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1 room,1 window ‘cells’ for rent coming to high st - Conversion of disused shops to tiny flats is a booming biz reviving slum housing


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One room, one window: the ‘cells’ for rent coming to your high street The conversion of disused shops into tiny flats

is a booming business, reviving the spectre of slum housing

 

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/one-room-one-window-the-cells-for-rent-coming-to-your-high-street-9qnfvc7bn

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Scarcely bigger than a parking space and starved of natural light, they could soon be a feature of your local high street.

Developers are exploiting planning laws to convert empty banks, takeaways and barbers into tiny flats, causing fears Britain’s high streets are becoming modern slum housing.

Relaxed planning laws and the impact of the coronavirus on the high street have led to a flood of applications to convert shops into homes under so-called permitted development rights (PDRs), which until recently had mainly been used for office conversions.

In Southampton’s Shirley Road, the Open Fire Centre store sold electric and gas fires. Now it is six studio flats. The smallest measures 15 square metres (160 sq ft), about half the area needed for a home..to be eligible for a mortgage. In five of the flats, the only external light comes via a narrow sidelight next to the door.

 

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Chloe Gray, who lives in one, is desperate to leave. She has nowhere to put a wardrobe and has a single cupboard for food. The 20-year-old, who is on universal credit, said: “I have been here for about a year now but I will be moving out in October as it is just too small. I moved here from home because I needed my independence and this was all I could afford. It really does feel like living in a pod.”

Chloe pays £525 a month including bills to rent the property, which works out at about £33 a square metre, making it more expensive to rent than a house in Islington, north London.

The block was designed by a local firm specialising in redevelopments, Concept Design & Planning, although it does not feature among the projects showcased on its website. The firm boasts of having a “proven track record in gaining planning permission across the south coast”.

Next door to the flats, Robert Webb, 43, has been running a barber’s for 21 years. His parents were among locals who opposed the development, but “everyone’s complaints just got rejected”, he says.

“The flats are tiny,” he added. “I have a friend who lives not far away in the New Forest, and the kennel for his two dogs is bigger than these flats next door.”

Since 2013 PDR has let developers bypass the requirement to apply for planning permission when turning office blocks into flats. This was expanded to include shops, bookmakers and launderettes in 2016, before fast-food outlets were added last year.

Government data suggests 60,399 homes have been created. Developers may not transform the outside appearance but have automatic rights to change how the property is used.

The high street’s struggles led to a flood of applications to convert shops into homes

In July Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, announced that PDR would be expanded further to let developers demolish vacant buildings without full planning permission so they can be “quickly repurposed to help revive our high streets and town centres”.

A report published the same month, commissioned by the government and carried out by University College London and Liverpool University, suggested PDR is leading to “slum housing” and poses a risk to the “health and wellbeing of occupiers”.

The Royal Institute of British Architects has branded the decision to extend the policy “disgraceful”.

PDR flats are not bound by the minimum space standard, which says studios have to be at least 37 square metres. The government report surveyed more than 2,800 flats and found three-quarters had windows on just one side; 10 had no windows at all. A link between natural light and mental health is well established.

Officials are ‘expected to exercise their planning judgment’ when approving homes

A two-storey building at 187 Whitehall Road in Bristol housed a barber called Super Tonic for several years. However, plans by a local architecture firm, We Are Not Architects, were approved in June to convert the premises into five small flats. The building is squeezed between a shop and a house, so the only natural light in the rear ground-floor flat will come from two windows facing a narrow alleyway.

Developers must now show that PDR flats have “adequate natural light in all habitable rooms”, yet no minimum window size is given and planning officers are “expected to exercise their planning judgment” when approving homes, leaving the rules open to interpretation.

In Croydon, south London, an application was approved on August 7 to convert a 93 square metre basement owned by a financial services company into three studio flats, with daylight entering only through two light wells above.

Experts say Covid-19 has accelerated the residential takeover of the high street. Jamie Lockerbie, a planning partner at the law firm Pinsent Masons, said: “If you own a retail space and the tenants have gone bust — as many have during the pandemic — then, instead of leaving it empty, many will be persuaded to turn it into flats.”

Government data suggests more than 60,000 ‘shoebox homes’ have been created

A survey of five councils found 55 successful applications to convert shops into flats since last September, with the majority — 35 — happening after Britain went into lockdown on March 23. The resulting developments across Bristol, Southampton, Leicester, Birmingham and Croydon will lead to 132 new homes, suggesting that there may be thousands of new high-street flats being constructed across the country.

Andrew Boff, a Conservative London assembly member, said: “The Tory party simply won’t be thanked for building crappy homes.”

Tom Copley, London’s deputy mayor for housing and residential development, added: “The solution to the housing crisis is not to create new slums out of old offices and shops, but the delivery of high-quality, well-planned, affordable homes. If lockdown and the Covid-19 pandemic should teach us anything about housing, it is the importance of minimum space standards, both internal and external.”

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government dismissed the findings as “misleading and unfounded”, adding that PDRs “make an important contribution to building the homes our country needs and are crucial to helping our economy recover from the pandemic by supporting our high streets to adapt”.

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Edited by Saving For a Space Ship
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23 minutes ago, Saving For a Space Ship said:

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government dismissed the findings as “misleading and unfounded”, adding that PDRs “make an important contribution to building the homes our country needs and are crucial to helping our economy recover from the pandemic by supporting our high streets to adapt”.

 Beds in sheds to cots in shops.  Where I live in Stoke the shopping centre is has over half the units unoccupied,  it had that lockdown feel last year in terms of footfall. 

Seems the units are not well suited to easy conversion, reminds me of the thread on here a while ago about that dingy shop conversion in Oxford for about 300k, an area I used to live in.

 I can see some of these nicer grand Debenhams type buildings becoming flats  ( I was always in favour of an online sales tax and reduction in shop rates)

The idea could be work, just needs more stringent planning, ironically the very thing that has made so many homeless.  I guess a disused shopping centre isn't in anyone's back yard so some exploitation and ghettoisation will be permitted.

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Living in one room is nothing new.

There are probably some very large department stores like Debenhams that are now disused and very few potential tenants want them or could fill such a space.

One store could probably fit hundreds of these micro-studios in and have the basement floor for communal services. It would also bring back footfall to the high street.

If they were priced at a discount ie ,a studio coming in at 50%+ of a normal 1-bed flat it may drag the market down with it. 

But if they were built now they would be priced up with HTB at stupid prices.

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1 hour ago, byron78 said:

40 years of neolib and we're back to 1930s style slums.

But it's probably all the left's fault still, isn't it?

You kids today. Wow.

10 million more people living - officially - in the UK since Thatcher left office. Probably an understatement of the true figure. And several hundred thousand more arriving annually due to our large informal economy and the pull of our non contributory working age welfare system (unlike other nations where you have to have contributed first before you take out).

Well those 10 million people plus all need housing - and the supply of low cost affordable housing just can't keep up.

Of course the 400% rise in house prices and 10 fold rise in the number of buy to let landlords under the 1997-2010 Labour government which delivered less council housing in 13 years than Thatcher did in one (and she wasn't even trying) when half of that population growth occurred I agree had no impact at all!

Edited by MARTINX9
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21 minutes ago, simon2 said:

One store could probably fit hundreds of these micro-studios in and have the basement floor for communal services. It would also bring back footfall to the high street.

If done right it could be a great inner city flat for a student or young single person.

 Problem being a lot of these deprived areas have low employment and social ills inherent, it would instead be filled with a higher proportion of rowdy chav youths, single mums, immigrants or older homeless people.  All of whom have a right to basic housing.

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Everyone knows that commercial space will need to be converted to housing, and there is nothing wrong with micro-flats IF they are done right (good natural light and good soundproofing being too main requirements). However poor quality conversion of retail premises completely ill suited to it, is a worse than sub optimal solution. 

The ideal would be to demolish these buildings and rebuild higher quality, purpose built small flats.  However the lack of regulations on conversions vs the high cost of planning permission of replacement is keeping the cost of existing buildings high and blocking the better for everyone option of demolish and replace. 

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3 minutes ago, Upabove said:

The ideal would be to demolish these buildings and rebuild higher quality, purpose built small flats.  However the lack of regulations on conversions vs the high cost of planning permission of replacement is keeping the cost of existing buildings high and blocking the better for everyone option of demolish and replace. 

I suspect planning could be eased up on this, much easier as it lacks the no.1 main nimby objection.

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1 hour ago, simon2 said:

But if they were built now they would be priced up with HTB at stupid prices.

They would probably not be sold with HTB. Lenders tend not to lend on studios, especially if they are smaller than 300sq ft. They would be sold to landlords with cash, or maybe the current owner would be happy to continue to own them.

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31 minutes ago, Upabove said:

Everyone knows that commercial space will need to be converted to housing, and there is nothing wrong with micro-flats IF they are done right (good natural light and good soundproofing being too main requirements). However poor quality conversion of retail premises completely ill suited to it, is a worse than sub optimal solution. 

The ideal would be to demolish these buildings and rebuild higher quality, purpose built small flats.  However the lack of regulations on conversions vs the high cost of planning permission of replacement is keeping the cost of existing buildings high and blocking the better for everyone option of demolish and replace. 

I guess it depends on the stock and which buildings we are looking at.

I live in a Victorian Town and above 50% of Retail shops there is ideal space for conversion into reasonable sized flats ie 500 sq ft. maybe a flat on each of the 2 floors above. Microflats would not sell up here, they would be almost unsaleable unless to landlords so they work commercially as a HMO type rental set up. However, micro flats and rooms seem to be just as expensive to rent as a petite one bed flat so not sure tenants benefit. Large flats above a coffee shop are really expensive to buy so the right development is important for everyone to benefit. 

As nice one bed flats they would sell well and rent well.....no real need to build 4 (worth £65K each and unsaleable) but build 2 and sell for £95k each and lessen the build cost and make them more tenant and owner occupier friendly.

 

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1 hour ago, ForGreatLager... said:

Are those the free compact and bijou apartments that come with 3 square meals a day and toilet to share with a room mate who, if you’re lucky, will spit on it first? 

For many their apartment is their bedroom.;)

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25 minutes ago, erat_forte said:

The only thing I don't understand is why she is spending £525 a month on this.

Yeah, I've got no problem with them, just adding more variety and supply to the market.

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17 hours ago, MARTINX9 said:

10 million more people living - officially - in the UK since Thatcher left office. Probably an understatement of the true figure. And several hundred thousand more arriving annually due to our large informal economy and the pull of our non contributory working age welfare system (unlike other nations where you have to have contributed first before you take out).

Well those 10 million people plus all need housing - and the supply of low cost affordable housing just can't keep up.

Of course the 400% rise in house prices and 10 fold rise in the number of buy to let landlords under the 1997-2010 Labour government which delivered less council housing in 13 years than Thatcher did in one (and she wasn't even trying) when half of that population growth occurred I agree had no impact at all!

Very true - amazingly some people think that the average space per person is going up!

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Crucially, none of these "flats" will be converted with owner occupiers in mind as the market. (unsuitable for a family or even a couple really, difficult to sell on, thin walls surrounded by far too many other  tenants, poor light, air circulation, plumbing .) They will be marketed to  institutional landlords, who in turn will seek the guaranteed income stream of state money, by providing emergency/overspill housing for those with no better choice,  homeless families, recent immigrants, those with mental health or drug problems. These are the economics which will drive the architecture. 

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6 minutes ago, nothernsoul said:

Crucially, none of these "flats" will be converted with owner occupiers in mind as the market. (unsuitable for a family or even a couple really, difficult to sell on, thin walls surrounded by far too many other  tenants, poor light, air circulation, plumbing .) They will be marketed to  institutional landlords, who in turn will seek the guaranteed income stream of state money, by providing emergency/overspill housing for those with no better choice,  homeless families, recent immigrants, those with mental health or drug problems. These are the economics which will drive the architecture. 

I think it’s just me then but I think it’s such a shame because a small one bed flat ie nice lounge kitchen, separate bedroom and mini bathroom in a 450 sq ft space works so well. Maybe even 400 sq ft at a pinch. 

It is perfectly liveable for years as a single person or an organised couple. However once you squeeze that to just a room the whole environment just feels so ‘temporary’, unforgiving and living in a compromised environment. The difference in the economics is marginal but I guess I don’t squeeze my margins like these guys because I was never hungry (or mean) enough. 

I have a house (I know, I know) and it’s 3 flats. The ground floor is big, middle floor is ok and the top floor is to me, tiny. It’s format works well for the guy who has lived there since before I bought it and he has been there over 10 years. Large feeling lounge, little kitchen off that, small bathroom (with a bath and shower over) and a small double bedroom ie 10 x 11. 

I would never want to create or build anything smaller as a full time home. Not because they won’t be useful to some people but because I genuinely believe with a little more imagination, money and time it’s possible to to create something 100% better with 20% more resource. 

I guess I wouldn’t mind them so much if they were cheaper than a cheap one bed flat but in our town they are not. 

I have seen more of these popping up and I think the other thing subconsciously (in my wheeler dealer value for money head) that still influences me is that these places are literally unsaleable other than to other landlords. In a really poor market that could be a very narrow sales market and they will be a fantastic opportunity to buy and reconvert to proper flats but I bet they won’t get 50p on the £1 for one. 

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20 hours ago, byron78 said:

40 years of neolib and we're back to 1930s style slums.

But it's probably all the left's fault still, isn't it?

You kids today. Wow.

Taking the proper definition of the left = more government, yes.

Planning regs led to an undersupply of housing.

Welfare led to an oversupply of people.
Housing benefit artificially boosted (and boosts) housing demand.

When removing the regs, you would expect there to be some inertia, where the old guard developers pull this kind of isht.

The best thing to do is let them, because if people don't want these homes, the developer will go bust, having wasted vast sums of their capital.

If people are dumb enough to buy them, they will get shafted when no one else wants them, people will learn and this won't happen again.

If people do want them, what on Earth gives you the right to stop them?

 

 

Of course, because we have a leftist government, the developers and the people buying these pits will be bailed out at smarter peoples' expense.

If you want this to stop: End planning permission. End welfare. End taxation.

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18 minutes ago, Locke said:

Taking the proper definition of the left = more government, yes.

Planning regs led to an undersupply of housing.

Welfare led to an oversupply of people.
Housing benefit artificially boosted (and boosts) housing demand.

When removing the regs, you would expect there to be some inertia, where the old guard developers pull this kind of isht.

The best thing to do is let them, because if people don't want these homes, the developer will go bust, having wasted vast sums of their capital.

If people are dumb enough to buy them, they will get shafted when no one else wants them, people will learn and this won't happen again.

If people do want them, what on Earth gives you the right to stop them?

 

 

Of course, because we have a leftist government, the developers and the people buying these pits will be bailed out at smarter peoples' expense.

If you want this to stop: End planning permission. End welfare. End taxation.

You missed out end help to buy.  

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