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Shameful shoe box homes: new research reveals how thousands of brand new houses are failing to provide the space families need


14 September 2011

Press office contact:

Melanie Mayfield
T: +44 (0)207 307 3662
E: melanie.mayfield@riba.org

Business leader Sir John Banham to lead major new inquiry into British homes as the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) launches HomeWise campaign.

The average new three bedroom home currently being built by the UK's top house builders is around 8% smaller than the basic recommended minimum size, leaving thousands of people across the country short-changed. This squeeze on size is depriving thousands of families the space needed for children to do homework, adults to work from home, guests to stay and for members of the household to relax together. The findings feature in Case for Space, new research revealed today by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).

The RIBA's Case for Space report, based on 80 sites across England, exclusively reveals:

  • The floor area of the average new three bedroom home is only 92% of the recommended minimum size, therefore missing the space equivalent to a single bedroom which could comfortably accommodate a single bed, bedside table, wardrobe, desk and chair. With a floor area of 88m², the average house is 8m² short of the recommended size (the benchmark for comparison is the London Plan space standards for a 2 storey, 3 bedroom home big enough for 5 people).
  • The most common new three bedroom home is smaller still at 74m². At only 77% of the recommended size it is missing 22m² and therefore the space equivalent to two double bedrooms and all their contents.
  • The average single storey one bedroom home is 46m², which is 93% (4m² short) of the recommended minimum size – missing out on space equivalent to a single bed, a bedside table and a dressing table with a stool.

The RIBA Case for Space report exposes the lack of transparency existing around the size of UK homes – details are simply not recorded or publicly available. Home buyers repeatedly fail to get detailed information about properties for sale or rent, and are rarely given the overall floor area; consumers can therefore be left confused about the actual amount of space they are purchasing.

The figures exposing the lack of choice and information available to home buyers, have been released today at the launch of a new national housing campaign and inquiry led by the RIBA.

The Future Homes Commission, a national inquiry chaired by business leader Sir John Banham will engage with people in their front rooms, town centres and online, to build a comprehensive picture about what people want and need from their homes.

The RIBA's HomeWise campaign calls for:

  • consumers to be home-wise and demand better information from estate agents and house builders so they can choose the most ideal layout, size and design of their new home
  • housebuilders, providers and estate agents to include the floor area of properties in their marketing material and indicative floor plans with furniture as well as the number of bedrooms
  • energy performance certificates - including floor area  - to be provided up-front rather than only after contracts have been signed, which is too frequently the case
  • the government to work with the house building industry to produce an industry-wide voluntary agreement to ensure house builders publish data about the size and quality of new homes.

The HomeWise website also launched today at http://www.behomewise.co.uk features a series of online resources to help people to ask the right questions when choosing a home. The resources include The Nest Test – an easy-to-use online calculator that helps home seekers to find out what the floor area of their home should be according to the recommended standards.

Speaking today, Harry Rich, RIBA Chief Executive said:

'Our homes should be places that enhance our lives and well-being.  However, as our new research confirms, thousands of cramped houses - shameful shoe box homes - are being churned out all over the country, depriving households of the space they need to live comfortably and cohesively.

At a time when the Government, house building industry, economists and house buyers and renters are concerned about whether we are building enough new homes in the UK, it might seem odd to suggest that the focus should move to thinking about the quality of those homes. And yet this is the very time to do so. In a rush to build quickly and cheaply we risk storing up unnecessary problems for the future. There does not need to be any contradiction between building or refurbishing enough homes and making sure that they are of the highest quality.

It seems clear that people have too little influence on the design, quality and size of homes available to them. The RIBA’s Homewise Campaign will engage households, architects, builders and policy-makers in a conversation about how to deliver homes to meet or exceed the real needs of our population in the 21st century.  This report is the beginning of the conversation. We hope to ask the right questions and we look forward to working in partnership with consumers, housebuilders, government and many others as we seek the answers.'

Sir John Banham, Chair of the Future Homes Commission said:

'We want to find out from people what they think about their homes and communities where new homes are being built as well as garner intelligence and research from industry about the housing market before making some recommendations about what might happen next.

It seems clear to me from my recent work in Cornwall, from industry and when looking at local government that there are some fundamental issues that need to be addressed to ensure we have more of the right kind of affordable homes in villages, towns and cities right across Britain. I am convinced that there is no necessary conflict between addressing the current housing crisis effectively and protecting the countryside. But new thinking and financing approaches will be needed, which I hope and expect the Future Homes Commission will be able to provide.'

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said:

'In London we want to see new developments that enrich the capital's architectural vernacular and that will be admired and cherished for decades to come. This is why, despite challenging economic times, we have successfully introduced clear guidance to improve the design standards of new developments to ensure that homes have the space people need to lead happy, fulfilling lives. It is vital that we build more homes to boost the economy, but as RIBA's campaign rightly points out, we must not compromise on quality and design to do so.'

The full RIBA Case for Space report can be downloaded from http://www.behomewise.co.uk.

Notes to editors

1.    For further press information contact Melanie Mayfield in the RIBA Press Office: melanie.mayfield@riba.org +44 (0)20 7307 3662 or +44 (0)7805 173681.

2.    Unlike most countries in Western Europe, the UK has no regulation in place to ensure that all homes are built to a proven acceptable size. The only space standards currently in place are within The London Plan: Spatial Development Strategy for Greater London (July 2011), which has provided the benchmark for the RIBA's research.

3.    The Future Homes Commission will engage with people in their front rooms, town centres and online, to build a comprehensive picture about what people want and need from their homes. The Commission will announce an open call for evidence from housebuilders, architects, academics and other professionals and experts in the industry and will draw from specially commissioned research looking at how people live today; the Commission is expected to report in the summer of 2012.

4.    The Future Homes Commission is chaired by Sir John Banham, former Director General of the CBI, Chairman (successively) of Tarmac – at the time one of the largest house builders in Britain - Kingfisher, Whitbread, Geest and Johnson Matthey from which he stepped down at the end of a 5-year term in July 2011. He was the first Chairman of the Local Government Commission and the first Chief Executive of the Audit Commission – when he took a special interest in social housing and the problems of Britain’s inner cities, London in particular.

In early 2011 he produced a Plan for Growth for the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LEP. Other commissioners include Dame Mavis McDonald, a former senior civil servant at the Cabinet Office and Office of the Deputy Prime Minister; Roger Graef, writer, filmmaker, broadcaster and criminologist; and Martyn Hocking, Editor of Which? Magazine.

5.    Further excerpts from the RIBA Case for Space report follow:

Results for one bedroom homes:

The average one bedroom home from a sample of 1,159 homes across 41 sites in England has a floor area of 46m² (495sq ft). It is 93% (4m²) short of the recommended minimum for a single storey one bedroom home for two residents. The missing 4m² is equivalent to a single bed, a bedside table and a dressing table with a stool; 3m² is the equivalent of a 3 seat sofa and a desk and chair.


Average size of 1 bedroom flat and maisonette

Number of sites in sample

Number of homes in sample










Crest Nicholson


5 209

Galliford Try


3 105

Lovell Partnerships


2 66





Taylor Wimpey


5 93

Results for three bedroom homes:

The average three bedroom home from a sample of 3,418 homes across 71 sites in England is 88m² (947sq ft). It is 92% (about 8m²) short of the recommended minimum for a two storey three bedroom home for five residents. 8m² is the equivalent of a single bedroom and the furniture you would expect to fit comfortably within it; 7m² is the equivalent of a galley kitchen and a coffee table.

The most common three bedroom home was 74m² which is smaller still. At only 77% of the recommended size it is missing 22m² and therefore the space equivalent to two double bedrooms and all their contents.

Average size of 3 bedroom house Number of sites in sample
Number of homes in sample
9 420
8 635






Crest Nicholson

9 320

Galliford Try


9 352
Lovell Partnerships

9 263





Taylor Wimpey


8 412

Regional data

Averages calculated are mean and by site (not by unit, which is how the other averages are calculated).

Total number of sites

Number of housebuilders

Number of sites with 1 bedroom homes
Average 1 bedroom home in m²
Number of sites with 3 bedroom homes
Average 3 bedroom home in m²
East of England
8 8 4 55 7 88
East Midlands
7 7 4 47 7 87
11 7 11 48 6 119
North East 2 2 1 35 2 89
North West
11 5 2 51 11 84
South East
14 7 7 48 13 96
South West 12 8 5 46 11 87

West Midlands
7 7 6 44 6 94
Yorkshire and the Humber 8 6 1 37 8 83



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