Car parks: Driving the way forward in the UK housing shortage?

Car parks could hold the answer to making progress in solving the UK’s housing shortage, JLL claims.

The need for new urban residential development sites in the UK has increased significantly in the past two decades. Since 2000 the growth has ballooned to around 400,000 additional people per year with the population now standing at 65m. The UK population is forecast to grow at a similar rate over the next 15 years to around 71m by 2030.

With the UK racing to build enough homes to house them all, one solution could be the conversion and development of car parking spaces. JLL’s research has identified around 10,500 car parks in the UK’s towns and cities, which it says could “comfortably accommodate” up to 400,000 homes, enough to house circa one million people.

Indeed, environmental-led policy is increasingly seeking to reduce the number of cars in urban areas steering people to alternatives such as public transport or park-and-ride options. An OECD study, meanwhile, has modelled the projected use of self-driving cars and predicted that the number of privately owned cars needed worldwide could reduce by 80 per cent to 90 per cent over the coming decades. If car ownership declines, could space that is currently devoted to parking become available for other uses?

“More than half of the car parks that have been identified are in public ownership, under the control of local authorities,” notes Nick Whitten, of JLL Residential Research. “This may mean that Government has directly within its means the ability to enable circa 200,000 homes to be built on urban car parks. Rail operators directly control sites with the potential for up to 25,000 homes. Sites operated by the private sector have the potential for up to 145,000 homes.”

Many of the privately operated sites are also let on long leases from a mixture of public and private owners. Of the ten largest eligible stocks of car parks that JLL has identified as being suitable for residential conversion, three are operated by major private sector operators – National Car Parks, Apcoa and Meteor – who typically operate their sites on a long lease. The freehold on these sites is sometimes also in public ownership.

“Office to residential policy now proposes to allow a developer to knock down a building and redevelop on the notional shell/footprint of that site. This concept could be applied to car parks – allowing developers to build to a notional footprint of an existing neighbouring property meaning that the policy could operate within the current confines of PDR planning regulations,” concludes Whitten.

“What’s more, in the vast majority of cases, it is possible to build without the loss of parking spaces,” he concludes.