An invasion of the pods
9:00am Saturday 15th September 2012 in News
Buy this photo » Businessman Robin Swailes with a pod
REVOLUTIONARY ‘studio pods’ could be rolled out across Oxford in a bid to ease the city’s housing shortage.
The compact pods offer accommodation for £100 a month and include living and sleeping space, a kitchen area and bathroom facilities.
Businessman Robin Swailes said hundreds of the state-of-the-art apartments could be installed in gardens in the city.
Mr Swailes, who owns Blue Sky Sustainable Developments and North Oxford Property Services, has bought one of the £25,000 temporary structures and installed it in a garden in Summerhill Road, Sunnymead, to stir up interest.
He said hundreds could be put up in Oxford over the next year.
He said: “We want to put pods all over central North Oxford and could have 12 in place by Christmas.
“People have been ringing to ask what on earth it is, so there’s lots of interest already. If the demand is there, there could be hundreds across the city within the next year.”
The pods contain a modest studio space, with electricity, hot running water, toilet and fully equipped kitchen facilities, as well as mood lighting.
Mr Swailes said: “We came up with the idea because we can’t meet the demand for rental accommodation in central North Oxford.
“These pods might help solve some of the housing problems here. They are small enough to fit into people’s back gardens, driveways or even on their roof gardens.
“They may look a bit odd but they conform to building regulations and are properly insulated.
“It would suit a young professional just starting out who can’t afford a lot.
“You could get a couple in there too but as it would be extremely cosy.
“They would have to get on well,” he added.
He also claimed he didn’t need planning permission for the temporary buildings.
But Oxford City Council’s board member for city development Colin Cook said each pod would need approval from the council.
He said: “They would be considered to be independent living space, and independent dwellings need planning permission.
“We would consider them on their merits. However, we do not encourage back land development, or ‘garden-grabbing’ for that matter.
“You wouldn’t be allowed to just build a caravan park anywhere, and these are exactly the same as caravans.”
As independent dwellings, the pods would have their own addresses, would warrant a council tax bill, and utility bills would have to be paid on top of the rent bill.
A two-week inquiry into where 8,000 homes should be built in the city over the next 15 years is currently under way at Oxford Town Hall.
Evidence has included how development in Oxford is constrained by the Green Belt, flood risk and biodiversity, as well as a very tight administrative boundary.
Estate agent Graham McDonald, of Kemp and Kemp, said he doubted the idea would take off if the pods required planning permission.
He said: “I don’t think it’s got a cat in hell’s chance of catching on. If it needs planning permission, I can’t believe Oxford City Council would just reverse its planning policy and approve them.
“Most people would be refused planning permission for building a second dwelling in their garden.”
Council tax for a Band A property in Oxford is £1,054 a year, but would be reduced by 25 per cent for single occupancy.
Last month, Oxford was named the seventh most expensive town or city for renters in the UK. According to figures released by Endsleigh, the average rent in the city is £891 a month – £185 more than the average for the rest of the country.