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The Ministry of Housing has announced on 30 September 2020 that future homes built under Permitted Development Rights (PDRs) will need to meet minimum space standards.
PDRs allow developers to convert existing buildings into homes through a simplified planning process, creating a faster and more effective means of delivering new homes amidst the on-going housing shortage in England. The initiative has proved to be successful with more than 60,000 homes built under it over the past 4 years.
However, a small number of developers have created homes under the PDRs which the Government considers to be unjustifiably small. There have been reports of developers halving the size of the units which were originally permitted, creating cramped and impractical homes. As a result, minimum space standards known as ‘Nationally Described Space Standards’ (which previously only applied to new build homes) have now been imposed in respect of homes built under the PDRs.
Under the new measures, the minimum size of a new one bed flat with a shower room will be 37m² of floor space (39m² with a bathroom), ensuring that there is sufficient living space for a single occupant. There are also prescribed minimum floor areas (based on the number of occupants) and dimensions for key areas such as bedrooms, storage, and floor-to-ceiling height. These changes follow on from measures taken last year to ensure that new homes have adequate natural light.
The size and quality of new housing appear to be a significant concern in the Government’s on-going planning reforms. However, critics have been quick to argue that applying minimum space standards in cities where space is at a premium is simply generating houses that are too large for people to afford. ‘Micro-housing’ which does not meet the required standards may actually be more desirable for first-time buyers looking to get on to the property ladder in such locations. The imposition of minimum space standards could therefore create further pressure in a market that is already proving difficult to enter.
A legal challenge was also recently mounted against the PDRs by the independent campaigning group Rights: Community: Action (RCA). The RCA argued that the latest extensions to the PDRs, including the right for developers to demolish and rebuild commercial buildings, was unlawful as it was rushed through parliament with no proper scrutiny by MPs and without the requisite environmental and equality impact assessments. The High Court dismissed the challenge on 17 November 2020 declaring that the changes to the PDRs were lawful, however, the RCA now seeks to appeal this judgment which it considers to be “on the wrong side of the public interest”. Whilst the appeal remains outstanding there is a degree of uncertainty surrounding the PDRs and any developers relying on the latest changes could find themselves in a difficult position if the appeal successfully reverses them.