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Unclear space standards risk householders being ‘conned’

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Challenge Panel architect Andy von Bradsky has warned the government’s freshly proposed national minimum space standards could fail to prevent developers marketing box rooms as bedrooms

The PRP chair (pictured) has called for individual room size and functionality to be included in new illustrative space standards floated by the government this week which only specify gross internal floor area.  

Speaking to the AJ, von Bradsky praised the move for space labelling but warned greater detail was needed to ensure buyers are not duped by unscrupulous developers offering smaller sized bedrooms to save costs.

He said: ‘There needs to be a performance requirement for the functionality of spaces that allows regulations to say if you build bedrooms below a certain size you can’t call it a bedroom or use it as a bedroom.’

The government launched a consultation on new simplified housing standards yesterday (AJ 20.08.13) which included proposals for a national three-tier minimum space criteria to be voluntarily adopted by local authorities and enforced through the planning system. The move comes more than 30 years after Parker Morris standards for social housing were abolished.

According to the latest illustrative rules for both private and social housing, a Tier 1 two-storey three-bedroom house should have a gross internal floor area of 81m², while a Tier 2 home would be 87m² and a Tier 3 dwelling 109m².

2 Storey Houses Or Other Dwellings On Two Floors (m²)
2 bedrooms687494
3 bedrooms8187109
4 bedrooms94100125
5 bedrooms107113140
6 bedrooms120126155

Von Bradsky – who was the only architect on the Challenge Panel inputing into the coalition’s Housing Standards Review – suggested Tier 1 was acceptable for private housing, while Tier 2 would be better suited for social housing and Tier 3 for disabled residences.

But he went on to warn the quality of social and private housing could be at risk because local authorities would have to complete a viability assessment before adopting any new standards. This could mean that in some areas space standards are not adopted at all.

Warning social housing could be at risk without greater protection, he said: ‘Social housing is more intensely used and fully occupied [than private housing and] demands a more robust standard.’

Commenting on the viability test which he claimed could be an obstacle to adopting space standards, he added: ‘Social and private housing could be more vulnerable as a consequence of not having standards.’

Further controversy also surrounds the government’s proposal for the new framework to sit outside of the Building Regulations – a move which has already angered RIBA president Stephen Hodder.

Hodder argued placing the standards in the Building Regulations would create a ‘level playing field’ for developers across the country and ‘ensure that people wherever they live get the homes they want and need’.

But Kieran Gaffney of Edinburgh-based Konishi Gaffney Architects claimed regulating minimum sizes could ‘dumb everything down’ and ‘impose the dominant cultural standard on a hugely diverse society’.

Commenting on the debate, von Bradsky suggested the standards framework should be used only as a stepping stone towards creating a suite of regulatory options enshrined in the Building Regulations.

He said: ‘If it’s a statutory statement it can be imposed very quickly [whereas] changes to Building Regulations would take longer. They should speed up putting material into Building Regulations rather than have it sit outside [them] which is open to more abuse.’

Paul King of the UK Green Building Council has meanwhile warned the loss of Code for Sustainable Homes, which could result from the review, risks ‘losing a momentum that has transformed the way homes have been built over the last seven years.’

He said: ‘The government claims its plans will take off the bureaucratic handbrake that holds back house building, but it is in danger of letting key sustainability considerations roll away completely.’

A Challenge Panel-hosted seminar on the Housing Standards Review is planned for September.









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