This report by Centre for London analyses the extent, value and potential of meanwhile use in London. It found that London’s meanwhile use sector has blossomed in the last decade, including property guardianship, retail, small community gardens and workspaces.
It also highlighted the value that meanwhile use offers 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.
However the report also highlighted that there is untapped potential. We found that there were at least 20,000 commercial units in London that had been empty for at least six months, and 11,000 for over two years.
Three hurdles are preventing more meanwhile use. Firstly, landowners often overestimate the risks and undervalue the benefits of giving over a site to meanwhile use. Secondly, the planning and licensing systems can make meanwhile projects difficult to undertake. Finally, the lack of larger meanwhile use operators limits capacity to take over sites and manage meanwhile activity.
The report makes recommendations of ways that landowners, public bodies and meanwhile use operators can unlock the value of meanwhile use in inclusive growth.
This report uses a mix of research methods. Through desk research and site visits, we estimate the size of the meanwhile sector in London - 51 active meanwhile sites, with a combined floorspace of 188,600 sqm, over two and a half times the floorspace of Selfridges.
To assess their value to the city, we reviewed meanwhile projects’ impact studies, and conducted a survey of 60 local businesses neighbouring three high-impact, high-visibility meanwhile uses. In order to map potential, we analysed the first pan-London dataset of empty commercial units. We interviewed 35 meanwhile providers, housebuilders and local authorities to understand why they chose to open up their land (or not), and the hurdles they face in doing so. The report also offers good practice case studies from other cities. The findings and the recommendations were then tested at a public event hosted by U+I which brought together policymakers and practitioners.
Image credit: Gyles Glover