Continuing the series looking at the October changes to Building Regs this month Geoff Wilkinson sets out the key changes to access to dwellings brought about by the government’s Housing Standards Review
In March the outgoing government announced the outcome of the Housing Standards Review, and that all technical standards will (as far as possible) be consolidated in the building regulations and the accompanying approved documents. This is part of an ongoing series looking at those new standards.
This month I am looking at the changes to Part M - Access and use of Buildings.
As previously explained Part M is now broken down into two new approved documents Volume 1 - Dwellings and Volume 2 - Buildings other than dwellings. Dwellings are then further subdivided into M4 (1) (2) and (3) - 1 being Visitable dwellings - which is the current Part M standard 2) for Accessible and adaptable dwellings, and 3) Wheelchair user dwellings.
Architects dealing with M4 (1) dwellings and buildings other than dwellings will find that the technical standards in the approved documents are unchanged from the current Part M. However those dealing with M4 (2) and (3) dwellings will need to become familiar with a whole new set of technical standards.
Requirements M4(2) and (3) are optional requirements and apply only where a condition is imposed within a planning consent, where no condition is imposed dwellings only need to meet M4 (1). The planning consent should be plot specific and compliance should only be assessed against one of the 3 categories for any given dwelling, although common areas such as the approaches to dwellings (including the common parts of flats) should meet the highest category of any dwelling served.
To confuse things further where a planning condition sets out a requirement for a category 3 (wheelchair user) housing it must specify which dwellings should be accessible, failure to do so will mean by default that the dwellings should be wheelchair adaptable. It is also the responsibility of the person carrying out the work to notify building control which optional requirements apply and to which plots. All clear so far ? I thought not! It will clearly take some time for this to be understood by the various professions and for planners in particaulr to understand the new rules, which are more complex than the previous lifetimes homes requirements. I fully expect a late rush of Applications during September as developers seek to beat the October 1 2015 deadline, that see’s the new requirements introduced.
Lets now turn to the technical requirements. One of the first questions will be whether or not it will be necessary to provide strict compliance with the Approved Documents in order to gain sign off of the planning condition. In the past Building Control have had a wide scope for what I will politely call interpretation of the functional requirements, which may no longer be the case under the new rules. I can certainly see access groups gearing up to take a test case or two on the first few completions that dont fully comply with the guidance and Building Control bodies being very wary about varying the provisions compared with the past approach until there is clear guidance from DCLG on the issue.
Geoff Wilkinson is managing director of approved inspectors Wilkinson Construction Consultants.
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