Know Your Housing Space Standards

The subject of space standards in housing design is highly contentious and consequently it has been greatly debated over the years. Among designers there is widespread agreement that reasonable space standards are fundamental to the provision of good quality housing.

Architects in Bedford

People’s views and feelings towards space standards usually vary depending on their position as a stakeholder in the housing ecosystem. For example, those looking to occupy housing as tenants or owners generally tend to prefer more space rather than less space, albeit this preference is usually tempered by the reality of budget.

Whereas commercial developers are motivated to decrease space standards so they can increase the density of their developments, resulting in more units for sale and greater profits. But, this is very simplistic view of space standards neglects to consider the full range of influencing factors at play in housing design such as land value, density, planning restrictions, permitted development rights and politics which all weave into the design process to a greater or lesser extent.

Where did it all being with space standards?

The origins of space standards in UK housing design can be traced back to the Tudor Walters report of 1918 that intended to address general living conditions as part of a national house building programme following WWI. This was followed by The Housing Act of 1935 that seeked to define minimum bedroom sizes in order to control overcrowding. Then in 1961 The Parker Morris Committee published ‘Homes for Today and Tomorrow’, which was the first comprehensive report on public housing space standards.

‘Parker Morris’ fundamentally changed the basis for housing standards from something previously intended to avoid overcrowding through managing occupancy levels, to something that was directly linked to improved living standards.

These new space standards were based on evidence-based research that analysed how space intrinsically influences the functional utility of living in housing. For example, how much space was required for a kitchen, for a dining room, for a living room, for a WC and bathroom, for a bedroom. The research included basic functions such as the space needed to cook and prepare food, the space to wash and dry clothes, the space for sanitary activities like washing, bathing and shaving.

Why the need for housing space standards?

The new standards were developed partly to ensure public sector housing was future-proofed by increasing the lifespan of local authority housing. They were also motivated by an aspiration that good quality housing benefits society through better standards of living, increased life expectancy and therefore increased economic productivity.

These standards were then prescribed in England’s public housing in 1967 and they played an instrumental part in a boom in high-quality public-sector housing in the 60’s and 70’s.

Thatcher’s Impact on Housing Space Standards

Then in 1980 Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government abolished the Parker Morris standards as a result of lobbying from the private sector. It argued that public sector housing was too spacious and made it difficult for private developers to be competitive which was creating a barrier to the market for commercial developers. This change in attitude to housing policy was part of a wider Government philosphies that lead to the Right-to-Buy scheme being introduced in The Housing Act of 1980.

Where are we now with Housing Space Standards?

In 2010 the Mayor of London published The Interim London Housing Design Guide which set out the Mayor’s aspirations for good quality housing. Although this document was primarily focused on the Greater London area, in particular any developments on the London Development Agency land or with funding from the London Homes and Community Agency, this document was referred to by housing designers throughout the UK. The central focus of the design guide was the setting of minimum space standards for the first time in 30 years.

In 2015 the Government published the National Development Space Standards, which set out guidelines for all house builders to consider when designing new property, including reference to the number of bedrooms, the number of people residing at the property, the number of storeys and allowing for built-in storage.

You can see the standards in the table below:

What about PDR?

Permitted Development Rights, or PDR, have demolished space standards and the result is a glut of smaller, much lower quality housing stock flooding the market. The intention of the policy was to respond to the shortfall in housing supply that was, and still is, driving the housing crisis. However, the policy has resulted in the acceptance that housing can be delivered to smaller space standards and predominantly to the benefit of developers rather than the housing occupants.

There are many reasons that space standards are necessary. Fundamentally it’s about ensuring that both the public and private sector have a minimum level of provision in order to be able to deliver and enjoy suitably high quality housing. At Modern Architecture Workshop, our intention is to always meet the minimum space standards, and as often as possible, to exceed these standards. We firmly believe in the value of good quality housing and that the right amount of space is an essential element to healthy living.

If you would like to find out more about housing space standards, or why it is worthwhile investing in housing stock that meets or exceeds the minimum space standards, please get in touch. We would be delighted to discuss this with you.