A recent report by the London Health Commission found that £50m to £60m was being spent every year on maintaining NHS buildings that were either not used or not fit for purpose, prompting experts at WSP to analyse the opportunities for redeveloping the real estate.
WSP says that building apartments above NHS buildings could provide a minimum of 77,000 new homes in London. This would represent almost 20% of the 400,000 homes that the mayor has said are needed in the next decade. It would have the added benefit of redeveloping ageing and unused healthcare facilities at the same time.
WSP’s estimation is based on their analysis of 79 individual existing NHS buildings in London, allowing for 100m² per apartment and using a mixed height overbuild development strategy, with a combination of 6, 12, and 18 storeys. It only considers hospital buildings without A&E facilities, which would cause specific planning and construction issues. If all the new residential buildings included 18 extra storeys the strategy could provide 118,000 homes, more than a quarter of the estimated need.
There are technical challenges of building apartments over or alongside healthcare facilities, WSP acknowledges, including design issues around how to segregate the service areas and ensure accessibility, but WSP says these can be overcome.
Director Bill Price said “If private developers were allowed to invest in this land it would help plug the gap for more homes in London as well as provide state of the art healthcare facilities to replace those that need a facelift or are not currently being used. Obviously there are a few hurdles that would need tackling but this is done elsewhere in the world, for example the USA, and there’s certainly no technical reason why it couldn’t be done.
“However the point is not that we should go out and redevelop every hospital into an apartment block, but that we need to start thinking creatively about our housing woes, challenging the status quo and looking at how we use the land available to us.”
WSP’s initial analysis is a precursor to a wider study to be published in the autumn which will include an estimate of overbuilding on all appropriate municipal buildings in London.