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Government looks to bring in minimum space standards for homes

The government has put forward minimum space standards for all new-build homes in the UK as part of its attack on regulatory red tape

Published today (20 August), the long-awaited consultation (see attached PDF) on the future of residential design includes the streamlining of technical requirements into a single housing standard, as championed by The AJ’s More Homes Better Homes Campaign.

The recommendations, which are subject to a 10-week consultation, are in line with the findings from the expert ‘challenge panel’ set up last year and headed by architect Andy Von Bradsky of PRP Architects (AJ 06.11.2012).

The consultation includes three ‘distinct levels’ of space standards - effectively a gold, silver and bronze system setting minimum requirements for the gross internal floor area of new houses. These illustrative standards provide key dimensions for parts of the home including bathrooms, bedrooms and storage.

At the mid-tier level, the gross internal floor areas are generally consistent with the London Mayor’s housing design standards (which incorporate the Lifetime Homes standards) as published in the Housing Supplementary Planning Guide, 2012.

The challenge panel has called for these housing space standards to be adopted through local planning policy, but also suggests they could be adopted through Building Regulations.

Communities minister Don Foster commented on the proposals: ‘The current mish-mash of housing standards means that from Allerdale in Cumbria to Zoar in Cornwall no same set of rules always applies – it’s confusing, bureaucratic and cannot be allowed to continue’.

The RIBA is urging the government to introduce these national minimum space standards as a requirement of Building Regulations.

RIBA president elect Stephen Hodder said: ‘Today’s announcement is welcome recognition by the Government that space standards are necessary for public and private housing. Some 30 years after space standards were abolished, this consultation is a significant step towards giving people the homes they want and need and putting right the housing wrongs of the last three decades.

‘The UK housing market is broken, with clear evidence of market failure happening up and down the country.

‘We welcome the Government’s support for space standards but call on them to now seize the opportunity to simplify their approach and integrate nationwide minimum space standards into Building Regulations. This will create a level playing field for developers wherever they are building and ensure that people wherever they live get the homes they want and need.’

Yet the UK Green Building Council (UK-GBC) has slammed the review for failing to ‘present vision for sustainable homes’.

Paul King, chief executive of UK-GBC, said: ‘It makes sense to rationalise a set of standards that has proliferated over time and, in some places, become confusing and counterproductive.

The government is in danger of letting key sustainability considerations roll away completely

‘However, with the demise of the Code for Sustainable Homes and big omissions around materials and ecology, we risk losing a momentum that has transformed the way homes have been built over the last seven years.

‘Government claims its plans will take off the bureaucratic handbrake that holds back house building, but it is in danger of letting key sustainability considerations roll away completely.’

Statement from the Challenge Panel

The Challenge Panel presented its report to Government in May and is pleased to see that its arguments and recommendations seem to have been seriously considered.

The Housing Standards Review is essentially about the proper and proportionate use of regulation to ensure that new housing meets basic standards of performance without placing an undue burden on the development industry.

The Housing Standards Review makes good progress towards a much simpler and effective regime and that progress is to be welcomed.
However the Challenge Panel feels that there remains scope for further simplification, for example in respect of accessibility and security: for more challenging standards, especially in respect of water: and for greater clarity, notably in respect of steps towards zero carbon homes. An undue focus on bin storage and the proposition to add further burdens on the planning system rather than move quickly to reform the building regulations are disappointing.

On the key issue of space, the challenges posed by increased flexibility between tenures and the need to regulate private rented accommodation needs to be explored further than appears to have been the case.

The Challenge Panel welcomes DCLG’s commitment to work with it on these and other issues and looks forward to re-joining debate.

The Challenge Panel will be hosting a seminar on the Housing Standards Review in September and details will be announced shortly.

Further comments

David Orr, chief executive of National Housing Federation

‘We were involved in the housing standards review because we want to see greater consistency and clarity across standards for all new housing. For truly sustainable new homes that will provide enough space for families to grow, have low fuel bills and reflect local character and conditions we need strong guidelines that ensure good homes are built, but without imposing needless or inappropriate requirements. Moving from 100 standards to 10 is a good start in reducing red tape while safeguarding good quality home building but we look forward to seeing further details of the review.’

Geoff Wilkinson, building inspector

‘In essence I strongly believe that the Building Regulations should be the place for these sorts of standards and must set out the minimum requirements in each case. The question that needs to be tackled is do we need a tiered system so that some of the more aspirational standards (Lifetime homes) are applied via Building Regulations but with flexibility to prevent gold plating the standards.

‘I think the conversation is long overdue and that the Building control Industry needs to be ready to step up to the plate on this’.

Brian Waters, principal, The Boisot Waters Cohen Partnership

‘As a child of the housing cost yardstick and Parker Morris space standards I welcome any move to integrate and simplify regulation of housing design. 

‘While key variables such as form, density and amenity space are properly planning matters the rest should be enforced only through Bullding Regulations and not duplicated by planning policy’.

Kieran Gaffney, Konishi Gaffney Architects

‘In short I’m against compulsory minimum space standards for homes. I like the idea for large volume house builders and public housing but totally against a building regulations system of control of sizes of spaces for all houses. The building regulations are a huge bug bear of mine they stifle innovation and are hugely inflexible and I strongly suspect the addition on minimum room sizes is just another way to dumb everything down. It also imposes the dominant cultural standard on a hugely diverse society’.

Sofie Pelsmakers, architect and doctoral researcher at UCL’s Energy Institute

‘The recent disappointing and unambitious Part L improvements (on 2010 standards for new dwellings) of just 8 per cent in Wales and 6 per cent in England appears to be driven by deregulatory commitments and fear of stifling house building. This is despite the vast majority of the building industry being in favour of a 20 per cent improvement. 

‘It is deeply frustrating and disappointing that minimum space standards are not considered concurrently with building ‘better’ (as in more sustainable). After all, building fabric heat-loss is dependant on dwelling size: the bigger the floor and surface areas, the greater the heat-loss; making an even stronger argument for the necessity to build even ‘better’ when building bigger.’

Alex Ely, partner, Mae

‘The Challenge Panel proposal to develop a single ‘Sustainable Housing Standard’ is a bold and welcome move. The London Housing Design Guide has already demonstrated how requirements for place, space, access, performance and well being can be brought together in one set of standards. A rationalised version that can operate nationally would give greater certainty and help raise quality. The report also recognises that the landscape for housing delivery has changed and a cross tenure space standard promoted through Building Regulations and consumer labelling will protect against a housing supply currently premised on competition to build the cheapest and smallest’. 

 

Readers' comments (6)

  • I hope that one of the outcomes will be to make it compulsory to list the square metre floor size of any new or existing property that goes on the market.

    This way house buyers will be able to better value the real size of properties and compare one with the other. The current strange 'number of bedrooms' metric is unhelpful and can lead to practices which are borderline deceitful.

    By compulsory publishing of the square metre floor size, a better informed buyer's market can replace probably a dozen of existing regulations.

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  • Bring back Parker Norris

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  • Sorry - bring back Parker Morris

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  • It is well worth re-reading Parker Morris. It addresses so much more than space standards. Many of the recommendations are of course past their sell-by date, but within the text there are many gems. I have in my copy highlighted many, here are few -
    "It is important that these minimum space standards should not be taken as a maxima; they are nothing of the sort." Para 16
    The adaptable house merits only one paragraph (29) but ends with the call. "We see the investigation of practical possibilities of doing it (adaptable housing) easily ....one of the most important lines of future research into the development of design and structure the sooner it is started the better"
    "The over-riding concern in designing with the car in mind must be to design for the pedestrian to stay alive....."para 200
    89 pages long, arguably too many words and not enough diagrams but excellent value at 4/- from HMSO. Time to publish again on the web with metric and costs updated for inflation?

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  • Paul McGrath

    Whilst creating a level playing field, mandatory minimal space standards do nothing to properly cater for the myriad number of different types of housing occupant. The 'one size fits all' approach cannot ever hope to make a distinction between a student, a retired widow and a gourmet cook. From the rise and rise of the coffee shop it would appear more young people are spending more time eating and drinking in public places than in their own homes yet for a one person home, according to the London Housing Design Guide a kitchen will need to have a counter-top length of over 4m in an area of 6.2m2. This includes providing a four-ring hob, two of which will, in all probability, be totally redundant. Rather than produce original research that details how domestic items such as cookers, are actually used by different types of housing occupant, the RIBA (in their recycled research) accepted uncritically that everyone should be provided with a four-ringing hob regardless.

    Architects will be reduced to 'façade creators' (if they aren't already) that mask 'kitchen boxes' of a pre-determined size, 'bedroom boxes' of a pre-determined size and 'living room boxes' of a pre-determined size. I guess next on the list is that every home should have at least a 'bedroom' and a 'kitchen/dining/living room' to reinforce the stereotypical view of what a home should be.

    The focus (for architects) should be on using and designing space efficiently, not blindly providing space so it can be used in the most inefficient way possible. The RIBA should be the one to challenge, examine and explore whether every home needs a washing machine (which in my home is unused for 95% of the time it sits there) and whether the concept of a communal 'launderette' is a good thing for society and the environment.

    I fully support the AJ's More homes, Better Homes campaign but mandatory minimal space standards seem specifically designed to attack greedy developers rather than make homes more affordable for everyone or better designed for a diverse range of occupants. As with a lot of modern legislation, the blunt instrument of mandatory minimal space standards is bound to have unforeseen consequences. Let's hope they don't make housing even harder to access than it is already with our less than perfect and intransigent delivery mechanisms that are the mass house builders or housing associations that limp architects are powerless to arrest.

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  • To free up the market we got rid of Parker Morris standards which, although intended to be minima to determine if buildings were suitable for re-use or categorized as unfit, became the standard for new build social housing. Now it is thought we need to re-introduce an equivalent to straighten out a housing market for new build. Why can legislators not learn from history? The problem is at the bottom end of the market, so no amount of Gold Silver or Bronze standards are going to have builders doing anything but the minima to achieve "affordability" or maximise profit per unit!

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