The UK housing shortage is a major problem, one that the government has continuously attempted to rectify with policy after policy, year on year. But are they causing more harm than good? In this UK Housing series I am exploring specific issues that seem to pass us by but have a great impact on the standards within our society.
A little while ago, an issue was brought to my attention by an architect I know regarding planning regulations for flats. If the existing building is commercial and being converted to residential, then under permitted development, it does not have to conform to the minimum requirements set out by the government planning authorities.
The issue around this is that to some it is seen as a way to provide much needed housing to the UK, to others it is a way of providing developers with the opportunity to profit from selling larger numbers of properties in a space that had it been a conversion from an existing residential property or a new build, far fewer properties would have been allowed within the area. Either way, the consumer is the one who loses out.
An article in The Independent spoke of the unjust nature of this where properties in the London Borough of Barnet were being converted from an old council office building into residential flats of approximately 16m2 in size - the equivalent to a Travelodge hotel room. To put this into perspective further, to meet regular planning conditions, the minimum size for a studio with a shower and no bath is currently 37m2.
Not only does this minimum standard not apply to commercial properties but it does not apply to the section 106 requirement for affordable housing either. At a time where not only do we not have enough housing in the UK, but we do not have enough affordable housing, scrapping this requirement is understandable as it likely comes as a relief to the developer and adds incentive to take on these projects. However, should this really be a consideration or should we be considering the needs of the end user?
Whilst there are constraints that will trigger the need for planning permission, developers will be sure to avoid these in order to get around any red tape and maximise their profits. There needs to be a balance between providing more, suitable housing and ensuring that living standards are maintained in a safe way.
Both the Construction Industry as the professionals and experts and the government have a duty to ensure that homes are safe, comfortable and appropriate for those living in them. The government should be ensuring that there are safeguards in place so this is achieved and allowing properties of 16m2 for an entire home to me suggests they are currently failing. There is a major shortage of housing in the UK but instead of cutting corners and providing ill thought out solutions, we need a considered, realistic and achievable plan that is less to do with politics and more to do with solving the needs of the UK population.