Saturday, 16 October 2010

The end of Hobbit Homes?

The Musing Urbanist was at City Hall last Friday to see the issue of mandatory space standards being discussed. The Mayor of London has proposed a new policy in the London Plan to require all new residential development to meet minimum space standards, starting at 50sqm for a 1-bed flat. This was being discussed as part of the wider London Plan which sets strategic planning policy for the city. With Boris being very vocal on this issue and his reference to the ‘Hobbit Homes’ of London, it was sure to be a heated discussion!

The case for Space Standards

Quality of Life. That was the phrase most often used by advocates of space standards, arguing that London needs to catch up to Europe and stop building minuscule spaces that pass as homes. I agree that the level of space can impact on quality of life, but I think there are other factors that must be considered – access to park space, the quality of the build, services and facilities, safety etc. But in the main I can’t disagree with this argument.

CABE put forward some excellent points including how the London Plan should be at the cutting edge of policy and not be afraid to drive forward new policy. The Merton Rule (10% on-site renewable energy) began life as a small policy in a London Borough and has now spread much further. So no reason why the London Plan can’t change the national picture either.

The National Housing Federation also were impressive, arguing for the increased supply of housing, but with a recognition that homes must be built to a decent standard in order to last. The speaker also recognised that housing changes tenure over its lifetime and it would be nonsensical to only adopt space standards for affordable housing – a point well made.

The case against Space Standards

The Home Builders Federation were champing at the bit to bring down this policy and duly reeled off a detailed critique of town and country planning!! The HBF argued that if developers were required to build larger units, viability would be impacted and affordability would skyrocket (even further). They argued that planning has acted as a constraint on housebuilding for too long and has left millions unable to afford a home. Playing to the galleries somewhat they made a pitch to the younger audience and the need to avoid young adults living at home ala Italy!

The viability argument was also backed up by London First and a number of interested developers. They repeatedly made the point that housing must be provided to meet all financial requirements. By reducing the number of units on a site the build costs would increase and the individual cost of units would begin to exceed those at the bottom of the market.

View of the Musing Urbanist

Space standards are no different to any other planning ideal – excellent design, access to parks, and protection of neighbour’s amenity. Just because UK planning has behind the curve on this issue doesn’t make it less important. It must be considered on a level par with these other issues. If anything it is more important than some others that already form London Plan and national policy. Fingers crossed the Panel see it this way and keep the space standards in the London Plan.

1 comment:

  1. We seem to be on the same page, sorry I wasn't at the EiP to hear the talks.