Making room

How and why living space varies between cities

A failure to build enough homes is shrinking average living space in many cities. Proposals to strengthen local plans are needed to prevent further shrinking of residential space.

Briefing published on 12 November 2019 by Tom Sells and Anthony Breach

This report investigates the amount of space people have in different cities and how this has changed since 2011. It sets out what should be done to give people more space and make housing more affordable as the economy grows.

Key findings

  • The amount of floor space residents have varies between cities, with residents of cities in the Greater South East of England having less space. 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.
  • Some of the most cramped cities have continued to see the space per person shrink. Although residents living in some cities have seen their average space grow, a number of cities, including in the expensive Greater South East of England have seen their space per person fall since 2011.
  • The previous expansion of permitted development rights had the greatest uptake in cities with the greatest demand for housing.

Figure 1: Average space per resident, 2018

Source: EPC, 2019; ONS, 2011; ONS, 2017

What needs to change to give more people space and improve affordability?

  1. Permitted development rights should be expanded to make it easier to build extensions and new homes. Allowing residents to add more space when they want to is crucial for improving affordability and increasing the amount of space that residents have in the most expensive and cramped cities.
  2. Existing building regulations and design guides should still apply to extensions and new dwellings delivered under permitted development.
  3. More widely, the planning system needs a much larger overhaul. PDR shows that more flexible planning can increase the number of homes in the cities with the greatest need. The planning system should be rewired so that once a local plan is in place, residents should be able to build new homes unless the local authority explicitly says ‘no’, rather than forbidding any development until the local authority says ‘yes’.

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