Vertical extensions could alleviate housing dilemma

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Adding vertical extensions to existing buildings could help alleviate the UK’s housing crisis and meet net zero commitments, according to new research from Sheffield University.

Vertical extensions
Image: Sheffield University

A study led by Charles Gillott, a Grantham Scholar in the University’s Department of Civil and Structural Engineering, has revealed how the strategy could provide an extra 175,000 homes in Sheffield alone and the plan could be rolled out across the country to help bring down house prices, reduce carbon emissions and meet government housing targets.

With house prices rising to a record high during the pandemic and the demand for housing growing rapidly, the government has increased housing targets for England’s 20 biggest cities by 35 per cent.

In Sheffield, the 35 per cent uplift has increased housing targets to 55,000 homes, with the local council planning to create 20,000 of these within the city centre. They hope that this will meet housing demand whilst boosting high street trade and supporting city centre businesses. A similar strategy is being considered by city councils across the UK.

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The study analysed building data from a geographic information system and it was found that vertically extending suitable premises by just one or two storeys could provide 175,000 new homes in Sheffield.

Extending buildings vertically would help to cut carbon emissions as more buildings would be redeveloped, rather than demolished and replaced with new ones. Vertical extensions could also reduce the number of new homes needed to be built on greenspace in cities and the countryside. According to the University, this would ensure people are able to live close to key services and amenities, reducing reliance on cars.

In 2020, the government introduced new legislation to allow the addition of up to two storeys to existing houses, blocks of flats and commercial buildings without the need for formal planning permission. They predicted this would generate 9,000 new homes a year, but a Sheffield University study has found that less than 200 new homes have been delivered through this scheme to date.

In a statement, Gillott, said: “Adding new homes above existing buildings offers an opportunity to rejuvenate city centres whilst meeting net zero targets and the growing demand for housing.

“This will help to create low-carbon, mixed-use cities where people live close to the services and amenities they rely on. Whilst many buildings are unsuitable, and effort must be made to ensure the quality of the homes delivered, this study highlights the potential for residential vertical extension at scale."