The Guardian wants to tell us that freedom from the planning permission system is a very bad idea indeed. The ability to convert office space into flats, without the encumbrance of bureaucratic permission, leads to, well, leads to:
The conversion appears to have gone ahead as planned, which means each of the six upper floors is now made up of 10 self-contained studio flats. So that’s 60 flats. The architect’s drawings describe 18 of the studios as “singles” and 42 as “doubles”.
According to the plans, the smallest singles are just 13 sq metres – that’s a room just a fraction smaller than 12ft by 12ft – while the smallest doubles are 14.7 sq metres. Yet the government’s own space standard – known as the “nationally described space standard” – states that the minimum floor area for a new one-bedroom one-person home (including conversions) is 37 sq metres, and for a one-bed two person home it is 50 sq metres. While these minimum sizes are not compulsory, they do apply in London, but only to schemes that go through the planning system.
Apparently the provision of 60 housing units by side swerving the planning system is an outrage. We would say that having to side swerve the system to produce the required housing units tells us we need to reform, or ditch, the planning system.
What we find truly fun though is the second story covered in that same column. Or perhaps the conjunction of the two. For we get this:
The research by LABC Warranty, which provides warranties for new-build homes, used data from property websites Rightmove and Zoopla to analyse house sizes within a five-mile radius of 20 UK cities.
It said that in Sheffield, the average floor space of a privately owned home was 61.2 sq metres.
The researchers collected data including the size of the living room, kitchen, master bedroom and bathroom, as well as determining the average number of bedrooms and whether the property had access to a garden. However, it appears the analysis did not include certain areas, such as a hallway or staircase, which means it may underestimate the true picture.
The three cities with the next-smallest average house sizes were Southampton (64.9 sq metres), Bristol (65 sq metres) and Glasgow (65.2 sq metres). Meanwhile, the figures for London, Manchester and Birmingham were 65.7 sq metres, 67.2 sq metres and 69.9 sq metres respectively.
That's the result of what we get from people obeying the planning system. Rabbit hutches which are, by far, the smallest average sizes for housing in Europe. Actually, one of us inhabits a rural cottage on the continent. Originally built for a landless farm labourer, never known to be one of the richer sections of society. It's a good 50% larger than those average sizes above. The British planning system produces housing smaller than that available to a Portuguese peasant near a century ago.
This is not a recommendation for that British planning system now, is it? For that British planning system produces not enough and small housing. Where it's possible to dodge it housing most certainly gets provided in volume. All we need to do now is to obliterate the restrictions against building housing people actually want to live in and we'll be done.
We even have history as a guide for us. Those 1930s semis and detacheds that people vie to live in across the Home Counties, paying that half and million for them, were built in the entire absence of detailed planning as under the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 and successors. That was also the last time the private sector produced the 300,000 units a year people say we need.
Time to abolish the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 and successors. The plan which will gain us the desired volume of housing that people actually want to live in, where they'd like to live. The solution, as so often, being that government does less.