Airspace development association aims to tackle housing crisis

A new association has been set up aiming to encourage the new construction process of airspace development to help ease the housing crisis.

The Association of Rooftop & Airspace Development aims to promote the emerging practice of airspace development, which involves building new modular housing on top of existing buildings.

Association of Rooftop & Airspace Development Founder Warren Livesey said airspace development could fund the refurbishment of Sydney’s many ageing strata buildings and add to the overall supply of homes.

Mr Livesey said locations like Sydney had huge scope for airspace development.

“Just in NSW itself, we’ve got close to 27 million square metres of unused roof space so we can actually build up to nearly 100,000 new rooftop homes above existing homes,” Mr Livesey said.

“It’s a way to allow people to actually add to the housing stock without actually having to sell their buildings or move out of their communities in order to build up.”

He said commercial buildings and older apartment buildings are the prime candidates to be rejuvenated with airspace development in conjunction with the owners.

“What they’re doing overseas in London, they’ve just approved 180,000 new airspace homes since 2020,” he said.

“So what they’ve done there is they’ve actually created a new formula where airspace developers do joint ventures with the actual building owners and they’re the ones that do all the legwork and all the financing and the actual project management.

“Then they share half the proceeds with the building owners.”

The Association of Rooftop & Airspace Development – Melissa Neighbour, Warren Livesey and Tim James.

He said one of the stumbling blocks in Australia is that you need 75 per cent of the owners to agree on the development application process.

“There are 14 different times they have to vote, and they generally fall over at one point or another because of finance or owners not really agreeing,” he said.

He said one of the aims of the association is to help homeowners and councils better understand the process.

Mr Livesey said by adding new units on top of existing buildings and then selling them off, owners could also raise the money to fix decrepit roofs, ageing plumbing and dilapidated electrical systems.

“What airspace is doing is trying to turn a liability into an asset,” he said.

Mr Livesey said typically older buildings are seen as liabilities that need ongoing repairs that the owners have to pay for.

“However, if we can title it and create a residence that can be sold, we actually create an asset,” he said.

“So, therefore, we are literally making money out of thin air.”

The Association of Rooftop & Airspace Development now has more than 650 members, with a number of architects and town planners coming on board.

He said they were working with councils to find ways to make the process easier to implement.

According to Mr Livesey, airspace development is also one of the most environmentally friendly ways to build as you don’t need to demolish the current building.

He said that while the process is still new, there are numerous examples of successful projects in Australia.

A recent development called Sky in Tamarma, which involved building two new penthouse apartments on top of an existing building, which then paid for the rejuvenation of the building, was a great example of the process in action.

He said there are a lot of different ways airspace development can work and make housing more affordable.

“You can actually buy the airspace above a building and put a modular home via a crane on top of those,” he said.

“Your basic one-bedroom modular home is worth about $150,000. 

“You can buy the airspace above a building for about $250,000, so for about $400,000 we can actually put these new affordable homes within the CBD area and surrounds.”

He said the process could also work where affordable homes were created on top of hospitals or fire stations to house key workers.

NSW Shadow Minister for Fair Trading, Work Health & Safety and Building, Tim James said airspace development has the potential to help solve the housing problem, particularly in Sydney.

“We have a terrible shortage of housing in this city – it’s well over 100,000 residences shortfall, it’s an enormous gap,” Mr James said.

“By 2040, half of Sydney will live in strata and that says a lot about how this city will have changed, and it is changing. 

“How we live – the homes we have, the spaces, the extent to which we’re going up versus going out – that is a transition, a journey that we are on, and I think this (airspace development) should be, and most likely will be, part of that journey.”

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