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Windowless 'cells' for rent spark fears of 'modern slums'

Developers are exploiting planning laws to convert empty shops, banks and barbers into tiny high street flats.

The new developments have sparked concerns that UK high streets are turning into modern slums. 

The impact of the coronavirus on high-street businesses have resulted in a rush to transform them into residences under permitted development rights (PDRs).

Chloe Gray, a 20-year-old resident of one of the flats, said it felt like 'living in a pod'. Converted flats on Shirley Road pictured above

Chloe Gray, a 20-year-old resident of one of the flats, said it felt like ‘living in a pod’. Converted flats on Shirley Road pictured above

PDRs were until recently mainly used to convert office spaces but are now being used to transform former businesses into small flats. 

Since 2013, they have allowed developers to skip the requirement to apply for planning permission when turning office blocks into flats.  

They were extended to shops and launderettes in 2016, before also including fast food outlets last year. 

PDR flats are not bound by the minimum space standard, which says studios have to be at least 398 square feet, or 37 square metres. 

In Southampton, the Open Fire Centre, a store which sold electric and gas fires, has been converted into six studio flats, the smallest measuring just 160 square feet.

In five out of six of the flats on Shirley Road, the only external light comes from a sidelight next to the door. 

Chloe Gray, a 20-year-old resident of one of the flats, said it felt like ‘living in a pod’. 

‘I have been here for about a year now but I will be moving out in October as it is just too small,’ she told the Sunday Times

She pays £525 per month in rent, which works out at about £33 a square metre.

In Southampton, the Open Fire Centre (pictured above) has been converted into six studio flats, the smallest measuring just 160 square feet

In Southampton, the Open Fire Centre (pictured above) has been converted into six studio flats, the smallest measuring just 160 square feet

Robert Webb, 43, who runs a barber next door to the flats, told the publication: ‘The flats are tiny. 

‘I have a friend who lives not far away in the New Forest, and the kennel for his two dogs is bigger than these flats next door.’ 

Tom Copley, London’s deputy mayor for housing and residential development, said of the new developments: ‘The solution to the housing crisis is not to create new slums out of old offices and shops, but the delivery of high-quality, well-planned, affordable homes. 

‘If lockdown and the Covid-19 pandemic should teach us anything about housing, it is the importance of minimum space standards, both internal and external.’ 

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