There is only a limited amount of space to go around. In the big cities of the UK, space is at a premium and people are looking at different ways to maximise their living quarters without blowing the budget. For this reason, the UK has witnessed the rise of the micro flat.
As a solution to the lack of space, the micro flat is quite ingenious. In London, the micro flat has become a living standard, but there are plenty of other UK cities not far behind in terms of the proportion of the housing market that is handed over to these abodes.
Thus, it’s no surprise, in this climate, that developers have been rushing to get planning permission for micro flats. It may look like an easy win for developers, but to get that vital planning permission, you have to take a great deal into account. For this reason, we’ve put together the following guide to help you get planning permission for micro flats.
There is no set definition for a micro flat, but it is generally accepted that it refers to properties where the living space is between 16 and 36 square meters. This might not mean a great deal to you, but it is the equivalent of a living area that is (maximum) 6 meters long and 6 meters wide – not very big at all.
The advantages of a micro flat include the following:
There is obviously a place in the UK property market, especially in the big cities, but we need to know how to get planning for micro flats to make the most of this opportunity. Not universally popular, one local council has removed a micro flat from the local market due to safety regulations.
When planning micro flats, developers need to be aware of acceptable layouts in terms of safety, security and the high living standards that the government requires of all new development. Ultimately, you need to be aware of what can and can’t be considered acceptable for a micro flat, as standards do still apply.
The simple fact is that it is incredibly expensive to live and be a property investor in London. Buyers and tenants are after the cheapest possible option, whereas developers want to make the most of their investment. These are two sides of the same coin, and they come together to provide a solution: the micro flat.
London leads the way with these places and there is always a debate when something this small comes on the market. Crash pads have always been available for those who require weekday accommodation. Micro flats are a natural extension of this, but the trend has progressed: now, people are making these places their permanent home rather than a temporary accommodation lasting several weeks. This is par for the course because, according to the London Central Portfolio, people are starting to prioritise location and lifestyle over square meterage. A landlord with a large property in a fashionable part of the capital could view this as an opportunity to maximise their investment.
Various stakeholders within the government have acknowledged that micro flats may be part of the solution to the housing crisis. Moving forward, local planning authorities will follow suit to consider these applications seriously, especially in the capital, where building smarter will help ease the housing crisis. For our purposes, we then need to know how to get planning for micro flats – this is where our guide comes in.
While The Northern Powerhouse is designed to redistribute some of the wealth of the nation, this should spread out demand for housing. But at the same time, the people who work or live in London need something more, and realistically this is where the problem in the UK is most acute.
You first need to know your audience – who will be renting the flat, and how will you pitch this as a suitable solution to ease the housing crisis. Following this, you need to have a solid plan for the layout of your micro flat and understand how it will function. Obtaining permission for micro flats is all about getting expert advice, and in the first stages of thought you will need to take the counsel of two people:
Let’s first deal with the latter. These people are here to help, but their time is compressed more than ever. Speak to your local planning officer and find out if there is someone that will review the plans for your micro flat proposal. Getting planning permission starts with those who will be making the final decision on the application. The planning officer will give you the rules that dictate what you can and can’t do. They typically won’t fill in a lot of the details, though. For instance, they might tell you that the bed and the oven have to be a certain distance apart, but won’t give you any design ideas on how to make this happen.
This is when you need to speak to an architect. They can fill in the blanks, especially if they have planned micro flats before. They will be able to advise you on different flat layouts as well as the materials that ensure the flat is safe and stylish. A quality architect will look at the space you have and help you design it in the way that works best for you. They will also help you work around the various policy concerns.
This is very important. Because micro flats are relatively new, it is imperative to have an understanding of the basic planning considerations. According to the UK’s national space standards for new dwellings, a one-bedroom studio flat occupied by a single person must be a minimum of 37 square meters. So a person looking to live alone in a studio flat in London usually has to purchase a space that is at least that size. As mentioned above, London is in desperate need of new homes, and with such strict standards, it’s difficult for developers to meet the high demand. Likewise, it’s difficult for single individuals to afford such a home. So what do we do?
Generally, when creating micro flats, developers take existing office spaces (B1(a) class use) that are less than 500 square meters and convert them to C3 dwellings that are built-to-rent properties – meaning they are specifically designed to be rented. By converting existing offices to dwellings, developers are seizing on the ambiguity at the centre of micro flat development.
As it currently stands, a change of use from B1(a) to C3 is covered under permitted development rights. This means you can convert an office building that is less than 500 square meters to residential units without having to abide by the national spacing standards. This change was introduced as a temporary solution, but thanks to the success of the scheme, the government has decided to implement it as a permanent solution starting next year. Of course, you musn’t jump head first into such a development, as there are policy nuances that must be considered and not every council accepts this form of permitted development. To that end, you should reach out to a skilled architect – one who is familiar with the complexities of national and local planning policies.
When it comes to planning for micro flats, you have to get the details right at the beginning. With a larger development, there may be some areas that are not fully addressed until the planning decision – with a micro flat you have to get this right from the outset. When selecting a site, make sure you employ an architect to give the green light that the site is suitable for such development.
Once you’re given the initial thumbs up, the following things will need to be considered when designing micro flats.
Micro flats are typically aimed at a certain audience. For instance, young professionals wanting to save money. By knowing who will be living in the flats, you will know the market and the price-point they are willing to meet. This will influence the interior design significantly – creating a trendy space has huge kerb appeal.
Interior design goes hand-in-hand with knowing your audience. It’s so important because you don’t want to overwhelm a small space. Providing smart storage solutions is so important in a small space. Likewise with little touches to the flooring, you can manipulate the size of the space. For instance, installing the same flooring in all of the spaces will make the spaces seem larger. Just as flooring can influence spaces, so too can different lighting in the kitchen, bedroom and living areas – this can really help to set each space apart and make the area seem very spacious.
Light is an important part of any living space. Micro flats by definition are small, so a little light can go a long way if used in the right places. Big windows can illuminate a whole flat when coupled with borrowed light and the use of clever artificial lights. This makes the micro flat feel bigger than it actually is.
Thinking about all of these things will get you on the right track with the planning officer and ensure that your micro flat is the ideal place to live, or rent. Even with the high prices for rent in the South East, there is still plenty of competition for landlords. Utilising the space in the best possible way will make your property more attractive to the market.
Once you have your designs and you’re equipped with the appropriate policy knowledge, the next step is to submit your application to the relevant planning authority. You will need to have your plans put together by experienced architects so that they stand the best chance of being approved the first time. Planning authorities have particular specifications that they need you to address with an application. There is always a fee for their work and they will issue a likely timescale for the decision to be made and reported back to you.
The application package must contain the following information as a minimum:
This is the first step. Once the council have all of these documents then they will work towards a decision. In the past, the local authority would have come back to you with questions or to request clarification. However, with pressure from the government to provide responses in a timely manner, the council will often just come back with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’
A ‘yes’ is great and means that you can move ahead with the next stage. You can commit your contractors and start the build or conversion into micro flats.
A ‘no’ will come with reasons. You can assess these to see if you need to make any changes and resubmit an application. It is far more efficient and cost-effective to get this right first time, so speak to an architect who is an expert in this field.
Planning applications can be stressful while waiting for others to determine the acceptability of your plans. But don’t be tempted to commit any more time or money into this until you have a decision. If they decline your application then you can resubmit or move on to another idea. If you have spent money with builders or started to make progress then this can cost a lot of money to undo.
The most important aspects of a micro flat development are knowing your audience and creating a suitable proposal that benefits the requirements of the local authority. Speaking with a member of the council at an early stage is key to securing support later on down the line. Hiring an architect who knows the policies and the development goals of a local authority is extremely important. Not only will your architect prepare the plans, they will guide you through the planning process.
Reach out to Urbanist Architecture today if you’re in need of assistance. We can assist you in obtaining planning permission for micro flats, and in doing so, help you realise your dream of developing sustainable living quarters at a time when they are desperately needed.