The case for space

If you have ever found yourself bumping an elbow while cleaning your teeth or getting in your partner’s way when making a cup of tea then you may be living in a home that most of our European neighbours would think of as too small. As land values have soared alongside increased demand for new housing we have seen ever-shrinking property sizes in the UK.

A recent survey by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) discovered that the average size of a new one-bedroom home is just 46 sqm, which is about the same size as a London Underground train carriage. This figure is 4 sqm below the minimum recommended size under recently agreed London standards for a comfortable one-bedroom flat, with some homes from the big developers coming in at just 41 sqm. The shortfall in size may sound small in real terms, but, as RIBA point out, 4sqm would be enough space for a single bed with dressing table, or a sofa, a desk and a chair.

New family homes don’t fare much better, with the average three-bedroom property coming in at 88 sqm. This is 8 sqm short of the recommended space needed, which would be enough space for another single bedroom. The figures look negligible when buying off-plan or when looking through estate agents’ brochures, but they can make a real difference to your home life, influencing anything from how many mates you can get round for an evening in to how large a family you can have in that home. Storage is another factor to consider, with many new homes shoehorning bedrooms into what may have been storage space in a previous era, or leaving you with awkwardly-shaped rooms. It is hard to think about interior design when you barely have enough room for your possessions.

Of course, something has to give in the race to find affordable homes for a growing population, but RIBA argue that space should not be it and are backing a campaign for national legal guidelines on minimum sizes for homes across the UK. We now have the smallest new homes in Western Europe, with flats heading for the sizes more commonly seen in Tokyo and Manhattan.


To drive the message home, RIBA have created an online test so that homeowners and potential homeowners can find out how their accommodation fares. It certainly makes for a handy guide when browsing property online and how a new home may work. This is certainly a tool that should be at the fingertips of those who wish to take advantage of the Government’s new Help To Buy mortgage schemes for new homes. After all, you may be waiting for something a tad smaller (and possibly older) in an area you can afford rather than going for something that could be seen as restrictively small in years to come.


Iain Aitch

Iain is a London-based writer who works as a journalist for a number of newspapers and magazines. He has also written two books, one of which is a hilarious lexicon about Britishness – Iain is a Brit through and through!

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  1. Nothing will change as the influence and greed of the big developers (who already build below the recommended sizes) is too great therefor the only answer is to make minimum property sizes law.

  2. Get where your’e coming from but the net result will be more expensive properties. More space = more £s.
    It’s a conundrum!

  3. It comes down to this: Over populationn;land that is owned by rich families,the monarchy and MoD-that they will not relinquish;not enough proper homes built;a property culture that makes decent sized homes unnafordable. The solution..? I can think of one or two

  4. The size of houses in the UK has become Silly. fAn architect friend said they fit about 20 houses on about .45 of an acre. It gives people no room to live, just boxes to sleep in. As always there should be lots more rules, this should also apply to estate agents who don’t always go by supply and demand as we have seen over the last five years. Most prices have increased still, excluding the London area of course. I have lived in many countries and have always been proud to be from the UK. Sadly we seem to be joining the rest if the world in providing as little space and note I say space for too much money.
    Sad as it reduces quality if life, increases stress and gives the next generation almost too much to aim for. Maybe we could return to a rental society, again the rich get richer the poor stay down. I wonder? Are we returning to the Tudor ages. It does not seem to be going forward but backwards.
    I do hope our MP listen and start helping the people who they represent.

  5. It would be good to have a set of standards in place so that you’d know the minimum space you would end up with…but at least it’s not as bad as Hong Kong! But what do you expect when companies put profits before people.

  6. Small homes are also very unhealthy. They create stress. We need space and light and airy homes. There are lots of sites which are being sat on as investments by large corporations. We are not short of housing sites if these could be freed up.

  7. what does not seem to be of concern with designers /building regs is health @safety of people crammed into these dwellings ie, fire flood access for emergency services to extricate sick or injured from these rabbit huches

  8. I am glad that this subject is getting attention. People’s well being depends on having sufficient space and light to be in. I would not mind downsizing to a property with fewer, but not smaller rooms.

  9. Yes absolutely agree that rooms are too small in new builds and many bedrooms do not have room for adequate storage. Also can builders also put in built in wardrobes – as they do in the USA (at least 2 doubles in each room) as nobody wants to move wardrobes from house to house unless they are antiques. Storage should be a priority.

  10. I agree homes should be getting bigger not smaller. Its no fun feeling like a couped up chicken and not ideal for health either in terms of fresh air/condensation etc. Storage is never catered for in new homes either. People are growing taller (and wider) these days. I love american homes, large rooms and massive doors to get furniture in. GB homes poxy and small and way over too expensive for what they are.

  11. Have been looking for a 2 bed property in north London. Why do new build flats always have to have 2bathrooms? The end suites I have seen are tiny, and would be better used for storage. And who wants the kitchen in the living room? Ever tried watching TV with the washing machine running next you? Then there are the outrageous maintenance costs. We are being ripped off! I’m going to buy an older property (if I can find somewhere I can afford, which so far looks ) 🙂

    1. Totally agree. Kitchenettes (as that’s all they are) in living rooms are the norm now. Hate them. I’m amazed we put up with them, as it’s allowing them that keeps the developer greedy.

  12. I think that there should be a minimum size adhered to with new builds and conversions, for bedsit,1 bed etc.

    1. Totally agree, and it should be illegal to market a room as a “bedroom” unless it meets minimum size requirements and has light and ventilation.

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