Category Archives: United Kingdom

12/08 Who profits from relaxed rules to allow micro homes? Rules are bonkers, says Royal Institute of British Architects

Julia Park

Julia Park, interim chair of RIBA’s (Royal Institute of British Architects’) housing group, speaks at a London Assembly session.

RIBA’s housing lead has dubbed the ability of new housing developments that feature communal space and very small living units to skirt planning rules a “scandal”.

Julia Park, who is interim chair of the institute’s housing group, told a London Assembly Housing Committee session on space standards that it was “bonkers” that some housing types did not need to conform to the same accessibility and space standards as other buildings such as prisons.

The discussion was called to investigate whether the capital’s space standards, now adopted nationally, were a brake on the delivery of new homes and whether smaller homes would be cheaper to develop.

Park saved her strongest concerns for the growth of student-housing style micro homes.

“They’re a specific part of the private rental sector, and they’re smaller – below the space standards typically,” she said.

“They get treated as ‘sui generis’ in the planning process, which means we don’t have a proper debate. It’s bonkers…”

Toby Lloyd, policy director at housing charity Shelter, said market pressures – particularly in relation to land values – would immediately absorb any savings from the development of smaller homes.

“People assume that if you make homes smaller it will make them cheaper, but it doesn’t,” he said.

“All it means is that the land-owner can extract more value from the development process.”

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Zoning Considerations in the United Kingdom

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-4-38-47-pmI doubt I’m the only person who dreams of owning a piece of land (preferably with friends) on which to build affordable eco-houses and grow food and fuel. This is difficult in the UK due to the vast disparity between the price of agricultural land (4,000-10,000/acre) and land with planning permission (200,000+/acre). Whilst politicians continue to trot out the usual rhetoric: ‘sustainable development/lifestyles/communities, zero carbon housing, blah, blah, blah’, what, if anything, has actually changed on the ground to make land accessible to Permaculturists and/or Transitioners of modest means and self-sufficient dreams?

Should I Take The Risky Road?

You may have heard tales of people in the UK who have ‘succeeded’ in creating their dream communities by buying land, moving onto it without planning permission, living in teepees, benders, yurts, caravan/cabin hybrids or whatever, spending years battling with their local planning officials, and finally winning retrospective planning permission. Permission, however, often comes with less well-known conditions attached e.g. Ben Law’s planning permission for his house is a silvicultural tie, i.e. it applies to running a wood-land business and charcoal burning on the land and has a personal tie to Ben Law himself.

The Ten Year & Four Year Rules

There are rules, which apply UK wide, state that if you live in a caravan for 10 years or a building for four years, unnoticed by the powers that be, the dwelling becomes ‘lawful’ and you can apply for a ‘certificate of lawfulness’. Clearly this means you need tolerant neighbours and that you will spend four to 10 years living with insecurity. Should someone complain about your dwelling, even at the 11th hour, you can be served an enforcement notice and rendered homeless. None-the-less, there are undoubtedly people up and down the UK pursuing this strategy, hidden away in bits of wood-land; mostly, I suspect, single people or couples. It would be harder to conceal a community for years…

Safer Routes: The DIY Farm/Smallholding

Another tactic open to single house-holds is to buy a suitable piece of agricultural land and submit an ‘agricultural prior notice consent form’ to the local planning office detailing the agricultural building you intend to build on your land. This is ‘permitted development’ on agricultural land and hence doesn’t need planning permission. You should receive consent within 28 days and are then entitled to commence building.

You can then legally site a temporary mobile home on the land to live in whilst you build your barn (and set up your business). Your temporary accommodation can remain in place for five years (presumably as long as you are still building your barn) during which time you need to develop your business to generate as much income as possible.

At the end of five years you apply for planning permission to build a house. You must prove that you need to live on-site in order to run your business, e.g. caring for livestock that breed all year round, and that your business generates sufficient income to support you.

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