Revealed: Cities offering the most – and least – living space per person

A failure to build enough homes is shrinking average living space in many cities.

Press release published on 12 November 2019

  • A failure to build enough homes is shrinking average living space in many cities.
  • Coventry, Brighton and Exeter have seen individual living space fall furthest since 2011.
  • Proposals to strengthen local plans needed to prevent further shrinking of residential space.

Centre for Cities has identified which cities offer people the most – and least – living space per head, and where it has fallen in recent years.

People in Slough, Luton and Coventry have the least living space per person, while those in Blackpool, Birkenhead and Bournemouth enjoy the most.

As well as being among the cities offering the smallest average amount of individual living space, Coventry has seen the biggest fall in space since 2011, followed by Brighton and Exeter.

On the other hand Cambridge has seen average living space per person increase by over 10% since 2011 – the largest increase in the country.

The average urban floor space per person now stands at 393.4 ft2 (36.6sqm), compared to 464.8 ft2 (43.1sqm) outside urban areas. Proposals to expand permitted development rights, which would allow individuals to expand their homes in line with building regulations and design guides without requiring planning permission, aim to increase this.

Cities with the least space per person, 2018 Cities with the most space per person, 2018
Rank City Space (ft2) Rank City Space (ft2)
1 Slough 292.3 1 Blackpool 480.0
2 Luton 306.4 2 Birkenhead 460.7
3 Coventry 327.2 3 Bournemouth 446.9
4 Oxford 341.2 4 Swansea 442.5
5 Crawley 346.8 5 Burnley 435.5
6 London 353.0 6 Preston 431.8
7 Leicester 353.5 7 Norwich 428.0
8 Southampton 359.4 8 Newport 422.6
9 Birmingham 360.7 9 Warrington 422.0
10 Chatham 361.4 10 Doncaster 421.5
Cities with the largest decrease in space per person, 2011 – 2018 Cities with the largest increase in space per person, 2011 – 2018
City Change in Space (%) Rank City Change in Space (%)
Coventry -9.29% 1 Cambridge 10.27%
Brighton -3.36% 2 Sunderland 3.69%
Exeter -2.84% 3 Telford 3.33%
Nottingham -2.65% 4 Aldershot 3.17%
Cardiff -2.64% 5 Middlesbrough 3.11%
Bristol -2.46% 6 Hull 2.73%
Luton -2.38% 7 Blackpool 2.56%
York -2.10% 8 Milton Keynes 2.22%
Birmingham -1.75% 9 Doncaster 2.11%
London -1.66% 10 Preston 2.07%

Cities offering residents the least space on average per person are mostly in expensive cities in the Greater South East of England. In these places, the failure of housing supply to keep up with demand is likely to be a cause, forcing young professionals and other workers into houses of multiple occupancy.

However, living in a city with more residential space per person is not without disadvantages. Those with the most living space typically offer residents fewer job opportunities and lower incomes. Birkenhead for example, despite offering the second highest residential space per person, also has the third lowest weekly wages in the UK and the fifth highest proportion of under-25s claiming Job Seekers’ Allowance.

The best way to prevent living space shrinking further is to build more homes overall in the most expensive cities. Permitted development rights are one way of doing this but the planning system also needs a much larger overhaul.

The next Government should strengthen local plans to ensure that, once in place, all plan-compliant new homes can be freely delivered without interference unless the local authority explicitly vetoes them.

Centre for Cities’ Chief Executive Andrew Carter said:

“A failure to deliver enough housing in the economically successful cities that need it most is resulting in many workers sharing flats and houses of multiple occupancy. This shrinks the average living space that they have.

“The next Government should expand upon the work already done on permitted development rights and strengthen local housing plans against NIMBY opposition. Once a local plan is in place it should expect to be delivered except in the most exceptional circumstances.”


Notes to editors

In September, Centre for Cities set out a proposal to build up to 2.1 million new homes around train stations in the greenbelt close to several of Britain’s largest cities.

About the Centre for Cities

  • Centre for Cities is a research and policy institute, dedicated to improving the economic success of UK cities.
  • We are a charity that works with cities, business and Whitehall to develop and implement policy that supports the performance of urban economies.
  • We do this through impartial research and knowledge exchange.
  • For more information, please visit


  • The data used in this report is drawn from energy performance data which was recently made public.
  • When Energy Performance Certificate’s (EPC’s) are recorded, the total space of a building is measured. An EPC certificate is required for properties that are newly built (post-2011) as well as for any other building where a transaction has taken place. This includes marketed sales, non-marketed sales and rentals but does not include any information on houses which have since been withdrawn from the market such as short term lets and Airbnb.
  • No information is collected under the EPC on extensions as these do not require energy performance certificates.
  • 18 million dwellings are recorded in the EPC, representing 71% of dwellings in England and Wales.
  • Other data used in this report on the number of households, dwellings and populations is drawn primarily from data released by the ONS, including the 2011 census or the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government.