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Government should stop waffling and put space standards in the Regs

The government must set the rules of the game, says Christine Murray

The Housing Standards Review is out for consultation, and the impact of the AJ’s More Homes, Better Homes campaign can be found in its pages, including our calls, on behalf of the profession, for a simplification of technical standards and quality minimum space standards.

But the proposal falls short of providing what the industry needs to enable the mass building of quality homes: clarity.

Its proposal that standards be optional and selectively adopted through the planning system - and not incorporated into the Building Regulations - will only add to the current confusion.

We need a culture of certainty in house building. We need the standards in this document to be enshrined in regulations, so that developers can quickly assess the viability of a site. The current planning system is murky, risky, slow and costly enough. The industry needs to know what is acceptable in terms of use and density at the time of site purchase, so that there is confidence in the house-building market.

Local authorities should be freed up to concentrate on town planning - deciding what should be built and where, based on the needs of the community, with special considerations for conservation zones, and so on. They should not be dithering over ceiling heights or how big the bedrooms should be in a 500-home scheme - regulations can cover this alongside the rules covering fire risk, radon gas, energy efficiency and accessibility.

But the government’s current proposal suggests further burdening the local authorities, not only with enforcing housing standards, but to also with assessing the viability of adopting these standards.

Space

The government must stop waffling and let the market judge viability based on clear guidance. It should provide minimum standards and tell developers exactly what they can build and where without hindrance - and let market decide.

As PRP’s Andy von Bradsky, who was on the Challenge Panel which fed into the Housing Standards Review says, the current proposal simply adds ‘… further burdens on the planning system. They should speed up putting material into the Building Regulations.’

Approved inspector and AJ columnist Geoff Wilkinson agrees. He says: ‘The Building Regulations should be the place for these sorts of standards and must set out the minimum requirements in each case.’

The government is right to tackle and streamline the current mess of overlapping and contradictory rules, regulations and codes, as well as the muddle of local and national planning guidance. But this proposal stops short of providing what the market - and the country - need to provide more homes and better homes.

Quality must be enshrined in regulations to create sustainable, liveable and adaptable communities. Likewise, developers need clear criteria to show what is buildable, so that house building under the UK planning system becomes less of a gamble.

The high demand and restricted supply of decent homes means there is profit to be made in house-building. The government must set the rules of the game and the players must have clarity before they begin. With a mass housing shortage and rising prices, this is not the time for another round of regulatory roulette.

Readers' comments (2)

  • Take a look at the Scottish regs - there are minimum space standards there. Maybe too minimal - but generally accepted.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • John Kellett

    Why doesn’t the AJ update and republish “Activities and Spaces”? It was written by John Noble, published in the magazine in 1982 and in book form a year later.

    I still find it useful, but after 30 years it is probably due for an update!

    Unsuitable or offensive?

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