Everyone is aware that the UK needs hundreds of thousands of new homes in the next decade but little thought seems to have been given to the size and quality. Indeed, there is no national minimum standard for the size of a new home in England. This is worrying, according to the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), which points out that the UK has the smallest homes in Western Europe.
Imagine living in a Jubilee Line tube carriage. It may sound far fetched, but 46 square meters, the size of a Jubilee Line carriage, is the size of the average one bedroom new build home being built in Britain, RIBA reveals in a new study; The Case for Space, the Size of England’s New Homes.
This kind of cramped, environment is a day to day reality for those living in many new build homes yet research also shows that space and light are the top things people care about when looking for new homes.
People are concerned about the space and natural light when they are looking for homes but these are not luxuries, they are basic needs which are proven to impact on our health, happiness and wellbeing.
In a few weeks’ time UK government will be making crucial decisions about the future of homes including minimum standards for space, energy, security and natural light. The Government’s Review of Housing Standards in England could result in the current meagre housing standards being reduced or even abolished, according to RIBA.
It has launched a campaign to get ordinary people to take part in the consultation process and get in touch with their MP to demand that proper minimum standards for space and light are set. The HomeWise campaign is backed by property guru Kevin McCloud, best known as the presenter of popular television programme Grand Designs.
‘This isn’t rocket science. We all instinctively respond to the opportunity for a view, a connection with the outdoors, fresh air, light and space. A return to minimum space standards is crucial for the health and wellbeing of the people who will be living in new build homes,’ he said.
RIBA president Angela Brady said that the country is in the grip of the worst housing crisis in decades and there is an urgent need to provide more affordable, quality homes. ‘In their rush to build the Government must avoid the temptation to reduce current standards and give the go-ahead for builders to produce another generation of poor quality homes, without adequate space and natural light,’ she explained.
She added that one bedroom flats in Britain are being built to the same dimensions as a Tube train carriage as developers are now cramming a lounge, kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom into just 46 square metres. Also, overall the average UK home is now 76 square metres, some 10% smaller than 30 years ago, and shrunk from 5.2 rooms to 4.8 rooms, making British properties the tiniest in Western Europe. Homes in Europe are 15% bigger on average and 80% larger in Scandinavia.
The RIBA believes that this lack of space and light in a home that small is causing marriage break ups, health problems and holds children back at school. Its research shows that a lack of natural light, often due to small windows, can lead to a diminished immune system, diabetes and premature ageing. Natural light can decrease the risk of insomnia, depression and obesity, while over exposure to artificial light can disrupt sleeping patterns, architects say.
In the majority of Britain there are no minimum standards for homebuilders on the size of a house or flat while regulations say a room only needs natural light from just one window measuring the size of an average cushion. As a result, thousands of people are now living in a cramped, dark, artificially lit environment.
Things have been getting worse since the abolition of the Parker Morris minimum space standards in the 1980 Local Government, Planning and Land Act. A survey also found that 32% of home owners say they would like more space, and 20% would like more natural light. For those living in a home that is two to 10 years old, a lack of space is their main reason for wanting to move out. Some 75% consider a lack of space a key problem and 69% say they do not even have enough room for their possessions.
‘The Town and Country Planning Act effectively rationed the distribution of land for development by producing the green belt. ‘That meant land started to be traded as a commodity and increased in value. We have enormous quantities of green belt and one of the best preserved countryside in Europe. But the price we pay for that green and pleasant land is very small homes,’ explained McCloud.
In Scotland building regulations require all habitable rooms to have a window area equivalent to at least 15% of the floor area and the London Housing Design Guide requires that all habitable rooms have a window area equivalent to at least 20% of the floor area. But England, Wales and Northern Ireland are missing out on space standards apart from in social housing.