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Homes Fit For Hipsters

16 November 2016

homes-for-hipstersIt’s currently a fashion in the media to try to associate ‘hipsters’ with nearly everything. As if wearing beards, lumberjack shirts and skinny jeans while hanging out in pop-up kale bars makes you the arbiter of anything, but there you go. In this vein, daily newspaper City AM couldn’t help itself when reporting on a series of developments by London builder Pocket.

Pocket specialises in small sites, packed with small one-bed apartments, aimed at ‘middle-income’ (less than £90K p.a. we kid you not) purchasers. They sell at a discount of 25% below market-price to first-time buyers already living or working within the local authority area in which the site is located. The target audience is apparently ‘public servants’ and ‘creatives’ with incomes averaging £40,000 a year. Selling prices in the London Borough of Lambeth, for instance, are around £270,000, which would still seem like a king’s ransom in Burnley, Bury or Bradford; but is a bargain in that part of London.

And almost inevitably, CITY AM characterised these developments as homes fit for ‘hipsters’.

Hipsterish-tosh aside, there are two things interesting about these Pocket developments. First is the speed of build – over 30 flats in 10 days. This is because the entire block is manufactured off-site. Steel frames, wiring, upvc doors, upvc windows and even appliances are all factory-installed, ship container style; then transported on lorries to site. The ‘crates’, ‘modules’, ‘pods’ or however you define them are then stacked by crane, clad and finished. The ultimate in flat pack flats.

And fair play to Pocket, as it is obviously entirely in tune with Mark Farmer’s recent Modernise or Die – aka The Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour Model.

The other interesting thing about these developments is the emphasis on one-bedroom flats. Obviously, younger singletons in cities require such smaller properties; yet the proliferation of one- and two-bed developments – many speculative and / or buy-to-lets – has distorted perception of the housing ‘crisis’.

We are often told that the nation needs something in the region of 250,000 to 300,000 new houses per year in order to meet existing, and match new, demand. How we achieve that is a matter for sager brains than ours, yet is less often mentioned how we’re faring in terms of bedrooms.

It is held by some that if you actually count the number of bedrooms available to us, housing demand is much nearer to being met – and the problem lies less with the number of dwellings being built, and more with how they are configured. So the predominance of one - and two-bedroom properties, in favour of three- and four-bed ones, has resulted in a large number of the wrong type of dwellings.

Obviously one understands that the likes of Pocket have to maximise their return on land and they, it seems, are as close to performing a social service as a commercial enterprise can get. And yet this bedroom vs. dwelling penny seems not to have dropped with planners; who could conceivably make firmer demands of developers to supply family and multi-occupancy dwellings; rather than permit another block of two-bedroom flats.

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