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Housing Standards Review: The Next Steps

On Friday 12th September the Government published its consultation on where it wants to go next with the Housing Standards Review. We’re now into the stages of the “Technical Consultation” which will run until November 7th, so you've got a few weeks to digest the contents. So where is the Government heading with this? Let’s take it back a step first. The purpose of the Housing Standards Review was to ultimately de-regulate the house building sector by removing duplication and inconsistency in technical standards applied by Local Planning Authorities when granting planning permission. The Government originally sought to do this through introducing what were called Nationally Described Standards, which would replace localised planning policy on technical matters, to create more consistency. These proposals would sit outside of the Building Regulations, be applied by Planning Authorities but potentially enforced through Building Control. Clear as mud?

This latest raft of proposals gives a bit more detail on the areas that will be affected and we have a few new terms to get to grips with:

Optional Building Regulations

The Government will introduce optional Building Regulations which will be applicable to Access (Part M) and Water Efficiency Standards (Part G). These Standards will be applied at Planning Stage only where there is clear need (still to be defined) and a Local Plan in place to justify the Standard. Building Control will then be responsible for enforcing that Standard. In the case of water efficiency, LPAs will have the power to apply a lower water consumption target of 110 litres per person per day where there is a local need to reduce water consumption. This is the equivalent to CSH Level 3/4 and London Plan requirements (105 lpppd but add on 5 litres for external water use under Part G) so this should not be too onerous. And if all the sanitary ware fittings meet the specified criteria then a water efficiency calculation won’t be needed. For Access, three Standards will be introduced:

-          Cat 1: Visitable Dwellings (equivalent to current Part M)

-          Cat 2: Accessible and adaptable dwellings (similar to Lifetime Homes)

-          Cat 3: Wheelchair user dwelling Again these Standards can only be applied where there is local need, supported by Local Plan Policies. So those are the optional, bolt on Building Regulations.

New or Amended Building Regulations

Firstly there will be an amendment to Part H, Waste storage, to minimise the impact of what the Government calls “Bin Blight” and focusing on the importance of design for bin store areas and introducing standards for waste management in change of use developments. We also have a new Approved Document, Part Q, which will require PAS 24 standards on new doors and windows to improve home security. Rather confusingly the consultation then goes on to state that layout and design issues to reduce crime and disorder will still be applied by LPAs. This would suggest that Secured by Design Section 2 would no longer be an applicable standard but Section 1 would remain a planning tool. More clarification is needed I think.

Nationally Described Technical Standards

Well there’s only one of these and it relates to Space. And we need to be clear – space standards will not form part of the Building Regulations! They are a new type of Standard that acts like Local Planning Policy…. LPAs will have the power to apply Government owned Space Standards, ensuring a minimum internal floor area is provided depending on bedroom numbers. This means no more localised Standards, which would create consistency. How the LPAs chose to implement this Standard is still to be defined however. How these Standards will be enforced is still up for debate… So moving forward we’ll have Optional Building Regulations, Nationally Described Standards and new Approved Documents. Still clear as mud?

Transitional Arrangements

When will all this apply? Well the Government is intending to publish finalised standards in early 2015 and from this date Local Authorities should be taking these Standards into consideration when determining planning applications. The Standards and Building Regulations Amendments are scheduled to come into force in Autumn next year. And what will happen to the Code for Sustainable Homes I hear you ask? From the date the finalised standards are laid before parliament early next year, LPAs should not be applying the CSH to any new planning permission. How this decision will affect sites that are already bound by a CSH condition is unclear, although it’s likely that these conditions could be varied or removed. And on a final note, LPAs will also retain the power to require additional renewable energy and energy efficiency targets for new developments all the way through to the introduction of Zero Carbon (scheduled for 2016). So this is one area of inconsistency that the Housing Standards Review has failed to resolve. Lots to take on board here so what do you make of the proposals? Have your say before the 7th November: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/housing-standards-review-technical-consultation

Keep up to date with all the latest news regarding the Housing Standards Review on our website.

Stuart Clark

Author: Stuart Clark

This article was published by Stuart Clark on 15.09.2014.