Following the Government’s consultation on the Housing Standards Review last autumn, Building Regulations Minister Stephen Williams MP made a Written Ministerial Statement to parliament on 13 March setting out the Government’s response to the consultation.
The Minister confirmed that the Government would move during this year to incorporate into Building Regulations standards that it considered were justified (but are currently not within the Regulations) in order to ensure that these would be the only basis for building performance standards in local plan policies.
Alongside the Statement, the Government published a supporting document which sets out its proposed follow up on individual areas of standards – access, security, water, energy and space.
This proposes optional higher tier standards (above the current national minimum requirements of Parts M and G respectively) for accessibility and water efficiency that would sit in Building Regulations. Their application in any local area would need to be justified via properly evidenced local plan policies and considered in the viability testing of the plan.
On accessibility, there would be two optional tiers which are likely to be broadly in line with the proposals in the Standards Review consultation for a modified and slimmed down version of the Lifetime Homes standard and a Wheelchair Access standard respectively.
On water, the Government proposes an optional higher level of water efficiency of 110 litres/person/day in addition to the general level of 125 litres/person/day in Part G. This higher level could only be applied in areas “with specific local needs (such as water stress)”.
The Government says it is also considering the evidence on whether there should be a single national minimum security standard based on industry’s best practice.
On energy, it has concluded that there should be a “Building Regulations only” approach with no optional local standards above the requirements of Part L.
On space, however, contrary to earlier indications and its preferred option in the Standards Review consultation, the Government states that “We will…..develop a new national standard – not a Building Regulation – which will offer a consistent set of requirements with regard to the internal area of new homes”. This would also be an optional standard to be justified “according to evidenced needs and subject to local plan viability testing”. The document mentions the standard having “two different sets of specifications”. We understand the Government envisages these being a space standard that would apply to all forms of housing and one that applies to a modified version of the Lifetime homes standard for accessibility where such an optional accessibility standard has itself been justified under a local plan. The Government does not propose the inclusion of space standards in Building Regulations because the argument for a general national minimum requirement has not been accepted.
The information currently available on the Statement is still relatively limited and we will seek to clarify the position further and advise members on next steps and of our detailed response to the Government.
At a high level, while the general commitment to including any standards that are held to be valid in Building Regulations is in line with what HBF has argued, the proposed way forward on accessibility, water and space is not what we sought in our consultation response.
The Government’s position on space is surprising and concerning and was not evident before the Ministerial Statement. It will raise real issues and concerns about the level and basis on which any standards are set, their commercial implications and how their potential application should be considered in examining local plan policies. This is likely to be a significant area of work following the Government’s announcement and we will work closely with members on that.
On timing, we understand DCLG’s aim is to consult on the proposed new standards in the Summer with a view to finalising them by the end of the 2014 calendar year.
The Ministerial Statement also says:
“The consultation made clear the Government’s intention that planning authorities should only use the standards emerging from the review process. The Government will issue a statement later this year when the new standards are published, which will explain how this policy will be implemented.”
In addition, the Statement addresses the future of the Code for Sustainable Homes, on which it says:
“… many of the requirements of the Code for Sustainable Homes will be consolidated into Building Regulations, which would require substantial changes to the content of the current Code, as well as a reconsideration of its role. In the light of this, the Government thinks that the current Code will need to be wound down to coincide with the changes incorporating the new standards coming into force. The Government will make further announcements on the transitional arrangements, and the handling of legacy developments being built out to current Code requirements. The Government is also interested in hearing from industry as to the value of elements of the Code being taken forward on a voluntary basis.”
Finally, the Government has also published a summary of the responses to the Standards Review consultation:
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