The Pop-Up Movement

November 2012

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Andrew Dakin and Dr Mark Lang Explain the Concept of Meanwhile Use

This article first appeared in the RICS Commercial Property Journal, November-December 2012


There is a growing contemporary debate concerning the merits of meanwhile use, and yet the more this debate grows the less settlement there is on the parameters of the discussion.  As is often the case in regeneration, there is terminological complexity.  As well as “meanwhile use” other terms have been adopted, including “pop-up”, “short-term”, “slow architecture”, “pre-development” and “casual”.  There are subtle differences between these terms, but all suggest an interim use that falls outside Landlord and Tenant Act protection.  This article adopts the “meanwhile” term, but we are conscious of the subtle variations that exist.



Traditional short-term uses have tended to be relatively unsophisticated, such as car valeting, car parks, and scrap yards.  Meanwhile uses are likely to be much more sophisticated and complicated than these traditional uses, requiring additional property management skills to facilitate delivery. Significantly, the required skills, qualities, knowledge and experience are closer to those required by regeneration practitioners, with an emphasis on personal skills and attributes as well as technical skills and knowledge, than those of traditional property professionals.  Meanwhile uses require more handholding by owners and property managers to help tenants to build a business.  Meanwhile use would therefore seem to necessitate a different approach by both owners and property managers, perhaps involving a return to local procurement of property agents by large estate land owners.  This adds more complexity to the transaction, but may be required if estates are to be managed in the responsive way required by more complex meanwhile uses.


The global recession has meant that the space available for meanwhile use, and the length of time it is likely before a permanent use is delivered, is being extended.  It has also ironically lead, as we have said, to more demand.  Land owners therefore need to be more constructive in deriving a meanwhile return on their investment, and in meeting this demand.  A constructive approach to property management may be able to turn land and buildings from being liabilities into assets from which value is derived.  More complexity introduces the possibility of increased investment, and in delivering this investment in a period of economic recession, land owners are likely to need a mixture of enlightened self-interest and more benevolence and corporate social responsibility. 


There are significant benefits to meanwhile use projects for property owners, community groups and neighbourhoods. Property owners benefit from improved security and maintenance of properties, lower costs for running their sites and improved chances of bringing the property back into a full commercial let.  Community groups benefit from highly flexible and affordable space that gives the space to try out new ideas for social enterprises. Neighbourhood and local authorities benefit from more active and lively streets, which not only increases the footfall for other businesses, but attract more visitors and aids the regeneration process.


Despite the broad ranging benefits, the attitudinal change towards the delivery of creative meanwhile uses is still more likely to take place on existing long established property estates, such as waterways, railways and ports, because new prospective owners will not be able to prepare conventional business plans to secure bank lending due to the high degree of failure likely for pop-ups and the associated voids. Risk and uncertainty loom large, and the property and banking industry has historically tended to shy away from this, instead having a heavy preference for long-term low risk property investment. 


The inherent uncertainty has tended to draw a greater proportion of creative culture businesses and uses within the pop-up meanwhile use landscape, as the creative sector often acts as a pioneering risk taking element of the economy and society more generally. This would also appear to favour large urban cosmopolitan conurbations, as the cultural classes tend to concentrate within these areas.  The prevalence of such classes within a particular area is perhaps therefore an indication of how successful a complex meanwhile use project might be in a given area.  It also appears to suggest that similarly less complex, more traditional meanwhile uses are better suited to other areas.


As well as potential meanwhile tenants, there are a mixture of both on and off stage actors within the meanwhile use movement. On stage actors include land owners and their in-house staff and out-of-house agents. Off stage actors include local authorities, and local community and residents associations, and their support or antagonism plays a crucial role in determining the success of meanwhile use projects.  A local authority, for example, that may be prepared to take a relaxed view on change of use and the charging of property rates can play a highly significant role.  Often this is as much down to personalities as it is to corporate culture.  There is, of course, another key off stage actor – the Government.  Given the risks, but also the potential contributions to economic development and regeneration, the time has come for a serious consideration of meanwhile use by the Government.  Although it appears that the legislative framework, if interpreted flexibly by local authorities, is not an obstacle, there is much that government can do to provide grant assistance (say for example via traditional ‘gap-funding’) to meanwhile uses, particularly in areas of high economic disadvantage.  


As well as central government, local authorities could also be more proactive in supporting meanwhile uses in regeneration strategies and area master plans.  Such an approach could mean that buildings could be built to accommodate lots of potential uses. Flexibility is the key, as we cannot continue to deplete the World’s resources via construction and demolition in short-term timescales, as this is neither sustainable nor responsible.


There are other practical arrangements that need to be considered if meanwhile uses are to be successful.  Due to the high risk nature of a meanwhile use business, tenants are likely to need additional support with regard to insurance arrangements, and are also likely to be unable to afford either high rents or high service charges. The most successful meanwhile uses, therefore, are likely to be those that provide most flexibility with regard to tenants and offer the best value for money.  As we have established, the more complex the meanwhile use the more support that will be required from the land owner and their agents. The indications are that some of the early flagship meanwhile use projects may have lost their way and have not continued to provide the much needed support for tenants.


Complex meanwhile use is not easy, and as we have said it requires a certain kind of creative approach to property management if it is likely to succeed. Now more than ever is this creative approach needed, however, as the space and time available for meanwhile use is expanding, as are the opportunities.



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