Daily Express


The number of micro homes built here has risen by 172 per cent since 2014 but are they the solution to our housing crisis or part of the problem?

- By Adrian Lee

GIVEN the choice, most people would probably choose not to live in a space measuring only a few centimetre­s bigger than the average prison cell. Yet that’s becoming reality as the trend for ever smaller homes gathers pace in the UK.

Over the past few years there’s been a boom in properties of less than 37 square metres – about the size of a Tube carriage – which according to government standards should be the minimum for a studio flat. But as part of drastic measures to ease the housing crisis much smaller homes are allowed when office space is being converted, or in areas where there are shortages.

In fact, since 2014 there’s been an increase of 172 per cent in these so-called micro homes and last year alone a record 8,000 were built. There’s no strict definition but as property prices rise and rents become less affordable there’s evidence that micro homes are getting even tinier.

A Which? investigat­ion found them in converted office blocks, with floor space of just 16 square metres. Critics have labelled them “dog kennel homes” with the question being asked: “Where do you keep the vacuum cleaner?” The most extreme was a studio in Brent, north London, which at eight square metres is only marginally larger than a prison cell.

Which? is warning that mortgage firms may refuse to lend on tiny homes and while prices are enticing, buyers may lose out in the long run. It is claimed that values of some micro homes don’t keep pace with larger-sized properties.

The consumer magazine also highlights poor designs, with toilets in kitchens or showers in the living room.

Estate agent Foxtons currently has a “fantastic studio flat” measuring 25.5sq metres on the market for £399,000. The big selling point is its location near Oxford Street, in London.

Liverpool, Leicester, Birmingham and Bristol have emerged as the micro home hotspots in the UK. Martin Townsend of housing research charity BRE says: “Micro living can be a good first step on to the property ladder, but not if it’s just about driving down size and increasing profit for developers. We have to be careful that standards don’t drop. There’s evidence that living in very tight spaces can have a psychologi­cal impact if the quality is not good or there’s insufficie­nt natural light and fresh air.”

His charity wants 37sq.m of floor space to become the nationwide legal minimum and is calling for good communal areas, such as bike storage and gardens, in all micro developmen­ts.

The Tiny House Movement began in the US in the 1990s, as a reaction against people building big, flashy homes as status symbols. Its export to overcrowde­d Britain was a natural extension and supporters claim that building sturdy, properly insulated and well-designed micro homes is the obvious solution to the property crisis. They insist tiny but exciting living spaces can be preferable to the draughty, badly designed Victorian conversion­s that dominate our cities.

Now glossy design and build magazines are brimming with the latest pocket-sized homes, which are either squeezed into existing buildings or constructe­d from scratch and simply hauled into place. Often they are off grid to keep costs down. Architect Bill Dunster is trying to introduce his living pods, with about seven square metres of floor space, to the UK. They are built on stilts so they can be situated over car parks and other ground-level facilities. Boasting solar panels and water recycling systems, they cost about £60,000 apiece to install and can be easily moved. Oxford could be the first city to trial them.

Japanese company Muji has unveiled plans for timber prefabrica­ted homes measuring nine square metres, which will go on sale there soon costing £21,000 and could eventually be available off the shelf here.

Mark Burton, founder of Surrey-based Tiny House UK, reports bulging order books, adding: “Small can be beautiful. The key to designing a successful micro house is innovative design and making the available space work very hard. Ideally space should have double use, such as storage built into beds and desks that become dining tables.”

His cabin-style constructi­ons tend to be in back gardens, but still require planning permission. His smallest design is a timberfram­ed home in central London measuring just eight square metres and costing £30,000. It includes a shower, composting toilet, mezzanine sleeping area and kitchenett­e. He adds: “It’s perfectly comfortabl­e for a single person. Most people opt for micro homes out of necessity, allowing them to save for a larger property without having to pay expensive rent in the meantime.

“There’s a growing number who enjoy stripping life down to the bare essentials. Most of us do tend to hoard stuff we don’t need. Give most people an empty drawer and they’ll fill it with their clutter in a few days. We often need less space than we think.”

MICRO homes appeal to gadget lovers, including those who keep all their music and film collection­s stored on one device. They are rarely suitable for families although architect Tim Miles showed recently what’s possible, when he shoe-horned his wife Laura and their three children into a converted fruit store in Gloucester­shire with just 15 square metres of floor space.

Clearly, some people are willing to take downsizing to the next level, but if you are thinking of joining the Tiny House Movement don’t bring the cat.

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BIJOU: Would Bill Dunster’s answer to a crisis, left, cramp your style?

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