London families living in cramped, substandard, unaffordable homes dubbed ‘slums of the future’

May 31st, 2019

London families are finding themselves in “cramped, substandard, and unaffordable homes” due to “flawed” government planning regulations, new research has found. Almost 16,000 homes have been built under relaxed conversion to residential rules (Permitted Development) since 2013, but fewer than 1% are affordable according to analysis from Labour’s London Assembly Housing Spokesperson, Tom Copley AM. His report, Slums of the Future – Permitted Development Conversions in London, also found that over half of Permitted Development homes identified flout minimum space standards, with one property in Croydon measuring just 10 square metres. Office space the size of 224 Wembley football pitches has been lost due to office-to-residential conversions during this period. Mr Copley urged the Government to scrap Permitted Development, and said current proposals to extend it would result in “condemning tens of thousands more Londoners to living in miserable conditions” and place the high street in “serious jeopardy”.

Permitted Development rules allow developers to convert certain office and industrial buildings to residential use without going through the full planning process, in an aim to speed up the delivery of new homes. London requires 65,000 new homes a year, according to the New London Plan, with 65% of these needing to be affordable. Yet analysis of London Development Database figures by Mr Copley, has revealed that of 15,929 homes built through these types of conversions since 2013, only 71 were affordable – accounting for just 0.4%. With the Mayor of London’s current minimum target set at 35% on privately owned land, this means the capital has missed out on 5,504 affordable homes.

The report also revealed that a huge proportion of permitted development homes flout minimum space standards set by the Government. Mr Copley was able to identify the floor space of 3,135 permitted development homes using Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) data. Of those, 1,837 are smaller than the minimum standard, and 240 were less than half this lowest threshold. Some of the worst examples are seen in Croydon where 80% of properties identified failed to meet minimum space standards, including one development where the smallest flat was just 10 square metres.

As of February 2018, Permitted Development has resulted in the loss of 1.6million square metres of office space across London – the equivalent of 224 Wembley football pitches. Some parts of inner London are currently exempt from Permitted Development, with Outer London seeing the biggest impact. Croydon has seen the largest number of Permitted Development conversions (2,722), followed by Hounslow, Sutton and Barnet. Yet Lambeth and Islington, both inner London boroughs, are also seeing a significant impact.

Last Autumn, the Government consulted on proposals to extend Permitted Development to allow a wider range of high street uses to be converted to homes without planning permission. The Government also proposes to give Permitted Development Rights to the full demolition of commercial buildings to be rebuilt as residential properties.

Mr Copley’s report urges the Mayor of London to add to the pressure on the Government to scrap Permitted Development. If the Government refuses, Mr Copley said they must then commit to ensuring permitted development properties meet space standards and contribute to London’s affordable housing need. He also calls for better support for local authorities in using Article 4 directions to restrict the use of Permitted Development and prevent the loss of SME space.

Labour’s London Assembly Housing Spokesperson, Tom Copley AM, said:

“This cannot carry on. We need to solve the national housing crisis, but subjecting London families to cramped, substandard and unaffordable homes is not the way to do it.

“Permitted Development is an unnecessary and deeply flawed policy. If this continues unchecked, we will be condemning tens of thousands more Londoners to living in miserable conditions.

“Some may call them ‘rabbit hutches’ or others ‘micro-homes’, but we must be clear about what we are building when we allow masses of Permitted Development conversions: the slums of the future.

“We’re already seeing vast swathes of office space wiped out at an unnerving rate. If the Government moves ahead with plans to extend these rules further, they will be wilfully putting our high streets and local businesses in serious jeopardy. It’s baffling that they are so blind to the dangers posed by their desire to let developers ride roughshod over planning standards. They should be condemning this policy to the scrap heap.”



  • A copy of Tom Copley’s report, Slums of the Future – Permitted Development Conversions in London, can be found here;
  • Permitted Development Rights were introduced in England in 1995, and allow certain changes to be made to a building without requiring full permission from the Local Planning Authority. Originally, these were intended to be used for minor modifications, such as installation of porches, fences, satellite dishes or solar panels, while also including extensions of homes. Since 2013, these rights have been expanded considerably. In May 2013, legislation came into force which would allow conversion from office (use class B1(a)) to residential (C£) without full planning permission. With this also came the introduction of Permitted Development Rights to convert some light-industrial buildings (for example, small workshops) to residential as well. Developers make an application through a “prior approvals” process – and the local council is not able to hold a scheme to the criteria set out in its Local Plan, or those set in the Mayor’s London Plan, as it would for any other typical development. The authority may take into account impacts on highways and transport, the impact of noise from nearby commercial premises, but the converted dwellings do not need to meet minimum size standards or provide affordable housing;
  • Figures from the London Development Database, and provided in a written answer from the Mayor of London, show that 15,929 homes have been built under Permitted Development since 2013. Of these 71 were recorded by the local planning authority as being affordable (just 0.4%);
  • The Mayor’s New London Plan sets out the need for 65% of new homes to be affordable. In August 2017, the Mayor introduced new Supplementary Planning Guidance which introduced a “threshold approach” to affordable housing. If the 35% threshold was applied, 5,575 of the 15,929 homes would have been affordable. Just 71 were and therefore London has missed out on 5,504 affordable homes;
  • Energy Performance Certificate data can be accessed here;
  • National Described Minimum Space Standards, set by the Government, can be found in the table below and here. Of the 3,135 homes identified through the EPC data, 1837 are smaller than the minimum required. There are homes delivered through Permitted Development that are smaller than the minimum standards in every London Borough (apart from Kensington and Chelsea and the City of London, which are both excluded from Permitted Development Rights;
Nationally Described Minimum Space Standard
Bedrooms Persons Minimum internal space (square metres)
One 1p 37
2p 50
Two 3p 61
4p 70
Three 4p 74
5p 86
6p 95
Four 5p 90
6p 99
7p 108
  • 1.6 million square metres of office space have been lost since 2013. A single Wembley football pitch measures 7,140 square metres. 1.6 million square metres of lost floor space is the equivalent of 224 Wembley football pitches;
  • The Government consultation on proposals to extend Permitted Development to allow a wider range of high street uses to convert to homes without planning permission can be found here;
  • The Central Activities Zone (CAZ), is set out in Supplementary Planning Guidance, covering most of Central London. Until May 2019, the CAZ was exempted from Permitted Development Rights and local authorities have now, or are in the process of implementing, individual Article 4 Directions to exempt areas in the CAZ from Permitted Development Rights. More information about the CAZ can be found here;
  • Tom Copley AM is a Londonwide Assembly Member.