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Joining up the reviews

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Proposals to consolidate requirements and embed them into regulations should be welcomed by the industry, says Andy von Bradsky

The construction industry must surely be united in welcoming the drive to rationalise and simplify the plethora of planning and building regulations that leads to protracted timescales and huge cost for compliance processes. The Government has initiated a number of related reviews; Housing Standards, Part L, Taylor and latterly the Farrell Reviews which are all welcomed.

As a member of the Challenge Panel I believe that the proposals to consolidate requirements related to building performance into a single framework, possibly embedded in Building Regulations, would be a step in the right direction for industry. Subject to the outcome of consultation, this would replace the multitude of requirements currently imposed inconsistently by different Local Planning Authorities, moving towards single nationally applied standards framework, and limiting local standards to where a clear, unequivocal case for difference in performance can be substantiated.

This would create a level playing field for all to comply with nationally prescribed standards

This would create a level playing field for all to comply with nationally prescribed standards, and would lead to commercial benefits of certainty in the supply chain with the potential to reduce costs and drive greater replication in the industry. For example the Part L changes, although less ambitious than hoped for by many, is a demonstration of a nationally prescribed standard applied across industry. As the once controversial imposition of London-wide cross tenure space standards show, as long as all in the industry has to comply with the same requirement, it can adapt. 

This should enable LPA’s more time to deal with the urban fabric and public realm issues, including appearance, parking, use, neighbourhood and community issues, rather than in building performance. In the process of reviewing planning guidance and housing standards, it is vital that the Taylor Review ensures that requirements do not fall between stools between housing standards and planning matters.

All policy, regulations, standards and guidance for planning and housing standards should be in one place

Implementation of the NPPF is a good step in the rationalisation of planning documentation and more needs to be done to reduce existing supporting documentation into concise, carefully worded and balanced guidance for decision makers. The risk is further proliferation of new guidance, best practice papers, consultations and other guidance and policy by creep that would undermine the good work undertaken. All policy, regulations, standards and guidance for planning and housing standards should be in one place and easily accessible from a single portal at the click of a button. DCLG should be responsible for all housing related issues across Government, manager of the portal and the gatekeeper for all new nationally applied standards.

We need better guidelines about how sustainability is defined and design quality is achieved. Design Review can be successful for the benefit of the client, the design team and the community despite being derided by many for being run by gurus of taste. From personal experience, answering to a peer group in a review does sharpen the client and professional team’s game and Building for Life 12 should not be the only tool in the box. Design Review is called for by the NPPF, and LPA’s should be challenged to enable it.

This is where the focus of localism could be better channelled to give local people a larger remit over design quality in their area and raise accountability of developers to achieving consistently high levels of design. It would help to bridge the wide gulf that exists between simplification of the planning system at national level and what happens at a local level and ensure consistency of interpretation of policy and guidance by LPA’s.

Finally it is very encouraging that this Government has awoken to the importance of architecture by initiating the Farrell Review. However despite the explicit policy requirement in the NPPF to achieve high quality design, there is little evidence of making it a central requirement, and other Government departments even actively cut across this. We welcome the reforms but they need to be joined up and applied consistently and coherently across Government and industry.

  • Andy von Bradsky is chairman of PRP Architects, representative of the Housing Forum and 4Housing Architects, and a member of the Challenge Panel
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