A big step forward for housing
Andy von Bradsky welcomes deregulation brought about by the Housing Standards Review.
The recent government announcements following the Housing Standards Review are to be welcomed – it is a big step towards rationalising the complex array of regulations and standards affecting the housing industry.
The Challenge Panel is pleased that many of the recommendations in its report Towards More Sustainable Homes have been addressed and that the majority voice in the housing industry has been listened to on most issues. While more technical detail is required, the results of the consultation are aligned to the general direction of travel and there was a surprising level of agreement in the industry on some controversial issues.
The commitment to define a two-tier space standard for local authorities to select if they can justify their case, and by implication confirmation that London will be able to retain its space standards, is especially welcome.
Also welcome is the move by the Department for Communities and Local Government to embrace these new requirements straight into the Building Regulations within a defined time frame, rather than a long drawn out and uncertain “stepping stones” approach.
“There is still more to be done. Technical details have still to be worked through and it is as yet unsure whether high quality outcomes are guaranteed.”
So wither the Code for Sustainable Homes, the Merton Rule, Secured by Design and other voluntary standards? Their key requirements are to be embraced in the Building Regulations with a simpler compliance regime through Building Control only – local authorities will not be able to dictate compliance as a condition of planning permission.
In fact, the scope to dictate “Merton Rule” requirements on energy efficiency or renewables will vanish when the government repeals the legislation that formerly allowed councils to implement their aspirations via the planning process.
This does, however, leave open the possibility that the Code, Secured by Design and renewables targets could still be used by some councils as voluntary standards, but they wouldn’t be enforced as a technical requirement.
Yet there is still more to be done. Technical details have still to be worked through and it is as yet unsure whether high quality outcomes are guaranteed. Some of the proposals remain complicated and confused – water use and security for example, where a simpler approach could be adopted.
It appears space standards will remain a planning matter, yet ideally this should be reflected in the Building Regulations for consistency with other technical standards – although there are benefits to either approach.
Space labelling received a great deal of support from the industry in the consultation yet there is no reference to how this may be brought forward.
As for transferring the Code’s requirements into the Building Regulations, transitional arrangements and a protocol on legacy projects – which were granted planning permission on the basis of meeting a certain Code level but might now be built to a different energy efficiency standard – are urgently required to give the industry certainty.
Finally, while the Code has served its purpose, there are elements such as air quality, daylight, sunlight and materials which should be picked up elsewhere, and national guidance for housing should allow for those who wish to go further than baseline requirements.
Providing some of these concerns are addressed and quality is ensured, overall this is a good outcome for the housing industry. It serves as a solid platform for growth and innovation with a level playing field across tenures, greater certainty in the supply chain, more efficiency and increased replicability at a time when housing supply must double to meet demand.
Andy von Bradsky is chair of the Housing Forum and PRP Architects