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Government resists adopting housing standards in building regs

Pleas for a one-stop document covering technical standards for housing to go in the Building Regulations are in jeopardy after the government signalled it wants an ‘interim step’ approach to trimming red tape

Simon Brown, the man heading up the Department for Communities and Local Government’s (DCLG) Housing Standards Review (HSR) said an ‘Option B’ in which the housing standards would be ‘a stepping stone on route to the Building Regulations,’ was the most likely outcome.

The announcement is a blow to the so-called Challenge Panel, an independent taskforce of four housing experts charged with advising Brown on industry needs. The panel, which includes PRP chairman Andy Von Bradsky, had pushed for a single technical document called the Sustainable Housing Standards to be included in the Building Regs.

At a seminar last week to discuss the group’s response to the HSR, consultant planer and Challenge Panel member Paul Watson clashed with Brown: ‘We don’t need any interim steps. Just get on and do it,’ he said.

Brown countered that he was hampered by the Coalition government’s ‘one- in-two-out’ (OITO) policy in which two regulations have to be axed before one can come in. He said the stepping stone ‘Option B’ was a pragmatic approach because undoing regulation was a ‘glacial process that could take up to three years’. 

While Bradsky had some sympathy with Brown, Watson fumed: ‘It is ridiculous to insist on one- in-two-out.’

‘If it (using OITO) is getting in the way, just don’t use it.’

While the panel welcomed the DCLG’s willingness to embrace space labelling, the wider issue of nailing down space standards themselves caused much debate. Brown had earlier said that balconies were a planning issue and ‘outside the scope’ of the review. But an impassioned plea from Deborah Garvey of housing charity Shelter seemed to produce a U-turn in Brown who promised to listen to her considerations.

Marc Vlessing of developer Pocket also pleaded with Brown to ensure that any changes to space standards were for the long haul: ‘There have been so many changes that I am losing the will to live. Make the changes and say that’s it for 10 years.’

Brown, who said his department had so far received 20 responses to the consultation, promised to publish a detailed response ‘sometime in the New Year’, a timeline that Watson said was ‘not good enough’.

‘This is important stuff; let’s get on with it,’ he said.

Bradsky added: ‘It is a once in a lifetime opportunity’ to influence the quality of new homes. I urge all AJ readers, whatever the size of your practice to respond to the DCLG consultation.’

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