Little boxes, little boxes

I wonder if Britain is unique with a planning system that is delivering ever smaller new houses while people have more personal belongings and are increasingly tending to work at home for at least a part of their working week and need space in which to do this successfully.

Two recent local examples have highlighted the absurdity of this situation to me:

I am told – and it is hearsay – that prospective purchasers of the housing at Longford Park in Bodicote have asked the agents about living space.  They thought the main bedroom would accommodate a double bed but that there would be no room for wardrobes or a dressing table.  The answer from the agent was apparently to point to the smallest bedroom and to say that “many purchasers plan to use this for storing items like wardrobes”.

Longford Park estate, Bodicote
Longford Park estate, Bodicote


Recently, a newly-arrived resident of Longford Park has submitted a planning application to Cherwell District Council to convert his garage into living accommodation.  This is within a few months of buying his new home!  It may be that this household does not drive and will be walking and cycling everywhere but I doubt it.  Even if they are a car-less household, the next purchasers of the house may not be and the absence of a garage will lead to another car parked on a road that is not designed as a parking lot.   In any case, the garages are tiny and there is a growing practice for families to convert their tiny garage to a storage area and to leave their car permanently on the adjacent road.

I would hope that the truth might dawn upon Cherwell planners.  This application shows that we are permitting houses to be built that are wholly inadequate to meet decent living standards and people’s growing needs for proper living space.  Whether Cherwell will permit the conversion or refuse it remains to be seen but I doubt it will cause them to reconsider the suitability of the housing they are promoting through their planning policies.  The Parish Council has objected to this application and good for them because their reason – pushing another car onto an inadequate road – is exactly right.

However, what will be the consequence of the Cherwell planners’ decision?  If the application is approved, I suspect there will be a flood of others with more and more cars being pushed onto inadequate road space.  If the application is refused, I suspect other residents will be less honest.  They will simply close their garage door; reinforce the inside of it;  punch a hole through from the house and use the garage as living space without permission and, if they are lucky, without anyone knowing.

We need to find a way of incorporating quality space standards into planning policy as a matter of urgency and as a national policy. Until we do, we will be squeezing families into four walls that deny them enough space to eat a meal together; get on with different activities at the same time; have space for home working; have space for all the growing collection of personal properties that families accumulate and enable them to live comfortable and happy lives.

About Keith R Mitchell CBE

Qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1967. Pursued a successful career in financial training and publishing until selling his interests in 1990. Elected a County Councillor for the Bloxham Division in 1989. Leader of Oxfordshire County Council 5 November 2001 to 15 May 2012. Chairman of the South East England Regional Planning Committee July 2002 to July 2005. Chairman of the South East England Regional Assembly July 2005 to July 2008. In HM the Queen’s 2007 Birthday Honours, appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in recognition of services to local government.
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