Empty garages to solve London's housing crisis?

Empty garages to solve London's housing crisis?

Leading online estate agents Tepilo take a look at whether unused garages could help to ease London’s housing shortage.

There is regular talk about the best ways of upping housing supply in London, but new research has unveiled one potential – and unlikely - solution: garages. The research data revealed that converting empty council-owned garages could help to create at least 16,000 new homes.

At a time when demand is still outstripping supply in the capital, and the government’s various affordable housing schemes and housebuilding projects have come in for considerable criticism, innovative plans like the above are more needed than ever.

According to a study carried out by crowdfunding platform Property Partner, some 41% of the lock-up garages owned by local authorities are currently empty, idle or in disrepair.

All in all, the total stock that is currently serving no purpose could be equivalent to around 16,000 homes, assuming these garages could be transformed into one-bed apartments with relative ease.

The findings showed that four London boroughs – Enfield, Havering, Brent and Ealing – have less than three in ten lock-ups rented out. In Enfield, for example, there are 2,008 garages (70%) lying empty. In Havering it’s 1,469 (72%), while in Brent the number of empty garages currently stands at 1,234 (71%). The highest percentage of empty garages, though, is found in Ealing, with 74% of council-owned garages lying idle (1,480).

Of the council-owned garages that are rented out, less than half (45%) are rented out to council tenants. The situation is particularly stark in Brent, where just one in ten lock-ups is rented to council tenants. In Lewisham, on the other hand, 94% of council-owned garages are let to people who live in council homes.

The research took a particularly close look at Southwark Council, which owns the largest number of garages in London (6,624). Of these, 29% (1,891) are currently empty. The study estimates that if all these empty lock-ups were transformed into single-storey one-bed flats, the total square footage could be equal to around 2,000 new homes (on the assumption that these homes could be built).

Taking into account all the empty garage space in London, a conservative estimate suggests that more than 16,000 new homes could be built if the land was repurposed into one-bed apartments. This, of course, would depend on a number of factors, including willingness by the council to sell the land to developers or develop the empty garage space themselves, as well as government approval and planning permission for such an initiative, but it’s certainly not beyond the realms of possibility.

What’s more, if four-storey apartment blocks could be built in viable locations – where these empty garages currently stand – then some 64,000 new properties could be made available across the capital.

Across the country, authorities are consistently trying to find new and inventive ways to increase housing stock. Making use of space – or buildings – that are already there is surely a pragmatic approach to take.

In London, the housing shortage is particularly acute, with a rising population inevitably leading to rising demand. At the same time, the supply of homes is not keeping pace. The London Assembly predicts that the capital requires between 49,000 and 80,000 homes per year to cope with the extra demand.

By 2026, London’s population is expected to grow by a million. Currently, however, less than half the required number of homes are being delivered. Some analysis even suggests that only a quarter of the homes needed annually are currently being built.

As things stand, these empty garages are being wasted. In many cases, they are not being rented out to the very people who are supposed to be using them – council tenants. If they serve no function, and could be used for other purposes such as new housing, then this is surely one avenue that needs to be explored.

In the recent past there have been suggestions of homes in underground car parks, churches being converted into housing and a revival of the prefab homes boom that followed WWII. This is the latest possible plan to help tackle London’s crisis, but it could be something that was extended across the rest of the country if successful. The idea of converting unused garage space into one-bed apartments doesn’t exactly sound outlandish, but how feasible this would be in reality is less clear-cut.

The government – and local councils – would be wise to at least give the idea some consideration, whether they choose to act on it or not.