House builders facing curbs on construction of ‘rabbit hutch’ homes

Housebuilders could be forced to design and build homes with larger rooms under proposals to end the current trend of “rabbit-hutch” cramped estates. On Tuesday communities minister Don Foster, is launching the space consultation, which in a trade-off for larger homes, will also reduce certain requirements imposed on house builders with up to 90 housing standards being scrapped and 1500 pages of guidance reduced to less than 80.

Mr Foster confirmed to the Financial Times that there were no regulations regarding minimum space standards in the UK, outside London. 

Typical small narrow small new UK homeA typical British new home is now nearly 50% smaller than a similar home built 80 years ago. In a relentless drive for ever higher profits, builders are reducing plot sizes and increasing densities, which has resulted in UK new homes being the smallest in Western Europe. Small dark UK new homes not only making us unhappy but can also make us ill. 

As the RIBA Case for Space notes the average UKTypical 1920's semi one bedroom flat is about the same size as an a London tube carriage. The average UK new home is just 818sq ft. New homes in Ireland have 15% more space and in Denmark, the average new home is 80% bigger than its UK equivalent.

It is well known for years that house builders have used tricks to give the impression the show homes are larger than they really are and developers have been forced to deny the practice. 

It is hoped that the consultation on minimum space standards will be viewed by as pay back for the Help-to-Buy bonanza that is creating record profits for house building industry from the taxpayer-funded subsidies. 

On Monday, Bovis reported first half pre tax profits up 20% year-on-year to £19m. A day later Persimmon reported a rise in pre tax profit of 40% to £135m. No doubt their 1700 Help to Buy reservations since the scheme was launched in April, contributed to the 7% year-on-year increase in legal completions. 

In March, Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, said families had been “trapped in rabbit hutch homes” due to density targets of at least 30 homes per hectare imposed by the previous Labour government. However he failed to acknowledge that it was the Thatcher government that abolished minimum space standards for new homes 1980. Many home buyers are being put off by the small size of new homes. 

According to a survey by the Royal Institution of British Architects (RIBA), in 1920, the average semi-detached new home had four bedrooms and was 1,647 sq ft. Today’s new build semi is a three bedroom house of just 925 sq ft. It is the same picture for terraced new homes which are now typically two bedroom and just 645 sq ft, 37% smaller than the three bedroom 1025 sq ft terraced home built in the 1920’s. 

Harry Rich, chief executive of RIBA, has welcomed the review. “Our public research has repeatedly revealed that space in new homes is a major concern, our surveys have revealed that 60 per cent of people who would not buy a new home said the small size of rooms was the most important reason.” 

The consultations will take place until 22 October 2013. Whether organisations representing the house builders such as the HBF agree and house builders increase the size of new homes, without increasing prices to maintain profit margins, remains to be seen.


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