Let there be light… and a bit more space!

At the beginning of October, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced that a minimum size for flats/homes converted from offices under permitted development rights (PDR) would be enforced.

This expands on changes to PDR, introduced on 1st August 2020, ensuring that adequate natural light is a pre-requisite when creating new homes from a building that had another use in a previous life.

In 2017, when a study compared floor space across the EU it unveiled that the UK had the smallest dwellings in the EU. (*At the other end of the scale, Canada has the largest floor space in the world, where on average, homes measure 150 m2.)

However, developers of new schemes must now comply with the new rule, ensuring that a one-bed home with shower room, measures at least 37m2. And, if the property has a bathroom the minimum size increases to 39.2m2.

This may not be vast, but is probably larger than the homes Nick Raynsford, ex-Labour MP and Housing Minister in Tony Blair’s Government, was referring to in Architects Journal (Jan 2020), saying the current Government was ‘immorally producing slums through PDR’.

PDR has been branded a major stimulus that’s resulted in cramped living spaces.

This latest amendment to PDR might be more readily explained if read in conjunction with a Government-commissioned report, which revealed between 70% and 80% of flats converted under PDR fail to reach the minimum size conditions. It found that some converted ‘studio’ flats measured 16m2 – less than half the recommended size.

The Housing Secretary says that while most developers “…deliver good homes and do the right thing…”, the new measures would address those who did not follow regulations. He also stressed that Covid-19 had illuminated the importance of having a comfortable place to live. And during lockdown or quarantine, this must have been very apparent to those living in tiny spaces.

In general, these new measures have been welcomed, although some say that consideration must be given to the communities impacted by PDR – especially when used to convert large office blocks. These schemes often result in a sudden increase in demand upon local amenities and services such as schools, surgeries and public transport.

However, PDR is a vital weapon in the Government’s armoury, to achieve its pledge to deliver one million new homes during this parliament. And if proof were needed that permitted development could help, the Government says there have been ‘over 60,000 homes provided over the last 4 years’ under PDR.

That said, a year of Covid restrictions has affected the Government’s housing ambition, and early lockdown adversely impacted the construction sector and delivery of some schemes. But as building sites were some of the first to return to work, it is hoped that time lost can be recouped in due course.

In summary, it is hoped that this new move will ensure the few who have abused PDR in the past are no longer able to, and that new homes created will meet minimum space standards.

*Caveat: the UK has a landmass of 244,100 square kilometres and a population in excess of 67,000,000; Canada’s landmass is almost 10 million square kilometres with a population of 37.600,000.


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