Trimmed-down housing standards will be ‘open to abuse’ if applied voluntarily and not embedded in Building Regulations, say architects
Architects have warned that proposed new housing standards could fail if the government does not embed its new streamlined framework into the Building Regulations.
The plans to cut down technical requirements into a single housing standard, as championed by The AJ’s More Homes Better Homes campaign, sparked controversy last week after it emerged the new framework may only be voluntary.
The coalition’s Housing Standards Review, which inludes the potential reintroduction of national minimum dwelling sizes similar to the long-abolished Parker Morris standards, would only be upheld through the planning system, and not made mandatory through Building Regulations.
A consultation on the new rules – which propose the abolition of Code for Sustainable Homes and the Merton Rule – also revealed that local authorities would have to complete a ‘viability test’ before applying standards, raising fears over patchy and confused coverage.
New RIBA president Stephen Hodder said the government must ‘seize the opportunity’ to integrate the rules into the Building Regulations and ‘create a level playing field for developers wherever they are building.’
Jestico + Whiles director Heinz Richardson added: ‘Housing standards enshrined in the Building Regulations would represent a sea change and would be an extremely positive move.’
PRP’s Andy von Bradsky, who was on the Challenge Panel which fed into the Housing Standards Review, suggested that the slow legislative process of amending Building Regulations, compared with speedily creating a statutory framework, could be why the government has chosen implementation via planning. He expressed disappointment at the current proposal to add ‘burdens on the planning system’ and argued: ‘They should speed up putting material into the Regulations, rather than have it sit outside, which is open to abuse.’
Commenting on the proposed voluntary adoption of standards by local authorities, Alan Wilkinson of WPP Architects said: ‘Surely we will end up with differing standards across the country, confusing everyone and serving no useful purpose.’
Meanwhile, on the issue of dwelling sizes, Alex Ely of Mae argued a cross tenure space standard promoted through Building Regulations and consumer labelling would ‘protect against a housing supply currently premised on competition to build the cheapest and smallest’.
But Kieran Gaffney of Konishi Gaffney Architects claimed regulating minimum sizes could ‘dumb everything down’ and ‘impose the dominant cultural standard on a hugely diverse society’.
Dominic Eaton of Stride Treglown said: ‘On a fundamental level, [minimum space standards are] likely to increase sales cost, or squeeze another area of the scheme. If it [was] a choice between minimum space standards and Code for Sustainable Homes, I [would] choose the latter.’
Summary: The Housing standards Review
Access: Optional higher standards on retained Part M baseline
Space: minimum space standards or space labelling
Security: Two-tiered standard or enhanced standard for high-risk areas
Water efficiency: Retained Part G water efficiency with option to limit use to 110 litres per person per day
Energy: Scrap Code for Sustainable Homes. Energy targets kept in Regs
Indoor environment: No standards for overheating, day-lighting or indoor air quality
Timetable: Standards to be published this year or integrated into Building Regulations, which could take longer