Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The return of Parker-Morris

It's curious how time changes our interpretation of government regulatory measures such as the Parker-Morris standards; today they seem to be quoted as government intervention to impose minimum space standards in housing. In reality, they were developed to impose maximum space standards for public housing, along with a huge improvement in the quality of structure and fabric.

Public housing should be of high quality, the committee decided. They set criteria for heating, light, ventilation, sanitation and services including storage space for a single galvanised steel dustbin. But they also realised as good economists that if the build-quality of public housing exceeded that of private housing, then demand would increase. So in order to regulate demand, room sizes were reduced to be just big enough, with not an inch to spare, for the activities they would accommodate.

Of course, private house builders have now caught up, and for decades have been squeezing room space down to rabbit hutch dimensions. At the same time, our furniture has been growing. A Parker-Morris sofa for a two-bed dwelling was supposed to be about 4'9" long, not 7'. And a 4' wide TV screen was unimagined. (For our metric readers 1.45m, 2.1m and 1.2m).

English Partnerships, the quango that owns large chunks of Brownfield Britain, has already imposed a space standard of Parker-Morris +10% on all developments on its land, and Boris is working on a design guide for new London housing that has the same effect. You may, if you are an absolute free-marketeer, deprecate this State intervention in the market; you may hold that if private homes are too small, people won't buy them, and the market is therefore self-regulating, and this may be true. However, if social housing is demonstrably more spacious, then demand for it will increase - the reality understood by the Parker Morris committee all those years ago, and therefore Boris' market intervention will help reduce demand on public housing.

A Parker-Morris sized living room


Blue Eyes said...

The great thing about publicly-built housing of a certain era is that the bedrooms are usually all of a decent size. That is important in these days of flat-sharing rather than family dwellings. I struggled to find any privately-built or conversion flats in my price range which had two equal sized bedrooms.

I think it was a mistake to limit the size of the living areas, because that must be at least a contributor to the TV-dinner culture - no room for a dining table.

Anonymous said...

"In reality, they were developed to impose maximum space standards for public housing, along with a huge improvement in the quality of structure and fabric."

That simply isn't true, I have the document in front of me and on p.35 where the tables of space size are it states "should be designed with a net floor area of at least:-" and he goes on to show the tables which I have reproduced here:-

Parker Morris

p.33 para 152
"The Table below sets out the minimum areas which we believe are needed in houses or flats for families of various sizes together with the required general storage areas and W.Cs."

Single Aspect

Raedwald said...


Yes, I'm very familiar with the document. But the effect of setting minimum space standards is also to set these as maximum space standards - and this is exactly what happened.

Councils were fixated on achieving the greatest number of homes and bedspaces for their budgets - and they built to the minimum standard to achieve it. Building above the minimum meant building fewer units - why do so? So the PM standards became maximum space standards.

Take a look at the old LCC and GLC books of standard floorplans if you don't believe me.

Bovis Britain said...

That's pretty funny. Minimum is maximum. Black is white. War is peace.

Bricky Brian said...

I had occasion to visit a new development at Didcot recently to look at a house one of my children was interested in and it was noticeable how much smaller the dwellings appeared to be than the 1930s bungalow I live in. More interestingly they were much smaller than the council houses that I started my Bricklayer Apprenticeship on in the 1950s. What with the studding walls, a lack of garage and even a lack of footpaths I found my visit to the new development a depressing occasion.
Life became even more depressing when I found that proposals had been made to build houses on the farm land at the back of my bungalow on the back of the legislation designed to make planning easier. I looked on the Web to see if I could find the actual square footage of the houses on the new development with no success so I will have to go to the sales offices to see if they will give them out. As idiot politicians have sold off close to 1,000,000 council houses enough of them come on the market to be able to get accurate square footage for those that I worked on over 60 years ago.