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Turning shops and offices into ‘tiny homes’

  • by JW

“Imagine a family during lockdown living in a micro-pads of 16sqm without windows. Such plans are definitely not the way forward.”


How much ‘space’ do we need to live in?

16 square metres sounds pretty swish in the likes of Paris:

this minimal 16 sqm apartment in paris seamlessly turns into a workspace

And there are some great ideas for some amazing spaces:

Futures Forum: small spaces – Amazing Spaces

Indeed, the ‘tiny houses’ movement can get quite creative:

Futures Forum: A solution to our housing problems: tiny houses

But there are issues:

Futures Forum: A solution to our housing problems: tiny homes >>> >>> dog kennels or eco-pods?

Especially over what should constitute ‘minimum space standards’ – considered last in 2017:

Futures Forum: National space standards for new housing

And since then, there have been regular looks at whether these are working – and most commentary says not:

Common failings in permitted development office conversions |

Minimum Space Standards make the housing crisis worse — here’s why | Centre for Cities


The government has just said it wants to broaden ‘permitted development’ to high streets – to allow shops and offices to be converted into housing with minimum planning permission.

The 16 sqm limit for such development has come up once again:

Boris Johnson confronted over rule allowing landlords to build tiny houses the ‘size of his limo’ | The Independent

One correspondent to these news pages has pointed out a further comparison: “When you realise 16 sqm is the size of a plot on a beach which ‘can be occupied by one to four people, then it’s not so impressive”:

Benidorm reopens its beaches with safety rules but bans Brits until July 10 – Manchester Evening News

And another correspondent asks us to “Imagine a family during lockdown living in a micro-pads of 16sqm without windows. Such plans are definitely not the way forward”:

Lockdown without a garden: The Plymouth family stuck indoors as Covid-19 restrictions continue | ITV News

One in eight UK households has had no access to a garden during lockdown, figures show | The Independent

A low-rise in lockdown: How one London block of flats is coping in quarantine |


Most of the profession is not impressed with the government’s new rules – with some excerpts from across the media:


Permitted development rights: a solution to our dying high streets, or a permit for future slums?
The government’s expansion of permitted development rights from the end of August has united many professional bodies in vehement opposition. Joey Gardiner explains the reasoning behind the move and why it is so controversial, while opponents Ben Clifford, Andrew Forth and Julia Park voice their concerns…

Permitted development rights: a solution to our dying high streets, or a permit for future slums? | Features | Building


An independent government report published today has revealed homes created through the current permitted development system are of a lower standard of quality than residential schemes that go through planning permission. “Only 22.1 per cent of dwelling units created through PD would meet the nationally described space standards (NDSS), compared to 73.4 per cent of units created through full planning permission,” reads the report. “Studio flats of just 16 metres squared each were found in a number of different PD schemes.”

Law allowing conversion of shops to homes without planning permission “truly disgraceful” says RIBA


Planners, architects, surveyors and chartered construction professionals have all strongly condemned the government’s decision to press ahead with the creation of a raft of new permitted development rights. The new rules, which include a right for developers to demolish vacant office and industrial premises and rebuild them as homes, were branded “disgraceful” by the Royal Institute of British Architects, while the Royal Town Planning Institute described them as a “serious error”.

Architects accuse government of arrogance and breathtaking lack of understanding over permitted development | News | Building Design


Permitted development report author criticises PD expansion

government-commissioned independent report compiled by UCL academic Dr Ben Clifford, published earlier this week, showed that just a small fraction homes created under permitted development (PD) rights met national space standards, and were in general of worse quality “in relation to a number of factors widely linked to the health, wellbeing and quality of life” of occupants.

Despite this, the government on the same day published new regulations further expanding the use of PD rights to allow upward expansions of existing homes and the demolition and rebuild of vacant homes and offices. The regulations will come in to force on August 31. 

Permitted development rights, which allowed the conversion of a former industrial building in Watford to flats without windows (pictured), are a form of approval in principle by the government of certain prescribed forms of development. Applications made under the permitted development regime therefore bypass normal planning processes.

In particular, he said was disappointed by the government’s failure to do anything about the tiny size of flats identified through his study. Clifford’s report found that just 22% of conversions produced under PD rights met national space standards, compared to three quarters delivered under the planning process. A number of schemes were found containing flats as small as 16 sqm, and three quarters of the homes studied were single aspect. In comparison the government’s own space standard sets out that the minimum size of studio flat for one person should be 37 sq m, more than double the size of many PD-produced apartments.

Clifford said: “The biggest issue for me is, I think, the failure to do anything about space standards. This is at the root of many problems for residents of these conversions. There was a lot of evidence about that in the report, and the lack of consequential action is disappointing.” He said the government should instead be focusing on creating more homes through support for local authority housebuilding, but that “that doesn’t really fit the ideology or approach of the government”…

Announcing the plans, [Housing Minister] Jenrick said the changes were designed to deliver much-needed new homes and revitalise town centres across England by cutting out unnecessary bureaucracy. Since the introduction of a raft of change-of-use PD rights in 2013, including the right to convert offices into homes, official data shows that more than 60,000 homes have been created using the PD rights.

At prime minister’s questions yesterday Labour MP Clive Betts, chair of the housing select committee said the 16 sq m flats were the same size as Boris Johnson’s ministerial limousine, and called on the government to reverse the move. Johnson said: “We will ensure that we not only build back better and more beautifully, but that we give people the space they need to live and grow in the homes that we will build.”

Permitted development report author criticises PD expansion | News | Housing Today