Is this a good habi­tat to get into?

Builders be­lieve ‘mi­cro flats’ are the an­swer to Lon­don’s hous­ing cri­sis, re­ports David Spit­tles

London Evening Standard (West End Final B) - ES Homes and Property - - New Homes -

THERE has been a sharp rise in the num­ber of new homes so small they are barely big­ger than a bud­get ho­tel room, ac­cord­ing to con­sumer group Which?

So- called “mi­cro flats” are be­ing touted by some as a po­ten­tial so­lu­tion to the cap­i­tal’s chronic hous­ing short­age. Smaller is also cheaper, say de­vel­op­ers and some hous­ing ex­perts, who have to­gether per­suaded the Gov­ern­ment to re­view whether min­i­mum space stan­dards are an ob­sta­cle to build­ing af­ford­able homes. There is no ex­act def­i­ni­tion of a mi­cro home, but typ­i­cally such flats are less than 37 square me­tres, about 400sq ft. This is cur­rently con­sid­ered suit­able only for stu­dio flats.

Bri­tain al­ready has some of the small­est homes in Europe. The av­er­age floor space of 76sq m com­pares to 137sq m in Den­mark. New-build one-bed­room homes in the UK now av­er­age 46sq m, the same size as a Ju­bilee line Tube car­riage, mak­ing them the small­est in west­ern Europe. About 7,800 mi­cro homes were built in Bri­tain last year, up from 5,605 in 2015, helped by changes in­tro­duced in 2013 al­low­ing de­vel­op­ers to con­vert city cen­tre of­fice blocks into flats, many of them very small.

SIN­GLES DRIVE DE­MAND

The Gov­ern­ment says it wants to “en­sure greater lo­cal hous­ing choice while avoid­ing a race to the bot­tom in terms of the size of homes on of­fer”.

Lon­don de­vel­oper U+I plans to roll out hun­dreds of in­ner-city homes with a floor space of just 24sq m or about 250sq ft. Its chief ex­ec­u­tive, Richard Up­ton, says there are more sin­gles and cou­ples liv­ing in the cap­i­tal than ever be­fore, and Lon­don­ers want to live close to where they work and so­cialise, with­out costly com­mut­ing.

Up­ton is con­cerned that with­out new mi­cro homes Lon­don will be­come highly dys­func­tional, with ar­eas that are ei­ther com­pletely un­af­ford­able or in­ac­ces­si­ble. “If a city is not in­clu­sive and doesn’t sup­port its en­tire work­force prop­erly, then it is not a liv­ing city.”

He is on a charm of­fen­sive to per­suade lo­cal author­i­ties to let his com­pany build blocks of what he prefers to call “com­pact-liv­ing town flats” on coun­cilowned brown­field land. Each block would con­tain about 200 flats and pro­vide rooftop gar­dens and workspaces.

We should ditch tra­di­tional as­pi­ra­tions of liv­ing in the sub­urbs in a house with a gar­den, says Up­ton. He in­sists that with ur­ban hous­ing sup­ply in ma­jor cities un­der con­sid­er­able strain, larger space stan­dards are not the an­swer.

“Our cities have be­come vastly more dense dur­ing the last 20 years and tech­nol­ogy has trans­formed our lives, from hav­ing an aw­ful lot of stuff and not mov­ing to be­ing tran­sient, not need­ing to own a car and hav­ing our life on a lap­top or a phone.” Lon­don Mayor Sadiq Khan ap­pears to agree, hav­ing com­mit­ted £25 mil­lion to help de­vel­oper Pocket Liv­ing build more than 1,000 small “af­ford­able” homes by 2021. Pocket Liv­ing has carved a niche by build­ing pint-sized flats for the “squeezed mid­dle” — peo­ple with jobs and de­cent salaries, “city mak­ers” in­clud­ing nurses, teach­ers and IT work­ers — who do not qual­ify for so­cial hous­ing but can’t save a big enough de­posit to get on the main­stream lad­der.

Pocket Liv­ing claims its homes can be kept to 20 per cent be­low real mar­ket value be­cause it ne­go­ti­ates cheaper land deals with coun­cils and uses cost-ef­fi­cient fac­tory pro­duc­tion. To en­sure on­go­ing af­ford­abil­ity, a clause in the lease re­quires own­ers to pass on the 20 per cent dis­count when they sell.

Ini­tially these flats will be for rent be­tween £700 and £1,200 a month, de­pend­ing on the Travel Zone. Ser­vice charges are £130 a month. In gen­eral the ar­chi­tec­ture and in­te­ri­ors are in­dif­fer­ent, and the com­pany has wa­tered down its mis­sion to sup­ply gen­uinely af­ford­able homes by sell­ing flats at full mar­ket value, in­clud­ing to buy-to-let in­vestors, as at Maple­ton Cres­cent in Wandsworth town cen­tre where prices start at £675,000. Call 020 7291 3680.

NOTH­ING IS NEW

Mi­cro flats are not a new idea. Bed­sits and stu­dios have been around for more than a cen­tury and were pop­u­lar in Ed­war­dian times when “gen­tle­men’s cham­bers”, of­ten for bach­e­lors of in­de­pen­dent means, were built in smart cen­tral Lon­don ar­eas such as Maryle­bone, May­fair and Vic­to­ria. Hamp- stead’s fa­mous Isokon Build­ing, a listed con­crete Thir­ties block, was an early ex­per­i­ment in min­i­mal­ist ur­ban liv­ing. Most of the 34 flats had small kitchens with a large com­mu­nal kitchen con­nected to the res­i­den­tial floors by a dumb waiter. Ser­vices such as laun­dry and shoe shin­ing were pro­vided on site. To­day it is oc­cu­pied by key work­ers un­der co-own­er­ship man­age­ment.

Stu­dios fell out of fash­ion in the post­war pe­riod as builders were crit­i­cised for pro­duc­ing tiny flats for max­i­mum profit. But de­mo­graphic changes and more cre­ative in­put from de­sign­ers and ar­chi­tects are in­creas­ing their al­lure.

With their take­away food, lap­tops, elec­tronic books and slim­line TVs, mi­cro flat buy­ers to­day re­quire less stor­age space. De­vel­oper Bal­ly­more has built Dock­lands “suites” with a space-ef­fi­cient pull­down bed, a fold­away kitchen,

£617,500: com­pact flats at Bal­ly­more’s War­dian scheme over­look­ing Ca­nary Wharf

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