Viewpoint: Space Standards, what’s in a word…?


Marc Vlessing, co-founder of Pocket, a private affordable house builder, expresses his concern about the government’s plan for new space standards.

Pocket builds compact, one-bedroom homes, which, by virtue of their size and the density we apply to our schemes, we are able to discount to the local market price by at least 20%. Our homes are only for local people earning less than £66,000 per year (the limit for affordable housing set out in the London Plan) and they are helping Londoners desperate to get on the housing ladder.

The government is currently consulting on its housing standards review; an effort to try and come up with a national series of space standards for all in the development industry to apply. Therefore, you may think that Pocket is no friend of space standards. Yet those who have been lobbying hard to codify space have found us rather more supportive than they might have expected. Our view is that it is a good thing to try and codify space, but not at all costs. We believe that space standards should allow for design excellence: a badly designed 47 m² flat is a lot less pleasant to live in than a well-designed 37 m² flat such as Pocket’s. We also believe that space standards must acknowledge local circumstance: it clearly is not sensible to try and impose the same one bedroom space standard on Londoners as it is on areas of the country where land values and house costs are under less pressure.

Our bugbear is that the proposals under review are seeking to call a 37 m² home a “studio,” and we have been told that we should be delighted that 37 m² has now been acknowledged as an acceptable space standard nationwide.

The snag is: we don’t build studios. We build one-bedroom homes; perfectly formed, carefully designed, 37 m² homes with a distinct bedroom separated from the living space.

So the future will be bleak for us if we have to stand in front of planning committees asking for their consent to a development comprising of 35 “studios.” For those unfamiliar with the excellence of our designs (we have won RIBA, CABE, Evening Standard and many other awards) reference to the word studio will be thoroughly off-putting.

The GLA got this right in its design guidelines some years ago. It refers to the 37m² format as a one-person-one-bed home. Glory be for common sense. Developers need continuity and improvement, not discontinuity and uncertainty and this is particularly relevant to our current position at Pocket, given that we have 500 homes to deliver in the next couple of years. And yes, to those who think that this is all a bit of a storm in a teacup: small words can make big differences.

So whether you believe that this is an innocent mistake in the drafting or an opportunistic attempt to sneak in further prescription by the back door; we hope that CLG genuinely consults through this process and aligns with the proven design guidelines set by the Mayor of London.

Right, back to the work desk: we have homes to build.

The Space Standards consultation paper can be found here. The consultation is now closed and submissions are being analysed.

Let Marc know your thoughts on Twitter @marcvlessing or visit www.pocketliving.com 

    1. Cllr. Tom Maddison says:

      We have the smallest spatial standards for new homes in Europe. All I am asking for is a minimum spatial standard which would include best design and reverse the trend to give residents the least living accommodation possible. This would not only improve the quality of new homes but greatly improve the life`s of a growing population.
      The post war Parker Morris Standards for new homes would be an excellent starting point .

    2. Cllr. Dan Filson says:

      So here we are being lobbied, in effect, to lower ambitions on space standards. Sure a well designed 37sq.m flat /studio /shoebox mY be better than a poorly-designed 47sq.m flat/studio/shoebox but the design is a subjective judgement whereas the square metreage is an absolute, there to protect and serve the more vulnerable. It’s worth pointing out – since nobody ever does – that whilst youngsters at their start of lu I g in their first hones may stomach living in a studio/shoebox for a while, it palls over time and we shoukd not be building homes that are only – barely – fit for purpose for a limited period. We should be building for life, even if in practice many move on. And it’s worth pointing out that if we are serious about enabling older people to downsize we should provide them with hones big enough for many of their lifetime possessions, just fewer bedrooms.

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