towards distribution involving smaller (and electric) vehicles than we might have been used to in the past, which is not too difficult to deal with — but what about delivery drones? Yard space can also be a tricky issue.
Design: There are many design and construction issues to consider including the need to minimise columns, minimise expensive decking, provide fire separation and limit vibration. There’s a clear role for effective design, along with good planning and placemaking, to create the conditions that will facilitate this sort of innovation.
Viability: This is a significant issue. This type of construction is expensive, and the commercial space may not give a particularly good rental return. Furthermore, sites suitable for co-location are often in unconventional locations for housing, and so residential values and market take-up rates can limit viability.
We are at the stage where we need real-life examples. Not all will be runaway successes, but as an industry we need now to learn by putting the theory into practice. It would be excellent to see City Hall embrace this, by particularly favouring well designed co-location schemes when distributing affordable housing money.
Roger Hepher is a Director of hgh Consulting, hosts of the forthcoming London First virtual round table on this issue on 1st July.
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