Recently I asked Mike England, the Council’s Director for Housing Options, Skills and Economic Development about garages.
“How many void council owned garages are there in the borough – both as a number and a proportion of the total. What plans are there to reduce this number – for instance to replace with “hidden homes” or to rent or let in the open market?”
Mr England replied:
“There are currently 1,275 garages in the borough; 818 are occupied and 457 garages are void. We continue to try and let as many garages as possible to reduce the number of voids. In regards to the Hidden Homes project, currently we have one development at Becklow Gardens with planning permission to demolish 17 garages and replace them with 13 affordable homes. We are currently in the design stage of our Jepson House project; which will involve the redevelopment of parking spaces and stores to provide approximately 28 new affordable homes.”
As I mentioned with the Rational House post the Council has let progress on hidden homes drift since Labour took over failing to find new sites and making glacial progress on the sites already identified.
But even allowing for that why have the garages sitting empty? They could be rented out for £3,000 or £4,000 a year each. That’s around £1.4 million a year. That’s money that could be used for estate improvements – which we are routinely there’s no money for.
I just read the GLA Conservatives paper about turning unwanted garages into space for microbusinesses. It’s a fantastic idea and blindingly obvious once someone else thinks it up. Until last year I had a studio at Palace Wharf in Fulham, since closed for redevelopment, and I know how difficult and/or expensive it is to find studio or workshop space in this part of London. I really hope the council can get much more entrepreneurial and move in this direction, or else sell the garages to someone who has the skillset. It’s about much more than getting in extra rent or sale proceeds – scores of new microbusinesses, artisan workshops and tech startups in the borough mean jobs, innovation and prosperity.