25 March 2022

Two storey extensions could help to tackle UK’s housing crisis

Extending buildings upwards could help to tackle the UK’s housing crisis and meet net zero commitments, according to new research from the University of Sheffield.

An image showing what a building in Sheffield would look like with a vertical extension
A building in Sheffield and what it could look like with a vertical extension
  • University of Sheffield study reveals how adding extensions to existing houses, shops and flats could help to tackle the UK’s housing crisis
  • Study has found that vertical extensions could provide an extra 175,000 homes in one city alone - a plan that could be rolled out across the UK to help the government meet its housing and net zero targets
  • Building vertical extensions could help to provide the housing needed in England’s 20 biggest cities whilst also offering a lifeline to struggling high streets and city centre businesses
  • UK government has introduced legislation to enable vertical extensions and predicts 9,000 new homes will be generated this way every year - this study reveals less than 200 have been completed to date

Extending buildings upwards could help to tackle the UK’s housing crisis and meet net zero commitments, according to new research from the University of Sheffield.

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 one city alone - a plan that 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. This is to try and reduce the UK’s current shortage of almost five million homes.

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.

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

A building in Sheffield and what it could look like with a vertical extension

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 precious greenspace in cities and the countryside. This will 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 the University of Sheffield study has found that less than 200 new homes have been delivered through this scheme to date.

A building in Sheffield and what it could look like with a vertical extension

Charles Gillott, a Grantham Scholar from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Civil and Structural Engineering, 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."

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