Often, calls for the Conservative Party to adopt radical new policies have come in an emphatic and urgent tone but lack anything terribly specific. “Build more homes,” is often demanded by Ministers and council leaders who are proving utterly feeble at tackling the massive state land banking that they are directly responsible for – even in London there is a vast amount of surplus public sector land as Tony Devenish reminded us yesterday.
Lord Hague offered a rousing call last week in the Daily Telegraph for Conservatives to overcome our natural caution. With regard to housing he didn’t mention selling more state land but he did come up with another important proposal:
“Change regulations that stand in the way – for instance, allow micro-apartments provided they’re of high quality.”
A useful summary of the current arrangement is provided by James Carson of Idox:
The national space standard, which came into effect in October 2015, includes requirements such as: A new three-bed, five-person home should be a minimum of 93m²; A one-bed, one-person flat should be a minimum of 37m²; Two-bedroom homes should have at least one double bedroom; A double bedroom should have minimum floor area of 11.5m².
Local authorities are allowed to vary these.
The Government’s Housing White Paper earlier this year said:
“The Government is concerned that a one size fits all approach may not reflect the needs and aspirations of a wider range of households, and could be hindering innovative approaches to meeting demand, especially in areas of high demand where available land is limited. We want to make sure the standards are up to date so they do not rule out property sizes and types which more people now want to rent or buy, building on the high quality compact living model of developers such as Pocket Homes.”
Of course ideally we would all like to have plenty of space. But blocking the building of micro homes does not help. In fact it probably makes overcrowding worse – albeit that lots of people are crammed into bigger homes. In the case of student accomodation, for instance, micro homes are perfectly sensible. This is controversial of course with objections to “rabbit hutches”.
“England has the smallest homes by floor space area of any EU country. In 2013, the average size of a home was 93.6m², compared to 115.5 square metres in the Netherlands and 137 square metres in Denmark.”
“Fewer than one in ten new UK homes is self or custom-built, compared with 60 per cent in France and 80 per cent in Austria.
“But if the prime minister was trying to woo millennials she might have done better to conjure up this vision, a world where building your dream home was as simple as opening an app, instead of the slightly uninspiring prospect of a wee bit more council housing.”
Instead we are beholden to the planners to determine the size and shape of our homes, where they are located, and what they look like. With the state making the decisions all too often the new homes are in the wrong places, of the wrong type – and ugly.
So no doubt if we decided to have a housing market, in the way that operates elsewhere, the average size of our homes would increase. But within the existing constraints, denying the option of micro homes does not help. It means rents are higher, overcrowding is worse, and young single people find getting on the housing ladder even harder.