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The Housing Standards Review – To regulate or not to regulate, that is the question

The Consultation reviews eight key areas:

- Accessibility

- Space

- Security

- Water efficiency

- Energy

- Indoor environmental standards

- Materials

- Process and compliance

It’s hard to argue that the current regulations around these areas are applied consistently, with variations in Local Planning Policies often crossing over into the Building Regulations. Add into the mix non-governmental standards, such as Lifetime Homes and Secured by Design, and it’s not difficult to see why the Government is keen to introduce some common standards.

But there’s a balance to strike. Some argue that non-governmental standards and the Code for Sustainable Homes encourage innovation and create high quality homes.

Highlights

So, looking specifically at energy efficiency and sustainability, what are the highlights?

Well the future of the Code for Sustainable Homes looks to be sealed. It’s going if the consultation gets implemented.

With increasing energy efficiency standards and a proposal to include CSH categories into the Building Regulations (such as smart meters, low energy lighting and renewable energy), the sustainable impact of the CSH is decreased. Many developers are incorporating elements of the CSH as standard practice (Considerate Constructors, Site Waste Management for example). However, this isn't consistent across the industry and there are no recommendations on regulating material use or ecology in the consultation, leaving the industry to self-regulate alongside current legislation. Elements of the CSH can and probably should merge into Building Regulations, and this would undoubtedly reduce Red Tape for the house building industry and simplify the regulatory process.

Scrapping the Code is sure to divide opinions. Those looking for the Government to live up to it’s Green commitments will be disappointed, whilst developers struggling with the complexity of the CSH will be delighted. Consensus is never easy!

No More Renewable Energy Conditions...

Renewable Energy conditions on planning permissions may also become a thing of the past. The Consultation believes that with strengthening energy efficiency requirements and lower CO2emission rates, it is not appropriate for Local Planning Authorities to specify additional standard with regard to renewable energy. It’s true that these conditions have not been applied consistently across the country and often with a lack of understanding of what they actually require. Removing renewable energy conditions would give flexibility for developers and as well as reducing build costs. Again for developers this is a good thing. For those seeking more focus on renewable energy, it’ll be a step back.

New National Standards

Water efficiency is also discussed, with proposals for a minimum standard and the potential for water scarce areas to introduced more stringent standards – but with careful consideration of the impact.

This leads us nicely on to the idea of what the consultation calls Nationally Described Housing Standards – a set of Government owned standards that Local Planning Authorities can call upon to ensure that local factors can be taken into account. These standards would in effect replace non-governmental standards such as Secured by Design or Lifetime Homes, ensuring consistency and reducing the burden on Planners. Compliance with these standards should addressed by Building Control bodies, but administered by the planning system.

The alternative is that these standards are enshrined in the Building Regulations using a tiered approach, again set dependent on local needs. This approach would take longer to introduce so the preference in the consultation is for the Planning system to do the administration.

Barely scratched the surface...

So there’s a lot to take in with the Housing Standard Review and I've barely scratched the surface here. It does however, represent a step change in the design and regulation of new build homes, that will have a profound affect on the industry, both those building and designing homes and those providing advice and support.

The consultation closes on the 22nd October 2013 and the government is looking to implement changes “as soon as possible”. Updates to Part L are scheduled for April 2014 so expect that to act a deadline for a decision on the future of the Code for Sustainable Homes. There could be a lot of change over the next few months!

So what do you think? Have your say on all 88 pages of the consultation here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/housing-standards-review-consultation And let us know what your thoughts are, any concerns or worries, or do you think the proposals will help stimulate house building?

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Jon Ponting

Author: Jon Ponting

This article was published by Jon Ponting on 21.08.2013.