The Future of Open Workspaces in London

Currently, London is facing highly complex socio-economic challenges; a shortage of affordable housing for vulnerable people and students, a slowdown of social mobility due to inflation and high university fees, and a brain drain due to rising living costs.

On the 5th of May, London will vote for its new Mayor and both front runners have released their respective manifestos, which state the challenges they are both looking to solve. In them, one of the main points is London's economy and its role as an innovative city. Currently, London is facing highly complex socio-economic challenges; a shortage of affordable housing for vulnerable people and students, a slowdown of social mobility due to inflation and high university fees, and a brain drain due to rising living costs. These challenges are tough, however they are symptoms of a poorly managed and unprecedented economic transition, which is long overdue and a good thing.

The solutions will have to be in the form of systems as we cannot solve these type of challenges via a linear manner. In part, this means looking at infrastructure, from how well the city is connected through technology to what and how we continue to build it. If we really want to see change and solve the myriad of complex challenges facing London, then we need to create more conscious cities and smarter spaces. We are not proposing this is the only solution, but it is a critical part. How cities are shaped and physically constructed, plays a monumental role on how a city functions, furthermore there is mounting research, which highlights how the built environment affects the behaviours and outputs of its citizens.

It is within this context we think the future of open workspaces becomes an interesting issue for the current mayoral election. According to the GLA, open workspace are identified as being incubators, coworking spaces, and artists studios. They differ from traditional office spaces in that they provide more than just a workspace, they provide a sense community, resources, and in some cases funding. The GLA's Open Workspace Group, which was formed in 2015 has commissioned research which will expose the social and economic value they have provided London since their rise in 2009. The research is already indicating that these spaces maximise the performance and growth ambitions of its inhabitants, which means they are able to generate more jobs and create economy for the areas they inhabit.

We need to create the spaces which will incubate future innovation, future workforce, and future thinking, whilst the road to change is long and arduous, there are some short term solutions, policy influencers, like the future mayor of London, should consider. The GLA's Open Workspace group is proposing six areas where policy can influence the growth and sustainability of these type of spaces.

Invest to create and secure workspace in existing public assets and by purchasing property

Encourage agreements between boroughs and workspace providers to use existing public assets. Fund property purchase to secure affordable workspace long term.

Promote workspace provider and housing developer partnerships for space that works

Promote agreements between developers and workspace providers with long lease terms. Commit developers to invest in, or support workspace providers to raise capital for fit-out. Encourage collaboration early in the process, so the spaces work.

Limit permitted development for office to residential conversion

Permitted development rights allow property owners to change the use of their property without having to make a planning application. This has led to the uncontrolled loss of employment space, weakening local economies and further increasing rents.

Increase protection for industrial and commercial buildings

The loss of workspace is not being offset by new provision in mixed use developments. We need increased recognition of work/studio spaces and light industrial businesses, and more rigorous planning policy tests to avoid incremental loss of workspace, particularly outside designated areas.

Ensure developers offer space for small and growing businesses, or pool CIL for new open workspaces

Make the planning policies and obligations that exist in some boroughs common practice across London, consulting with users and workspace providers to ensure spaces meet needs. Place an expectation that existing businesses will be prioritised for space in new development, and require early consultation to demonstrate genuine vacancy and prevent tactical rent-hikes.

Extend business rate relief to open workspaces

Charities receive business rate relief. We want to extend this relief to registered open workspace providers. This will reduce running costs for providers and make space more affordable for businesses.

Support business support services

Counteract cuts to business support services, and encourage more revenue based programmes in the collaborative environment of open workspaces.

The Open Workspace Group for the GLA is composed of Workspace Group, Bow Arts Trust, Capital Enterprise, Central Working, Camden Collective, Bootstrap Company, Makerversity, Shoreditch Trust, Space Studios, and THECUBE London

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