Shipping containers: A temporary lifeline to city centres in flux

22 March, 2019

The current political and economic uncertainties facing our high streets has resulted in an increase in the number of derelict sites and sites awaiting development.  These sites are prime ground for “meanwhile uses”, to make a valuable community-based contribution on an area of land which would otherwise be vacant.  Meanwhile Uses are not in themselves anything new, from 19th Century slums to the “temporary” London Eye, meanwhile uses have been occurring throughout the ages.  The increasing amount of vacant and derelict sites on our high streets has resulted in a number of innovative solutions arising, in an effort to prevent the further decline of our high streets.  Most interesting of these is the proliferation of temporary developments centred around shipping containers, which can now be found in cities across the UK from London to Newcastle, and in many places in-between.  The use of shipping containers to provide new temporary developments is not only cost effective and quick to install, but it also makes use of objects which have reached the end of their useful lifespan, promoting recycling and reuse of objects for the benefit of the community. 

 

Benefits for Tenants

The rise of the use of shipping containers is hugely beneficial to tenants as it provides small businesses and start-ups with accommodation in prime areas which they would not normally have been able to afford, with minimal overheads and outgoings compared to the costs of investing in bricks and mortar.  The mixed use of the developments and the ability for them to incorporate extensive communal seating areas, event spaces and other additional features which would not normally be available to small businesses.  It also allows restaurants to test demand for their services in an area before committing to a long term investment, the initial set-up costs of which can be prohibitively high. 

 

Benefits for Landlords

Landlords can be initially sceptical about the use of their land for temporary uses, and whether it will have a negative impact on their site.  However, there are numerous benefits to landlords which can flow from the temporary use of a site for a meanwhile use.  Such uses can provide an income stream on land which otherwise would have sat vacant until it was ready to be regenerated, and also means that the landlord does not have to pay for site security or fencing to protect the vacant land from squatters or anti-social behaviour.  It can also promote the area and make it more attractive to incoming tenants, providing a long term benefit to the landlord.  The nature of the shipping containers also means that they can be installed with minimal impact on the land itself, due to there being no need for foundations. 

 

Challenges

As ever with innovative schemes come challenges, and the need to secure planning permission can be an obstacle to the provision of meanwhile uses.  Rather than further increasing Permitted Development Rights, a more flexible approach to temporary uses on sites (especially those where planning permission has already been secured for redevelopment) would make the provision of shipping container developments easier to secure, benefitting both landlords and tenants.