May – who will leave her post next month when her successor has been elected – said regulations should be brought in to end a ‘postcode lottery’ for homebuyers and tenants.
Existing government-published Nationally Described Space Standards outline minimum gross internal floor areas for dwellings depending on their number of bedrooms, inhabitants and storeys. These range from 37m2 for a one-person studio with a shower room to 138m2 for an eight-person, six-bedroom, three-storey townhouse.
But it is not mandatory for councils to make compliance with these standards a requirement for planning approval, and smaller homes are being built in some parts of the country.
May told delegates at the Chartered Institute of Housing conference in Manchester today (26 June) that regulations should provide clear, non-negotiable minimum space limits.
She said: ‘I cannot defend a system in which owners and tenants are forced to accept tiny homes with inadequate storage, where developers feel the need to fill show homes with deceptively small furniture, and where the lack of universal standards encourages a race to the bottom.’
Levitt Bernstein head of housing research Julia Park welcomed the prime minister’s comments, saying it was a ‘fantastic step forward’.
She added: ‘Some of us needed no convincing, but permitted development – and office-to-residential conversions in particular – has shown even the sceptics why minimum space standards are necessary.
‘I hope all parts of the housing sector, including the volume housebuilders, will welcome this move on the basis that it would provide certainty. It’s particularly important for those embarking on modern methods of construction; factory-produced homes or components are only economic when produced in large quantities so a stable regulatory environment is vital.
‘It sounds counterintuitive but I also think the prime minister is right to say that it may lead to more homes being built, not less.’
RIBA president Ben Derbyshire said he welcomed May’s ‘recognition that the Nationally Described Space Standard should be mandated in law’ and bring to an end the existing ‘quality lottery where local authorities can opt in or out of ensuring new homes provide adequate space’.
He added: ‘This is an issue the RIBA has highlighted for many years and we look forward to the full details of the announcement. Quality, as well as quantity, is critical to address the housing crisis and provide homes that last for communities across the UK.’