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Standards, standards - having a healthy debate

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The trouble with Ian Abley's 'sophisticated case for deregulation' ('Tossing the caber', AJ Chatroom 9.5.02) is that it may not leave room for workable standards which yield results - ones which facilitate a better quality of cultural environment as well as a buoyant economy.

The support of any counter-case for regulation is, of course, not advocacy for 'debilitating codes of practice', but rather for an ordered system of accountability concerned with critical aspects of delivery. The same tension exists in most walks of life - are we being counter-productively QA'd? Balance is required and, focusing back on architectural practice, sampling some of the changing codes and regulations since 1945, is quite revealing.

Some very altruistic codes were never enforced by statute, while some statutory regulations were changed or abandoned due to over-complexity and/or pressure from industry. Resulting impacts on the built environment have been significant. One could reasonably argue that had CP 5; 1945, Ch. 1(B) for sunlighting access been enforced, well-being in post-war UK homes would have been hugely enhanced.

One might also argue that the method of calculating daylighting adequacy in building regulations in the 1960s and '70s was rightly replaced with a simple rule of thumb in the early '80s. But then amended to too mean a level (window area from 10 per cent floor area in living rooms and kitchens down to 6.67 per cent) by the mid-1980s as deregulatory Thatcherism took hold.

At the same time, minimum space standards were swept aside.

Thus both private volume housebuilders and housing associations were able to build acutely poky and gloomy dwellings - all the gloomier once one accounts for fashion and fear in the plethora of blinds and curtaining, obscuring what little light 6.67 per cent of smaller rooms represents.

It is a fact of life that minimum standards are largely treated as maximums, especially in the private sector. Without sensible control, profits may soar, but quality of life will not. Computers can help to secure an appropriately light touch for regulation - alternative methods of compliance with L (or J in Scotland) can be iteratively calculated in seconds. And if sustainability indicators are harder to pin down quantitatively, surely the debate is healthy?

Colin Porteous, Mackintosh School of Architecture, posted on the AJ discussion forum

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