Geoff Wilkinson sets out the key changes to building regulations brought about by the government’s Housing Standards Review
In March the outgoing government announced the outcome of the Housing Standards Review, sounding the death knell of the Code for Sustainable Homes’ (CfSH) and various other non-statutory guides enforced through the planning system.
In future all technical standards will (as far as possible) be consolidated in the building regulations and the accompanying approved documents. Over the next six months I will be looking into the new Approved Documents and the technical guidance, focusing on accessibility requirements. But this month I will briefly set out the key changes that you need to be aware of. They are:
Optional building regulations
For the first time the regulations will be linked directly to the local authorities’ Local Plans, which will determine whether certain parts of the regulations will apply to new dwellings being built in their areas.
Optional regulations include water efficiency in areas with high water demand or water shortage, and access for older people and wheelchair users. While these will be determined by the Local Plan, they will be enforced by Building Control (either local authority or approved inspectors) and not by the council planning department. This will require much earlier involvement of the building control provider – ideally prior to going in for planning to advise on appropriate measures. Architects will need to inform the building control body of any planning requirements prior to commencing work in any case. The imposition of these optional standards must be demonstrably justified by the planning authority and can no longer be blanket requirements.
The building regulations are being extended by a new Part Q, covering security in new homes. This will only extend to doors and windows and will in effect be a watering-down of Secure By Design, with which many architects will be familiar.
Alongside the withdrawal of CfSH, planners will no longer be able to impose local targets for energy efficiency, putting an end to the Merton Rule and similar schemes. Minimum energy efficiency standards will be set through national building regulations, which in 2016 will progress towards zero carbon homes in any case, making CfSH energy targets redundant.
It is acknowledged that on-site zero carbon solutions will be very difficult for small development plots and the government is therefore moving forward with exemptions for small plots and allowances to enable off-site solutions to reach zero carbon status. These include a range of measures potentially including carbon credits, and retrofitting of existing dwellings to offset carbon emissions.
Local space standards will also be abolished, and new national minimum space standards adopted. Interestingly, these will not officially form part of the building regulations, but building control bodies may be used to affirm that the standards have been met. How this will work has yet to be seen, and I suspect it will eventually be incorporated into the regulations.
In a move to appease Daily Mail readers, and as part of Eric Pickles’ personal legacy, the regulations have also been amended to address ‘wheelie bin blight’ – I kid you not. Expect deep discussion with Building Control over the suitability of the proposed location and enclosures of wheelie bins in future and prepare yourself by downloading the NHBC guide to wheelie bin enclosures.
I will be looking at the revised approved documents in detail over the coming months but, if you can’t wait, we are offering CPD training session at architects’ offices for a nominal charge.
Geoff Wilkinson is managing director of approved inspectors Wilkinson Construction Consultants.
Enquiries to book CPD instruction can be made via firstname.lastname@example.org