Creating Affordable Accommodation in Cambridge's Unaffordable Housing Market

This Monday, Terry Lucking, managing director of Belvoir Cambridge & Belvoir Peterborough spoke on BBC Inside Out East about his vision for the future of Cambridge’s housing market. 

 Terry belives that in order to meet the housing demand in Cambridge when  rental prices are the highest in the region, we must create more HMOs and multi-let buildings for professionals to co-habit. 

By reducing the size of studio apartments, we can afford to let at lower prices and also fit more accommodation into buildings. Cambridge City Council disagrees and wants to raise the standard size of rented accommodation. View the debate below.

See the full video report and transcript below. 

House prices here in Cambridge have risen rapidly over the last few years, making it really difficult for young people to buy a property. It’s now ranked the third least affordable city in the country and Cambridge has the highest rents in the region for small flats. The letting agent Terry Lucking has some ideas on how people can afford to live here.

Terry Lucking, Belvoir Lettings: I’m Terry Lucking a Cambridge Letting agent. In the time I’ve been here I’ve seen Cambridge being turned into a playground for the rich: space is running out; prices are high. Never mind buying a house, renting is going to cost you at least £500 per month. People who are essential to keeping this city moving are being forced out.

 But I’m going to show you how we can make living in Cambridge affordable again.Twenty-two year old Faye has left university, has got a job in Cambridge and would like to live in the city too. She’s exactly the type of person that I want to help.

“After my car, and my car loan and my mobile phone I’m left with £700 a month.”

“If you’re putting £500 into housing that leaves you with £200 to live on. Is that it?”

“Yeah, everything will have to come out of that.”

“So that is that literally every single thing after the car?”

“Yeah I struggle already.”

“One bed will typically range between £850, maybe up to £1100, then you’ve got to pay utilities on top. A studio? Many of the new studios are ranging at £1000 plus utilities.”

“I honestly didn’t think it would be any more than £400 just to rent with a friend a two bed flat, like you said. I think I was a little unrealistic.”

Cambridge has the highest rents in the region for one bed flats and studios. On average, a one bed flat is £300 more than anywhere else in the East.

I passionately believe that we should be providing smaller accommodation, not necessarily because that’s what people want to live in but for the reality of it; with house prices and land prices in Cambridge going up, the only way of many people being able to afford to live in Cambridge is having to live in a smaller unit. But these smaller units shouldn’t be built in a way where they’re unattractive; they need to have design concepts built in.

And I’m making small steps towards my vision. I’ve started advising landlords how they can convert their properties to a better standard, while still making money.

We found this property with investors; we worked with the investors to convert this property into 6 multi-letting rooms. The property generates about £39,000 a year before expenses. Now in comparison to £18,000 a year if it was let to a standard family. This is a typical letting room, with an en-suite shower, which has been added , and this would generate about £650 a month. You may think that that’s a lot of money but its in a high-demand location.

Another property I manage, right in the centre, is even closer to my vision for the future. This building, formally a hotel, is now known as Grafton Living. It provides accommodation for just over 20 young, professional people. And this is, the beginning really, of the concept that I would like to deliver; an aspirational accommodation for young professionals, who are on a budget.


“Hello Alison, good to see you again.”

Alison is paying £510 a month to live here, all inclusive. She’s on a salary of £24,000.

 “The other places I looked at where just terrible in comparison. Small little rooms without a kitchen; the double bed would take up all of the room, so you wouldn’t have anywhere to sit. If you’re gonna live in one room, you need somewhere where there is a couch and a desk space.”

“Do you know just how small a space you would be willing to live in?”

“I wouldn’t want to go much smaller than this. I did see smaller rooms than this one and I would struggle to live in that. I would have to tighten my disposable income first before I went any smaller.”

But Cambridge city council is going to bring in laws which completely flies in the face of what I’m pushing for. They want to increase the legal minimum sizes for new homes.

Kevin Blencow, City Council: “This room is roughly 50 square meters in size, which is equivalent to the minimum residential space standard we have provided the local plan, for one bedroom flats.”

So a one-bed flat can be no smaller than this room. A studio- no smaller than 37 square meters. That’s the double the size I think people can easily live in. And it’ll mean double the current rent.

Kevin Blencow, Labour Councillor, Cambridge City Council: “There are concerns coming through about various aspects of housing provision and planning issues within the city and one of them has been in recent years the prevalence of small rooms within the housing developments; this idea of cramming in as many rooms into a development as is possible and we have decided as councillors, as responsible representatives that actually we want to put down a minimum standard that future developments have to met.”

Their fear is that everyone will be living in poorly-designed rabbit hutches. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

“I’m on a train and the next stop is Kings Cross. I’m going to see a new accommodation concept. I’m looking for some inspiration that hopefully I can bring back home to Cambridge.”

Simon Ewins is the man behind a new-look budget hotel.

“So welcome to ‘Hub’ by Premier Inn. This is an 11.4 square meter hotel bedroom, which is approximately half the size of our standard product at Premier Inn.

“The reason it’s 11.4 square meters is that we started the concept by thinking about what is really important in a basic hotel proposition. We know that a great bathroom, a great bed, air conditioning and lighting are really important. So we added those things together and created of 11.4 meters. We have a desk which fits into the end of the bed which can be pulled out; we did research with our regular business guests and found its perfect for doing a few emails at the end of the day.”

“This is a fantastic room, loads of technology; feels great. How can it save the consumer any money?”

“It’s all about efficiency of space. So what we are able to do, with a smaller room footprint, is work a building harder and therefore effectively put more rooms into that building.”

In fact they can fit another 30% more rooms in.

“Excellent locations in big cities are expensive locations. As long as people get what they want in terms of technology; in terms of style, design and location, actually the size of the room is less important to them.”

If I was to remodel this room so it could be used as a self-contained studio and we need to get into it a small kitchen area, I think we need to give about 2 meters of space for that. And clearly, this wardrobe space isn’t going to be sufficient for someone who’s going living in here for three to six months, so around another square meter.

A 14 and a half, 15 square meter room in my opinion should be sufficient for a self contained studio.

So looking at this, would the council be willing to go smaller now?

“This idea of hotel-style temporary accommodation isn’t the sort of thing we want to play for all sorts of reasons: it’s different when you go to a place for a week than working here for a few years on a contract or whatever.”

But how about Faye and Alison? Could they live in a space that small?

Faye: “Yeah my first thoughts are it is very small obviously, and it’s also not very homely. It does look like a hotel.”

Alison: “I think for the short term definitely, I’m not sure about the long term. Although it’s very tempting, it’s very clean and nice. I would be tempted by it but not for any length of time.”

It’s a no from Alison and Faye, but will the council change its mind?

“Now as I understand it, if the government inspector accepts that this part of our local plan is reasonable and should be approved then it will become a standard that isn’t aspirational, it will be a standard that we expect to be met.”

“It’s going to drive up costs of living in Cambridge significantly.”

“Well costs of living in Cambridge are high at the moment and we will have to see if there is an extra impact on this or not.”

And I’m adamant there will be a knock-on effect with people like Alison and Faye likely to be forced to live in over-priced, run-down accommodation or put off from coming to the city completely; financially cleansing and stifling the success of this iconic city.