Meanwhile, in London: Making use of London’s empty spaces


London’s meanwhile use sector has blossomed in the last decade…

  • Property guardianship now houses up to 7,000 people in London.
  • Other meanwhile uses range from small community gardens to large workspaces.
  • Our survey found 51 active meanwhile sites, with a combined floorspace of 188,600 sqm, over two and a half times the floorspace of Selfridges.

…and meanwhile use offers value to the city, and to developers and landowners.

  • By offering the flexibility for spaces to evolve, new uses to emerge, and perceptions of places to change.
  • By providing affordable space for London’s next generation of entrepreneurs, artists and activists.
  • By opening up the development process, allowing for experimentation, and offering opportunities for public engagement.

But there is untapped potential…

  • At least 20,000 commercial units in London have been empty for at least six months, and 11,000 for over two years.
  • As London redevelops itself – around one per cent of London’s land will be developed in the next ten years 1 – windows of opportunity for meanwhile use will open before or during redevelopment.
  • There is considerable “slack space” – underused space within or between buildings, particularly in outer London – although this is not currently measured.

…with three types of hurdles preventing more meanwhile use.

  • Landowners often overestimate the risks and undervalue the benefits of giving over a site to meanwhile use.
  • The planning and licensing systems can make meanwhile projects difficult to undertake.
  • The lack of larger meanwhile use operators limits capacity to take over sites and manage meanwhile activity.

Our recommendations identify ways that landowners, public bodies and meanwhile use operators can unlock the value of meanwhile use in inclusive growth:

  • The Mayor of London should lead the growth of meanwhile use through competitions, guidance, investment and use of Greater London Authority (GLA) Group land.
  • London boroughs should publish their registers of empty commercial units, and seek to rationalise planning and licensing processes for meanwhile use.
  • Government should provide stronger incentives through tax and regulatory systems for community use of “stuck space” and underused space.
  • Business Improvement Districts and other agencies should seek to make the case locally for meanwhile use.
  • 1 Based on Phase 2 and Phase 3 (2019-2029) SHLAA allocated and approved sites – totalling 1,748ha. London area = 157,900ha.