Blog by Lucinda Holt
Huge rise in ‘rabbit hutch’ homes for first-time buyers
The number of ‘rabbit hutch’ new homes being built in the UK has increased almost fivefold in just five years. Developers taking advantage of relaxed planning regulations has seen 9,605 micro-homes – smaller than the minimum 398 sq ft / 37 sq m national space standards – built in 2018 compared to 2,139 built in 2013.
The research by the Intergenerational Foundation (www.if.org.uk) highlights how office buildings have been used to drive the rise in tiny flats in city centres with no regard to the eventual occupants. In 2013, policy-makers, including Boris Johnson, then Mayor of London, hoped micro-homes would provide a part solution to the housing crisis by permitting the conversion of commercial buildings into residential housing with almost automatic planning consent irrespective of their size. It meant homes could be created below the minimum national space standards for a 2-person, 1-bedroom home of 538 sq ft / 50 sq m or 398 sq ft / 37 sq m for a 1-person home with a shower.
The charitable think tank says the kind of developers who are willing to ignore the national standards are creating the slums of the future and the UK can now claim the dubious title of having the smallest rooms and the second smallest homes to be found across all of Europe. Nor are micro-homes just a London phenomenon. From 2016 to 2018 significant numbers have been built in the North West and the trend for office to resi conversion has reached Preston with several former offices in prime city centre locations undergoing redevelopment.
The Intergenerational Foundation report, Rabbit Hutch Homes, says: “In many cases, office to resi is creating tomorrow’s slums today; ugly, unsafe, unplanned, low-amenity homes that are bad places to live and injurious to mental and physical health.”
Colin Wiles, the author of the report, comments: “The available evidence shows that micro-homes are not a solution to the housing crisis. They represent a short-term, kneejerk reaction to wider problems in the housing market and the planning process, including the rising price of land, inadequate housing investment, rising under-occupation by older generations and land-banking by housebuilders. They have a negative impact on affordability, health, community stability and general well-being. They are clearly speculative, uncontrolled and unplanned.”
Danny Dorling, Professor of Geography at the University of Oxford, provided the foreword for Rabbit Hutch Homes and says: “We need to call time on quick-profit-seeking speculative developments of rabbit hutch homes. We need to tighten, not loosen permitted development rights for homes converted from commercial to residential use and ensure that developers are made to abide by the Nationally Described Space Standard, in order to better protect younger and future generations.”
Developers like Etc Urban, which has completed The Union Lofts in Guildhall Street, are committed to building new homes that always meet minimum national space standards. Neil Thornton, director of Etc Urban, says: “The average size of apartments in The Union Lofts is 665 sq ft. We believe space is one of the most important necessities of modern life and is not something that can or should be compromised. Future generations are being let down by policy makers who allow tiny flats to be built with no controls over who builds them or buys them. Often, it’s overseas investors who are content to flood local rental markets with these sub-standard units. There are enough people warning about the creation of tomorrow’s slums. Councils need to have the right – and need to enforce it – to refuse planning permission for developments that are simply too small for residents’ health and well-being.”