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Our homes keep shrinking
Following a report by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), it appears new-build houses in Britain are shrinking, and it is especially true in the south-east. GARETH DAVIES takes a look at the impact it’s having in Sussex.
People moving into new homes in Brighton and Hove could be faced with squeezing into a home the same size as a train carriage.
The average size of a new home in Britain is 75.99 square metres, but the problem is magnified in Sussex.
Customers buying a one-bedroom apartment at the new Royal Alexandra Quarter development in Dyke Road will be moving into a home just 46.64 square metres in size – fractionally larger than a London Underground tube carriage.
One development that would have seen some of the smallest new-build properties in Europe constructed was Anston House, near Preston Park in Brighton, but the planning application was rejected because the buildings were considered too tall.
William Shaw, who represented residents at the planning hearing for Anston House, said: “I think we have got to be really careful with regards the new-build properties, and it’s happening nationwide.
“Central government and developers see mass construction as a way to hit their targets, but this comes with a complete disregard of planning standards. We’re in real danger of returning to the problems we had in the 1960s.
“The issue is, though, that, unlike the ’60s, there are private developers involved so it won’t be public houses and there is a genuine chance of the return of slum housing when the standards are lowered to compensate for the targets needed to be hit.
Struggle for space
“Brighton struggles for space as it is, so I can see why they haven’t signed up to a minimum property size, but it is a worry.
“There is a need for flexibility, but standards still have to be met.
“They seem to think if we bung a load of houses on this one site then they can relax a bit, but it’s over-ambitious and research from London has shown that properties this small has a negative effect on education.”
A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation – an organisation which looks at changes in society – found that rooms were shrinking.
The report reveals that in 1994, 8% of one-bedroom homes had only one bed space and the remaining 92% had two bed spaces – the vast majority of the properties could sleep two people.
Suitable for one
However, the foundation’s 2004 study found an increase in the number of one-bedroom homes that were only suitable for one person – at 20%.
According to the 2004 study the average home in the UK was 85 square metres, with 5.2 rooms at an average area of 16.3 square metres per room.
In comparison, the average new home in the UK currently is 75.99 square metres and has 4.8 rooms, with an average area of 15.8 square metres per room.
Unlike many other European countries, the UK doesn’t have a minimum size requirement when it comes to new-build houses, something that annoys Valerie Paynter from SaveHove.
She said: “It’s completely inhumane and we’re shuffling humans into rabbit hutches.
“We have all these charities and campaigns to eradicate this sort of thing for animals, but we are not combating battery cages for human beings.
“You can’t have a relationship if you don’t have space, kids can’t do their homework if they don’t have space – we’re losing track of what we need as human beings.
“These are not homes, they are glorified hotel rooms.
“We live in a stressful world and people need somewhere to escape – how are people meant to do that if their own homes aren’t even big enough?
“We need to implement legislation in the planning stages of these developments, because once it’s passed that stage, developers can pretty much do as they please.
Impact on lifestyle
“I think we are slowly but surely slipping into living like we were in medieval times, with everyone living in one room.”
The Joseph Rowntree report echoes Ms Paynter’s concerns by suggesting “a lack of space has been shown to impact on the basic lifestyle needs that many people take for granted, such as having enough space to store possessions or even to entertain friends”.
It continues: “In more extreme cases, lack of adequate space for a household has also been shown to have significant impacts on health, educational attainment and family relationships.”
But in spite of the growing fears of the shrinking size of Brighton and Hove’s new houses, Andy Winter, the chief executive of Brighton Housing Trust, admitted the city was being backed into a corner.
He said: “In an ideal world everyone would have nice large houses, but Brighton and Hove is completely landlocked, with the sea on one side of us and the national park on the other.
“We need to broaden our options if we are to accommodate all the people who want to live here.
“The space for houses within the UK is plentiful, but it’s not the case in Brighton and Hove because it’s such a small area.
“People have an obsession with the amount of property development on green land, but if you took housing, roads, educational developments and industrial developments, England and Wales remains 89 per cent green.
“There’s plenty of green land in England and Wales for people to live pleasantly.”
The demand for land has led to a significant rise in property prices in Brighton and Hove, forcing people who need space out of the city.
According to a report by Halifax last year, both Chichester and Brighton are the in the top ten – fifth and seventh respectively – list of the UK’s most expensive cities based on price per square metre.
In Brighton, where the average house size is 99 square metres, one square metre will cost you £2,549 – a 50 per cent rise since 2002.
This has prompted housing developers to build smaller properties to accommodate those who want to stay in the city but can’t afford the rising prices.
A spokesman from the Home Builders Federation said: “Many factors dictate why we can’t build bigger homes but standards would not benefit the private market.
“House-builders have to provide choice. While there are many larger homes for sale, we also build smaller homes to enable people on tighter budgets to own their own home.
“Some people choose to buy smaller homes – maybe because they are nearer to town centres or infrastructure – as opposed to larger homes out of town.
“Introducing space standards removes choice and would prevent many from buying their own home, meaning they have to stay with parents or continue to rent.
“Ultimately house-building is a market-driven business and the industry builds what people want to buy.”
‘It’s the price you pay for living in Brighton’.
Ben James, 25, lives with his partner Alice Johnson, 24, in Seven Dials.
He said: “It is very small but you don’t get much for your money in Brighton. The main problem I find is that stuff soon starts to pile up.
“I don’t have many possessions but I don’t have much storage space either.
“Small spaces can be testing for relationships. There’s no point having arguments, because there is no getting away.
“But other than that it’s fine. Brighton is such a lovely place so I try to be out and about as much as possible.
“It’s a short walk to the seafront in one direction, Hove’s many pubs and restaurants in another and the bright lights of Brighton in the third.
“When I get older I’m sure I will want somewhere with a little more space. But for now I’m fine.
“In other cities you can get far more house for your money, but that’s the price you pay for being in beautiful Brighton. It’s definitely worth it.
“And best of all I’ve got a really good landlord. They can be hard to come by so I can’t complain.”
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