People who live in small houses....

A couple of weekends back as I was passing (swiftly) through Thamesmead on my bicycle my attention was drawn to a riverside apartment block that looked as if it had been hit by an explosion. The river-facing balconies of almost every flat were piled so high with possessions that it looked as if the block's windows had been blown out so that the occupants' possessions were on display for all to see.

On closer inspection it was apparent that the possessions had been heaped on the balconies by the occupants in their desperation for storage space and not, as I had initially thought, by some violent detonation. What is more, these polythene- and tarpaulin-wrapped bundles have given the block's sleek river frontage a refugee-camp aesthetic.I'm sure the residents of this block have no more possessions than most; the issue for them is space - or rather the lack of it.The shortage of space in new homes was recognised by the RIBA in its report The Case for Space, published in 2011. It explained thatUK homes are the smallest in Western Europe. The document's publication was one of the factors that helped push the Government to take action so that last year new national space standards came into force which provide guidance on the minimum size of new homes.

Problem solved.

Actually no; well not in the short term anyway because the new rules are optional. According to the RIBA in its publication Space Standards for Homes,

minimum space standards can only be introduced through the planning system by including the policy in the local plan. To do this a Local Authority must "first carry out a needs test and viability assessment to justify the policy. It may then need to carry out a full local plan review including public consultation and examination". And, even where a Local Authority has implemented the minimum space standards, they can still be challenged by developers on the basis of site-specific viability. All of which sounds incredibly bureaucratic and burdensome for something that the Government has recognised as necessary.

The RIBA says the best solution would be to embed the national minimum space standards in the Building Regulations so that all new homes will benefit. This sounds sensible, but is unlikely to happen in the near future.

In the meantime homes are still being built that are so small they are compromising people's lifestyle. So, as a short term fix, I think it should be made law that all marketing material for new homes has to prominently display a home's floor area. Imagine the impact of this simple measure: rather than marketing homes on the number of (arbitrarily-sized) bedrooms consumers would have information that would allow then to compare the actual size of homes and to make an informed decision based on actual floor area. 

This is not revolutionary approach, it is the way domestic property is already sold in most countries around the world. And, if the same rules were applied to the sale of existing properties, consumers would be able to make a sensible comparison of floor areas of new builds with those of existing properties. Facilitating such a comparison might even serve to drive up the space offered by a new homes.

Of course there is another solution which might find favour in Thamesmead and that is simply to build apartments with much larger balconies.

Posted by Andy Pearson