Of all the countries in the EU, England has the smallest homes by floor area. A recent study found that homes in England were, on average, just over 70 sq metres (750 sq feet). This can be compared with Italy: 108 sq m (1,160 sq ft), and Germany: 93 sq m (1,000 sq ft). For comparison a typical three bedroom 1930s British semi is about 90 sq m (just under 1,000 sq ft).
Choose to live in an average sized home in Canada where they have the largest homes in the world and you’ll get 150 sq m, the United States, by comparison, averages only 130 sq m.
The average size of the UK home has shrunk, and because of the housing shortage paralleled with changes to planning requirements it is shrinking rapidly. Since 2015 there has been a marked increase in the conversion of existing office buildings into studio apartments and large houses into homes of multiple occupancy.
What we miss are the Parker Morris Standards, a set of parameters set out in a report on public housing Homes for today and tomorrow. The Ministry of Housing’s Design Bulletin No. 6: Space in the Home published in 1963.
In 1967 there was a change in the way the standards were calculated, not by occupancy levels but by the utility of the home. In 1980 the approach changed again, with the focus on building more homes, the floor space requirements were largely dropped although the Building Regulations do set some standards for circulation space, means of escape and space requirements for people with disabilities.
Some cities developed their own minimum space standards. For example, London introduced a set of rules in 2011 and the Housing Corporation set standards for housing receiving public subsidy. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation set their own ‘Lifestyle Homes’ standards but the national house builders, developers and builders converting existing property frequently had a free reign, making their own decisions on what they thought would sell (the shortage of homes meant that whatever they built, sold).
By 2012 we realised that we were getting things wrong, some of the new property was simply too small for comfortable living, one bedroom studios frequently accommodated two people (sharing) and inevitably children came along. Thus the coalition government undertook a fundamental review of building regulations which was labelled ‘the biggest single change in housing standards in a generation’ The review prescribed that space sizes for all new-build homes around the country would be brought into line with the London Standards.
In October 2015, the government introduced a new nationally described space standards which set out detailed guidance on the minimum size of new homes. According to this standard, the minimum floor area for any new home should be 37 sq. m. Should be – but doesn’t, by law, have to be. Some home builders are taking advantage of Permitted Development rights, converting offices into bed-sits of miniscule size.
And not only are some so small there isn’t room for a cat, they don’t have windows (no natural daylight). Dividing large open plan offices in to small studios inevitably means that some rooms are away from the outside walls, occasionally such conversions don’t have amenity space, access to public transport or even local shops. The clientele group has changed from well-healed office workers earning a regular wage to the socially disadvantaged for whom the low rent is just about affordable. Needless to say, such conversions deteriorate fairly quickly.