Houses are shrinking as living rooms 27pc smaller than in 1970

As featured in The Telegraph on 1st April 2023 by Rachel Mortimer

Developers have sought to maximise the number of homes on plots of land

Properties in Britain are shrinking with residents losing more than a quarter of their living room space in the last 50 years, according to a new study.
Newly-built houses have steadily reduced in size since the 1970s as developers have crammed more properties onto a dwindling number of plots. Experts blamed planning rules, which have remained untouched since the aftermath of the Second World War, for the country’s shrinking property sizes

The average living room in a property built in 1950 was 237 sq ft in size and by 1970 had grown to 268 sq ft. But by 2020 a typical living room had shrunk by 27pc to 195 sq ft, according to analysis of 450,000 houses by property firm Spring and housing market analyst Propalt.

The average master bedroom shrank by 16pc from 169 sq ft to 142 sq ft in the last 50 years, the report added.

Meanwhile the average kitchen built in 2020 was 142 sq ft – almost a fifth smaller than the typical 171 sq ft kitchen built in 1960.

Allan Fuller, an estate agent in London, said squeezed living space was particularly noticeable in new-build flats. Mr Fuller said: “In the 1960s, 70s and 80s new flats had much bigger rooms and decent size, separate rooms. The idea of an open plan kitchen, dining room and living room was unheard of. “Now no developers build anything other than open plan. It’s how developers make small homes work and the more they can cram in the better for their profit margins.”

The Centre for Cities, a think tank, recently criticised the UK’s outdated planning regime, adopted in 1947, for creating an unpredictable system that had stifled house building. It warned the quality of new stock had diminished as the post-war era progressed with a “trend towards smaller properties and plots and using inferior materials”.

Martin Gaine, a chartered town planner of consultancy Just Planning, said smaller new homes were largely a result of planning policies that restricted the supply of land for housing. Mr Gaine said: “Today, broadly speaking, we insist that new homes must be built on brownfield land in existing built-up areas, and not on green fields. “Protecting the countryside is a great objective, but the consequence is that people are crammed into smaller spaces. It also means ever
rising prices because of limited supply.”

The National Planning Policy Framework, which sets out the Government’s planning policies for England, advises local planning policies should “avoid homes being built atlow densities” where land was in short supply to meet housing needs.

Mr Gaine added: “That is code for squeezing more homes into the smaller amount of land and many councils have policies requiring minimum densities in new developments.”

Today’s new homes are closer in size to those built in 1940, in the middle of the Second World War, according to Spring’s analysis.

Samar Shaheryar of the company said: “The 1970s saw the volume housebuilder make its mark, with rooms since getting progressively smaller as some developers strived to maximise the number of available plots on a piece of land while housing policy pushed for higher density development.

“After sustained periods of soaring house price growth, combined with the increasing cost of borrowing, modern day house hunters are chasing less space for more money.”