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The government is now consulting on UK housing standards

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The Regs: Geoff Wilkinson explains current proposals for changes to regulations on space standards and security

The government is now consulting on UK housing standards and has included draft National Space Standards in the consultation. The current thinking is that the proposal to include space standards within the Building Regulations is unlikely to go ahead. Architects who feel they should be included have until 7 November to respond (www.gov.uk/government/consultations/housing-standards-review-technical-consultation).

Subject to consultation and parliamentary approval, the government intends to lay amendments to the Building Regulations in early 2015.  These will include new ‘optional’ requirements in the areas of access and water efficiency and the technical standards will be similar to those previously contained within the Code for Sustainable Homes. For example, the current requirement for water use to be limited to 125 litres per person per day will have an optional limit of 110 litres. However, unlike other Building Regulations requirements the optional requirements described in the Approved Documents will not be mandatory. They will only be applicable where a local planning authority has put a plan policy in place specifically triggering the application of the optional requirement.

In March the government announced its intention to introduce two optional requirements for accessibility into Part M (Access to and use of buildings). Again, these optional requirements will be available to local planning authorities to use in setting their housing policies. The proposals set out three categories: Category 1 retains the requirements in Approved Document M and forms a mandatory baseline (now referred to as ‘visitable dwellings’); Category 2 will create an intermediate optional requirement for accessible and adaptable homes; and Category 3, a final optional requirement, will be for wheelchair-accessible or adaptable housing.

Although triggered by planning, compliance in the case of the optional requirements will be overseen by building control bodies (local authorities or approved inspectors). If there is a failure to meet the optional requirement, enforcement will be through the building control system and not the planning system, so it will be beneficial to involve your chosen building control body at the planning stage to ensure correct standards are designed into the scheme.

Regarding national space standards, it is expected that the planning authority will oversee the monitoring of the condition as part of the normal planning application. But the consultation seeks views on whether there is a role for building control bodies to check if compliance can be demonstrated on plan drawings.

Lastly, the government has indicated its preference to introduce a mandatory Security Building Regulation requirement within a new section to the regulations - Part Q - applicable to new dwellings only. The requirement states that the building must be designed and constructed in such a way that it adequately resists both unauthorised access from outside and unauthorised access from within to flats inside the building.

The new guidance for security is based on the provisions of British Standard PAS 24, which sets standards for door and window assemblies, including tests and specifications for locks as well as the robustness of the doors and windows themselves. PAS 24 is a higher standard than common industry practice, which typically follows guidance set out by the National House Building Council. Architects designing to current NHBC standards may well need to review their standard specifications documents against the new guidance to avoid falling short of the new minimum standard.

Geoff Wilkinson is managing director of approved inspectors Wilkinson Construction Consultants

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