A report by the Centre for London has shown that thousands of commercial spaces and thousands of acres of land which sit empty could be put to be better ‘meanwhile use’.
The report showed that at this time there are 24,400 commercial properties sitting empty in London, with 22,500 having been empty for at least six months. There is also 6,700 acres of unused brownfield land with planning permission to develop and yet no construction has begun, according to the report.
The current unused office space is estimated to be able to accommodate between 160,000 and 200,000 workers. The total empty commercial floor space is equivalent to around that of 27 Westfield London’s.
The Centre for London recommends hiring out these spaces for meanwhile use until they are leased to commercial tenants. The London think tank believe turning these spaces into cheap studios, interim offices and pop-up retail parks would provide a massive boost for London’s economy.
Nicolas Bosetti of the Centre for London said these spaces “can provide affordable space for the next generation of entrepreneurs, activists and artists”.
The report found three main reasons for reluctance around meanwhile use: landlords overestimate the risks and undervalue the benefits of giving over their site for meanwhile use; complex planning systems make meanwhile projects hard to undertake; and a lack of larger meanwhile use operators limits capacity to run sites and manage meanwhile activity.
However, the Centre for London believes London and its Mayor can incentivise meanwhile use by setting up competition for empty sites, releasing regular data on empty commercial units and developing a “Good Practice Code of Exit”, to strengthen trust between temporary residents and landlords, who will eventually want to take back the space for longer-term commercial use.
The report found that there were currently 51 active, public-facing meanwhile sites in London, whilst places like the West End, Brick Lane, Hammersmith and Canary Wharf each had over 200 vacant commercial properties each.