Is this a good habitat to get into?
Builders believe ‘micro flats’ are the answer to London’s housing crisis, reports David Spittles
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