Saturday, 28 February 2015

Panel tasked with cutting through red tape at loggerheads over standards

Sector split over building rules

A government review panel is split over the future of national house building standards as ministers prepare to hack back ‘the untenable forest’ of regulations for builders.

As revealed by Inside Housing, a review panel made up of representatives from 16 bodies across the housing sector was set up by the government in October to ‘significantly rationalise’ overlapping building standards in order to make development simpler and cheaper.

The panel is reporting its findings to the Communities and Local Government department by the end of April so ministers can publish a consultation next month as part of a Whitehall ‘red tape challenge’.

But trade bodies are at loggerheads over whether standards in key areas such as space, energy, security, and accessibility, should be universally applied across the public and private sectors. There is also debate over the extent to which standards should be applied locally.

Groups including the National Housing Federation are understood to be pressing for many of the more stringent building standards to apply to developers across all housing tenures - a move opposed by house building bodies such as the Home Builders Federation.

The biggest bone of contention is whether the government should introduce a national space standard for public and private housing, as called for by the Royal Institute of British Architects last week. A source said this was an area where ‘no agreement had been reached’.

London is the only place in the UK with a legal minimum space standards for both tenures. Elsewhere, minimum standards apply only to social housing.

It is understood the panel will recommend consolidating overlapping building standards and regulations into a national minimum standard through building regulations. There would then be government-defined tiers of standards that local authorities could set based on need and viability.

However, an insider said: ‘There is a split among stakeholders about what [standards] should be set locally and nationally - and how this fits around the government’s localism agenda.’

Standards under review include the code for sustainable homes, secured by design, lifetime homes, standards and quality in development and the Homes and Communities Agency’s housing quality indicators.

Readers' comments (8)

  • Ernie Gray

    Interesting isn't it that the standards expected by registered social landlords and local authorities to build new homes is so exacting when operated in relation to funding from the HCA, yet when it relates to volume housebuilders it is an onerous task.

    The whole point of standards is to protect current and future house buyers from facing shoddy workmanship and poor quality accommodation due to failures within project management and a slapshot use of CDM.

    It might be helpful if representatives from the housebuilders organisations, social landlords and regulators were involved in planning and developing the standards. Would this creates a more level playing field?

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  • Man Withabacus

    Does the nanny state not know when to stop?

    Eventually we will all have to wear high viz vests at all times and personal proximity meters to warn us if we get close to bumping into things!

    Small, poorly made housing should attract lower values than large, well made housing and both will need to be considered in the context of the local property market.

    If "professionals" in the housing sector are indeed what they claim to be then why is regulation required?

    Stop wasting time talking and build more homes for the 2m people on the waiting list!

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  • Standards should be realistic, proportionate and designed with an end in mind - I would argue they should:
    Promote longevity of properties - that is to say high standards of design and construction
    The safety of the occupants - M&E etc.
    Be tenure blind - all homes should be built to a consistent standard so that developers and builders have a clear and understandable set of rules and requirements to follow.
    Not be used to promote dubious political objectives - for example the diminishing returns of Code for Sustainable Homes which at 4 and above is beyond reasonable.

    The problem with space standards is that they cannot influence the end use of the property. A Parker Morris home can be overcrowded and so potentially unhealthy.

    Not having any regulations or ones that are 'self policed' will lead to the kind of shoddy construction and design that blights many other countries - such as in extremis the collapsed factory in Dhakar.

    Man with Abacus - I am sure, as an example beyond housing, you wouldn't want everyone to drive round wiht no driving licence in unsafe untested motor cars on roads without rules - 'men in high vis jackets' do have a purpose you know. And the same surely must apply to construction? I do agree though that gold plating and excessive regulation is counter productive.

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  • Man with Abacus
    Your attitude is what led to the proliferation of system built housing in the 1960s that leaked from the start, and has cost hundreds of millions of pounds to repair and maintain, and much of which has had to be knocked down - with large public subsidies by the way to tenants who bought the properties under RTB.

    Of course we must have proper standards. This new housing has to last 100 years and be fit for purpose. It is not a mobile phone which can be thrown away each year for a better model.

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  • The problem is inconsistency between standards - eg Code for Sustainable Homes v Lifetime Homes v Building Regulations v HCA/HQI - and different interpretation of those standards at a local level. What developers really need is certainty, to cut out pointless debates on minutiae on every job. Whatever standards are adopted (& I favour higher standards of accessibility and energy performance), the land market will very quickly reflect those as developers factor in any increased costs (and values) into their appraisals. After a transitional period, where's the problem?
    The other side of the coin is the amount of land that we waste with "privacy distances" between dwellings, and massive provision for vehicular movement and parking. I did some work a few years ago for the GLA, from which we concluded that in the UK we were building smaller dwellings further apart than comparable countries such as the Netherlands, Germany and the Scandinavian countries.

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  • Jon is on the button when he raises the need for clarity and above all else consistency.

    I am not in favour of cramming properties into small spaces - space and light are essentail elements of quality of life. What see need are smarter designs with say for example three storey properties with car parking/utility rooms on the ground floor which resolves the vehicle issue (people will continue to have cars for years to come - I like many people couldn't afford to transport my family by privatised public transport but I can in a car ) but avoid the excessive road space that seems to cater for rampant petrol headism in inappropriate places. Home zones and traffic calming to allow measured access?

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  • As a CODE assessor I have a vested interest here… I feel the CODE has worked well after a slow start. It takes development as a whole for both developer and end customer and is not just about developing to building Regs. The drop in CODE 4 developments is many due to ENE 1 & 2, SAP & thermal insulation.

    However, I do believe there are too many schemes and it would be better to incorporate such things as Lifetimes Homes in to expanded national CODE standard. Building Regulations are different as building control officers are not bothered about what fridge, or how many bee attracting plants are planted.

    There has to be a standard else developers will build very shoddy poor housing. ManwithAbacus you are wrong as poorly made housing will be sold by the developer for the same price as well constructed housing. In the end for a developer it’s all about profit and certainly profits of the large builders, even last year, support the notion that they could do more on future sustainability and best practice.

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  • Many mass produced new builds are built to shoddy standards. I still would not buy a new build, unless I knew how they went about building it.

    If you have a water leak you have to rip out the floor and can't replace it so easily. You can't inspect for water leaks. Some homes built in 80s only has one single socket in a room. Try dealing with the problem of adding adding extra sockets or wall lighting. Even the stairs are falling to bits, after 15 years. A victorian one is still going strong after 100 years.

    Victorian problems are easier to maintain, although not so good on home energy...

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