Tiny flats to be banned under new planning rules

In another government outbreak of sanity, following on from our piece on Shoebox living, we’re pleased to notice in the Times today that the government is now planning to clamp down on this abuse of Permitted Development rules.

Interestingly, the new minimum space requirement will be 37 m2 for a one bedroom flat, meaning that the Prince George Street development behind the North Street Arcade just about squeezes in. The flats already for sale at the former Trentham art gallery on the other side of the road, at 30 m2, don’t though. Hmmm.

Full text of the Times article follows:

“Developers will be blocked from creating tiny flats in former office buildings dubbed the “slums of the future” after the government announced that it would impose minimum size requirements.

A relaxation in planning rules in 2013 paved the way for office blocks to be converted into thousands of flats without any space standards. Some landlords exploited the freedoms to build minuscule, sub-standard flats with limited access to natural light that were often used by councils to house children and vulnerable adults.

Times investigation last year revealed that landlords were making millions from flats as small as one third of the minimum required under normal planning rules.

Families have been squeezed into noisy, mould-ridden bedsits built on industrial estates and alongside busy roads. Some developments had no outside windows while in one case a developer lodged plans to convert a ground-floor office into flats measuring 8.3 sq m and 9 sq m, smaller than a standard parking space.

Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, said that permitted development rights were helping to deliver new homes and that “most developers deliver good homes and do the right thing”.

He said he was “tackling the minority of developers abusing the system by announcing that new homes delivered will have to meet space standards”.

Minimum space standards, which require at least 37 sq m for a one-bed, one-person flat and 61 sq m for a two-bed flat for three people, will now apply to conversions carried out under permitted development rules.

The government will use secondary legislation to make the change, although a spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government declined to say when this would be.

A report commissioned by the government which was belatedly released this year found that 78 per cent of flats built under permitted development rules did not meet minimum space standards.

Ben Clifford, who led the team of independent academics who wrote the report, said that “most of the permitted development schemes we saw were significantly below” minimum space standards and were “cell-like” in size.

He said that 60,000 flats had been built under permitted development rights, meaning that there was already “a huge volume of really tiny flats that we’re stuck with and may be dealing with the consequences of for some time”.

Nevertheless, he said that it was a “welcome announcement”, particularly before a possible increase of office conversions as the coronavirus pandemic has led many companies to encourage staff to work from home.

The government made changes this year to require homes built under permitted development rights to provide adequate natural light.

Alan Jones, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, welcomed the change.

“The government has done the right thing by closing this dangerous loophole and ensuring new permitted development housing across England will have adequate space and light — standards that should be a given,” he said.

Fiona Howie, chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Association, said that it was a “positive step” that “along with the earlier announcement requiring homes to have access to natural light, will hopefully prevent the very worst homes coming through permitted development rights”.

She said further action was needed to ensure that homes were built in suitable locations and with access to outdoor space.

“We have seen families being forced to live in the middle of industrial estates, where the only place for children to play is car parks,” she said.

The association is calling for legislation to set basic standards for healthy homes.

The government is expanding permitted development rights to allow two-storey extensions on blocks of flats and detached buildings and the change is to be debated in the Commons.

Some Conservative MPs — particularly those in suburban London constituencies — have expressed concern over plans to allow two-storey extensions to be added to homes and tower blocks without planning permission.”