Leading land broker Aston Mead Land & Planning has responded to a recent suggestion in The Times that out-of-town shopping centres should be redeveloped so that they provide housing above the shops on the ground floor.
The suggestion was made by author and journalist Clive Aslet, editor-at-large of ‘Country Life’, who criticised existing superstores not only for being “devoid of a flicker of architectural merit”, but also for their “appallingly extravagant use of land”. His proposal is to keep the ground-floor shops where they are, put the parking below ground and raise four or five storeys of housing on top, saying “it would solve the housing crisis at a stroke.”
Aston Mead Director Adam Hesse said: “In many ways, what Clive Aslet is suggesting makes a lot of sense. These brownfield sites have an advantage over their greenfield equivalents in that they already have some infrastructure in place in the form of roads, power and drainage. Sadly, the Achilles heel in his argument is that you often can’t simply build on top of existing structures; they will rarely have either the strength or foundations to allow for any more floors.”
But Adam Hesse says that the idea should definitely be considered for brand new sites or those currently in the pipeline, and points to examples where the concept has already worked, such as at Tescos in Kensington on the A4, Shepherds Bush Road at Brook Green, and at West Molesey in Surrey – all of which have been very well received.
He adds: “What this debate does highlight is that in order to suppress urban sprawl, we should build up rather than out. And that philosophy doesn’t only apply to out-of town shopping centres. It also applies to places like railway stations, where there is surrounding land which could be targeted for redevelopment in the same way.
“What’s more, this approach can actually add something to town centres. Instead of shops with an uninspired single storey maisonette above, we could have four or five storeys of high-quality architecture, right in the heart of town. This additional housing would help transform areas which have become ghost towns at night into vibrant destinations for restaurants, nightclubs, theatres and cinemas – all without enlarging the urban footprint.
“I predict this is the way planners will be heading in the future, in order to make best use of the precious land resource that we still have available.”