London is set to build 80 rooftop shacks, edging the capital ever closer to a dystopian cyberpunk fantasy.
Who doesn’t love cyberpunk as a literary and film genre? There’s something special about the gritty realism of rain shrouded arcologies rising above the polluted streets of Los Angeles in Blade Runner. Or the hypercapitalists of Detroit launching their own private army against the downtrodden underclass of what was once America’s motor town in Robocop.
Our favourite has to be The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. Not for its portrayal of of a Japanese sex robot turned psychotic killer in a world devastated by rogue genetic engineering corporations, but for the omnipresent rooftop shanties of 23rd century Thailand.
If we ignore the sex robot for a moment, we can see that the story has a solid grounding in reality. Bangkok is facing massive population pressures due to unrestricted growth and immigration. The rich live in luxury, naturally. The poor live on rooftops in lean-to, uninsulated and insecure one room shacks. It’s bleak, and brought a solitary tear to our eye as we read it over a cup of Ovaltine. Thank goodness it’s only science fiction.
But this is 2019. This is London, and the future is now.
Last month, we wrote about an experimental initiative in Bristol, which saw permission given for a limited number of ‘pod houses.’ The pods are basically small, open plan bedsits, will be placed on any available land, and cost as much as a reasonable sized flat.
London, the beating financial heart of the nation, is following suit, with permission being granted for 78 similar dwellings, which will all be sited, in true dystopian style, on the rooftops and eyries of the capital.
Work for the £9 million deal will be carried out by Apex Airspace Developments. In case you’re struggling with the maths, that works out at around £115,000 per unit. Not bad, considering that the average purchase price for a flat in Bermondsey, where around half of the airspace units will be erected, hovers around the cool half million mark.
Is there a need for the extra capacity? Yes. The Buy to Leave phenomenon has led to there being around 200,000 houses left intentionally empty across the country, with the highest increase inside the London commuter belt. According to Dave Smith, of the National Housing Federation, “The only place where it makes sense is where there is rapidly-increasing land value and that’s happening more than anywhere else in London and the South East because the sheer amount of demand is outstripping supply,” said.
So there you go. Fewer properties available to buy or rent leads to sky high prices. Sky high prices make it worthwhile for an investor to leave the property empty. Intentionally empty properties mean fewer available dwellings. Rinse and repeat until the only reasonable option is to put temporary structures on a rooftop and call it affordable housing.
Are we in a science fiction nightmare yet? With only 78 units going up, we’d have to say that the answer is not quite yet.
When the cosy prefabricated units are bought up by private landlords and converted to HMOs, we’ll have to reconsider the question.