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Meanwhile – a fresh idea to relieve the housing shortage


Sites awaiting permanent development needn't lie empty, says Mark Wiseman. Modern methods of construction enable their 'meanwhile' use as temporary housing for those in need

‘Meanwhile uses’ have an increasingly important role to play in breathing life and activity into empty sites that await long-term redevelopment. Such uses can often be deployed far quicker than conventional uses, quickly providing jobs, leisure and even homes on otherwise redundant sites, and meeting specific local needs.

Yet while there are clear advantages and successful examples, there is also a sense in planning policy and decision-making of nervousness about their application.

New national planning policy guidance (NPPG) and emerging policy in London is now recognising meanwhile uses. But there is still a lack of acceptance at the decision-making level and a slow, complex planning process that hampers speed and spontaneity.

Vacant urban sites can wait for years to be developed because of cost, land ownership complications, the economy, planning itself or even just the phasing of large developments. Swathes of land sitting redundant for long periods is not only inefficient when housing supply fails to keep up with demand and affordable workspace is hard to come by, but leaves areas devoid of life.

“With advances in modular construction, the quality of new homes can be high and a site can be developed quickly”

Meanwhile projects are now evolving from successful commercial/social only spaces such as Pop Brixton, Bussey Building (Peckham), and Box Park (Shoreditch) into bolder mixed-use developments that support on-site communities, such as Place (Ladywell) and Modomo (various). Vacant sites can effectively act as blank slates for creative communities that ‘seed’ the area for permanent communities.

Until now there has been limited support for meanwhile residential projects. This is about to change with recognition for meanwhile uses in the ‘Effective use of land’ section of the NPPG and in London where a new draft policy supports the meanwhile use of sites for housing.

For the first time there is acknowledgement that sites awaiting longer-term development should be used more efficiently, and that meanwhile use as housing is an effective way of activating redundant land. The policy explains that “meanwhile housing should count towards meeting a borough’s housing target” – and with advances in modular construction, the quality of new homes can be high and a site can be developed quickly. The meanwhile use of sites can make an effective contribution to solving the national housing crisis. 

Mark Wiseman is a senior planner with Collective Planning

Image credit | iStock


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