“Rabbit hutch Britain”

“Get ready for a new wave of “micro-homes” – tiny flats, often in converted office buildings, that are roughly the size of a typical bedroom yet supposedly big enough for two people to live in.

Such properties are already springing up. Guardian Money tracked down a miniscule, newish studio flat in the centre of Croydon that measures just 14.9 sq m (160 sq ft), even though government guidance states that the minimum floor area for any new home is 37 sq m.

We were also passed drawings of plans for an eight-flat development in Archway, north London – in Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington North constituency – where two of the “apartments” measured just 13.5 sq m (145 sq ft). That’s a room measuring just 12ft by 12ft. Perhaps thankfully, the plans were refused by the council but may yet reappear in modified form.

Some experts worry that we could see many more shoebox homes popping up following publication this week of the government’s housing white paper. Britain’s new-build homes are already the smallest in Europe, prompting claims that many families are living in “rabbit hutch-sized” properties that are so cramped there isn’t enough space for them to live comfortably, sit down and eat together or even store necessities such as a vacuum cleaner. But could the UK now be facing a fresh squeeze on the size of its homes?

Ministers have admitted that England’s housing market is “broken”, and have set out a number of measures aimed at fixing it. But some commentators were alarmed at the suggestion that, as part of efforts to make “better use” of land for housing, home sizes may have to shrink further.

The white paper included a proposal to review the guidance on minimum sizes for new homes “to ensure greater local housing choice”, even though it has only been in force since October 2015. It said the government was concerned that a “one size fits all approach may not reflect the needs and aspirations of a wider range of households, and could be hindering innovative approaches to meeting demand”.

The guidance – known officially as the “nationally described space standard” – gives local authorities the option to set minimum sizes for new homes. Despite not being compulsory, it is starting to reverse the trend for smaller properties, says the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba), which is urging the government not to remove or water down the standard.

What is undeniable is that many new builds are “bijou”, to say the least. In 2014, researchers from Cambridge University found that, at an average of 76 sq m, the UK’s newly built homes were the smallest by floor area in Europe. At the other end of the spectrum was Denmark at 137 sq m (having all that space probably helps explain why it is allegedly the world’s happiest country).

As recently as December 2015, Riba research showed that more than half of the new homes under construction were too small to meet the needs of the people who buy them. It found that homes in Yorkshire were the smallest in England, with the average new three-bedroom property about 25 sq m smaller than one in London (84 sq m versus 108.5 sq m). …