Will minimum space standards become a part of building regulations?

Homes should provide adequate space to meet basic residents’ needs, such as access to doors, windows and furniture, undertaking basic living activities, like washing, dressing, cooking, eating, playing and socialising, ability to move around the home, as well as place for storing possessions. It does not really sound too much luxury, does it? It is therefore surprising to see how many British homes are falling short to deliver on these necessities due to lack of space. Will mandatory space standard improve the situation?

New homes are getting smaller

New homes in the UK are ‘shrinking’ and are now the smallest in Western Europe. The average new home is 76m2 with an average room size of 15.8 m2. For comparison, Irish homes feature an average area of 87.7m², Dutch – 115.5 m² and Danish – 137m². The restriction on land for housing development may be considered as the reason, but the detailed analysis revealed that other countries as densely populated as the UK feature bigger homes. This is attributed to the fact they have standards in place that set the minimum floor areas new buildings have to meet.

Currently there no mandatory space standards for England. However, the Greater London Authority (GLA) has recently introduced the requirements defining a minimum gross internal floor area against the number of bedroom and storeys in the house and the number of people the home is designed to accommodate.

The GLA standards state a 1-bedroom flat accommodating a single person should have a minimum essential gross internal area of 37m2. For two storey houses the requirements start from 83m2, and for 3-storey – from 102m2.

Bigger homes ̶ fewer homes?

The Royal Institute of British Architects surveyed 1,159 homes across 41 sites. The analysis covered top UK homebuilders, namely: Barratt, Taylor Wimpey, Persimmon, Bellway, Berkeley, Galliford Try, Crest Nicholson and Lovell Partnerships. The results show the average one bedroom home for two residents was 4m2 short of the recommended by GLA standards minimum, while the average 3-bedroom home was 8m2 short.

It seems therefore that in the times of acute housing shortages developers are focused on the quantity of housing stock rather than quality. Can new standards change that situation? And will the new regulations slash the number of homes delivered? Will a 10% increase in the dwelling size generate a 10% increase in cost for a developer and purchaser making homes less affordable?

The research conducted by the GLA on the impact on new space standards on the cost and delivery concluded that in the majority of cases the increase in the living space between 1 and 10% will have a little impact on the number of houses delivered. These findings, however, could be argued.

Is it time to make the space standards mandatory?

The current London benchmarks, developed on the basis of 60 year old Parker Morris specifications, are regarded by RIBA as the best available at present. Moreover, the organisation claims buildings not meeting these standards are not fit for purpose and therefore should not be built any more.

Making GLA space standards mandatory will significantly improve the comfort of living for the residents and lessen the health and social costs associated with inadequate space and overcrowding. The Building Research Establishment (BRE) estimated the cost of overcrowding on the NHS to be at £21,815,546 per annum. Prolonged space shortage has also shown to have significant negative impact on educational achievements and family relationships. Do we really want to have houses built which make us sick, unhappy and generate £millions in health treatment costs?

The research on customers’ preferences about newly built homes confirms predilection toward bigger houses. In the YouGov poll commissioned by RIBA , 60% of respondents said the small size of the rooms was the most important reason for them NOT to buy a home. Similarly, small room sizes were pointed as the reason a significant share of the respondents (31%) was not interested in buying a home built in the last ten years.

In October 2015, the government introduced a new set of rules allowing local authorities to set minimum space requirements for new homes. However, the ‘Nationally Described Space Standard’ is unlikely to deliver any tangible changes, as it is voluntary and very complicated for local authorities to introduce. Also, it does not apply to all new buildings (conversions to residential from other uses are excluded). The RIBA is therefore campaigning for the national minimum space standard to be embedded within Building Regulations.

What are your opinions? Should space standards become mandatory? Do people really need bigger homes? Is it worth it for developers to build bigger houses? Can it be achieved without compromising affordability?

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