In 1912, the Local Government Board recommended that the minimum size of a house be at least 79.4 square metres. Europe was in the midst of a pre-WWI arms race, and George V sat on the throne. Today, over a century later, the average size of a new UK home is 76 square metres. New housing in Britain today does not meet the standard that was applied at a time when one in every seven workers was a domestic servant and the average life expectancy was 53.
In 1961, the Parker Morris Committee released an influential report, Homes for Today and Tomorrow, which recommended minimum space standards across all housing in new towns and all council housing. These were abolished in 1980 by Margaret Thatcher, who saw the regulations as a barrier to development. After decades of unregulated building, the UK now builds the smallest homes in Europe. New Irish homes average 88 square metres of floor space; in France the average is 113 square metres. New Danish homes are almost double the size of those in Britain.
Newly built apartments of around 14 square metres – so small that four homes could be made to fit into a standard squash court – are no longer unusual, especially in the grossly inflated property market of the English capital. The Parker Morris standards aimed to guarantee three times that area as the minimum space in which a couple could live in a one-bedroom apartment. The relaxation of rules on commercial-to-residential conversions in 2013 led to a boom in thousands of flats in former office blocks, in which “permitted development rights” allow companies to flout minimum standards without obtaining the normal planning permissions.
With land prices increasing, developers and estate agents are making a virtue from necessity, marketing slick-looking, Instagram-friendly “micro houses” – which would easily have fit inside the average new living room in the 1970s – to cashstrapped young professionals. The housing crisis, described by Shelter as a national emergency, is forcing generations of people to adjust their expectations downwards and settle for less, while only those with the resources to exit the market benefit from the ongoing inflation of the property bubble. Until the government properly regulates space, this fundamental commodity will continue to grow ever more expensive while the walls close in on the people of Britain.
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