Space standards – the final frontier

Tuesday 18 July 2017

©U+I

New, flexible approaches to the design, delivery and space standards of housing should be allowed to flourish if London is to keep families and the young from fleeing a lack of affordable accommodation in the city.

That was the key point to emerge at a breakfast talk: ‘Are space standards limiting London’s housing supply?’ last week at NLA.

Levitt Bernstein head of housing research and conference chair Julia Park said that there was a ‘tinge of frustration’ in the title of the debate, and that it was easy to forget that only a decade ago we had a housing crisis of a different kind, with thousands of homes simply not selling, with the smallest proving hardest to shift. One-beds then were typically around 44-46m2, with two-beds at 63-65 m2, and there was concern that homes were getting smaller in London and elsewhere, which prompted the London Housing Design Guide that took effect in 2011 and then current space standards – bizarrely similar to the first ones that emerged 100 years ago.

Wimshurst Pelleriti partner Will Wimshurst showed how his practice is responding with micro-housing developed with Richmond Housing Partnerships to target those who earn too much for social rent and not enough for shared ownership – a ‘whole generation of Londoners’. It has built a prototype ‘chassis’ with L&G at its Leeds factory in three different typologies that are so airtight that they will only cost £10-40 in energy bills, and which now have a site in Richmond.

Flexibility is the watchword for Naked House, meanwhile, whose Rachel Bagenal said the idea emerged from the personal situation of the four directors, all of whom were ‘generation rent’ and could not see any viable offers in the intermediate market. ‘I guess we felt they weren’t that affordable of designed with us in mind, or with any flexibility or agency’, she said. The not-for-profit housing developer has a target to make its output – a mortgage compliant home that has all it needs to get planning and building control, but nothing more – affordable on a London median income, never more than a third of the household income. The first 22 Naked Homes will be built in Enfield with funding from the mayor, and are set for completion in 2020. ‘We’re trying to give people as much choice as we can’, said Bagenal. ‘It might not be for everybody and it won’t solve the housing crisis but it is another choice for Londoners who are priced out.’

For Barratt London head of planning Martin Scholar, the problem is more that councils are not being flexible enough when it comes to the type of housing that they want to see. In particular, the proportion of family housing – three and four beds – is the result of ‘well-meaning’ policies but which end up being used by sharers. ‘We’d argue for flexibility and say that we can provide more housing by having that flexibility and councils being less insistent on family units’, he said. Barratt wants a more ‘nuanced’ discussion with the GLA as the next iteration of the London Plan evolves.

The head of the London Plan at the GLA, Jennifer Peters, said the introduction of space standards had made a real difference to the quality of life in London, but that the GLA is looking at shared living and trying to promote different types of development. Mae principal Alex Ely said now was not the time to think again about space standards but that there is room to accommodate specialist accommodation. ‘If you remove the standards all I see resulting is a race to the bottom’, he said, and we have some of the smallest standards in Europe as it is. Finally, U+I director of business development Duncan Trench said he had investors ‘queuing up’ for his proposal for smaller accommodation. ‘We believe there is a bunch of Londoners out there who are prepared to sacrifice size but not quality’, he said. ‘Let’s start listening to what people want. I think I can develop 250 units in a zone one in a medium building of 14-16 storeys and I think I can charge them the London Living Rent. It will bring a whole bunch of people back into the centre of London.’ Trench said investors saw a secure income in the proposal along with demand for a well-managed building that will have amenity space and which may help fill a ‘gaping hole’ in the market.

David Taylor

Editor, New London Quarterly 
@davidntaylor

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