Wednesday, 27 May 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.

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