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12 November, 2014

HBF Consultation Response - DCLG Housing Standards Review Technical Consultation

The Home Builders Federation (HBF) is the principal trade body for private sector    home builders in England and Wales. Our members build about 80% of the new homes constructed each year and comprise businesses ranging from national, through regional to more locally-based companies.

We welcome the Government’s aims through this consultation to reduce bureaucracy and unnecessary costs for house builders. The regulatory burden associated with house building has increased in recent decades adding to the costs and risks for all sizes of firms and presenting a considerable barrier to entry for small and medium-sized enterprises.

In HBF’s submission to the original Housing Standards Review consultation in 2013 we expressed a strong preference for the inclusion within Building Regulations of any new standards that were held after rigorous examination to be justified and were pleased to see that this was largely the approach that the Department has opted for. However, the introduction of separate standards outside of Building Regulations, notably in relation to space standards, does represent a concern.  A number of issues also arise in connection with the basis for applying all the proposed optional standards that are to sit within the Building Regulations.

There are elements of the proposed new framework that would likely lead to increased build costs. While some may be seen as negligible, the application of the optional standard for space could affect viability, reduce affordability and access to the market and ultimately reduce the number of homes built in some areas. The proposals on accessibility also need careful consideration in terms of their potential market impacts.

Testing the viability of particular standards during the drafting and examination of Local Plans is, however, a notoriously difficult process and may border on the impossible in many cases. We are concerned therefore that the proposed safeguards against the unjustified application of optional standards at local level could in practice prove significantly less effective than the consultation assumes. This introduces the potential for unnecessary standards to be imposed locally with little or no feasible and robust challenge with long-term consequences for housing supply locally and nationally.

In this regard, should the Government proceed with this approach, the conditions required to be satisfied for local authorities to apply any optional standards locally will be of vital importance, as is reflected in our response to the relevant questions.

As a general point, for these reasons, we think it is essential that the onus should be on local authorities to positively prove the case for and the lack of adverse consequences from adopting optional space or Building Regulations standards in their areas rather than for the industry or others to have to prove their concerns.

Should any clarification or elucidation be required on any of our consultation answers please do not hesitate to contact us.

  

Question 1. Do you think that the technical requirements for Category 1 visitable dwellings are directly comparable to the technical requirements of the existing guidance in Sections 6 to 10 of Approved Document M (Access to and use of buildings)?

a.            Agree                                                             x

b.            Mostly agree (please specify)                  x 

c.            Disagree (please specify)                        YES 

We do not agree that the technical requirements for Category 1 - Visitable dwellings are directly comparable to the technical guidance in Sections 6 to 10 of Approved Document M (Access and to and use of buildings). (ADM).

There would appear to be significant differences between the newly proposed requirements and the existing guidance in Sections 6 to 10 of ADM.

If you do not entirely agree, please explain why and, if possible, suggest how it should be corrected.

HBF support the government’s aim to review the minimum requirements in Part M through a better evidenced process and would welcome the opportunity to fully contribute towards this work. However, the points below indicate that there are significant differences in what is proposed under Category 1 compared to the current Part M that we do not believe have been properly assessed for their impacts on costs and scheme design and deliverability. Indeed the EC Harris analysis of the cost impacts of the standards proposals assumes no cost effect in relation to the Category 1 proposal. We believe it is important, therefore, that DCLG reconsiders this element of its proposals on accessibility.

 

Section 1A: Approach to the dwelling

It would appear that the category 1 provisions for the approach to the dwelling have been split into two separate considerations as per paragraphs 1.1 and 1.2 in Section 1A: ‘Approach to the dwelling.’

The first provision is for access from the pavement to the front door and is clear that it refers to the approach route within the plot (or curtilage).

The wording surrounding the second provision, is for access from visitor parking. It can be read to infer that where this is remote from the dwelling, that any intervening land not in the ownership of the developer is also controlled. Clarification on this point is requested. 

Approach routes

The definition of ‘level approach’ appears to have been changed from a gradient not exceeding 1:20 to a gradient not exceeding 1:40.

A new definition ‘gently sloping’ has been added where the gradient is between 1:40 and 1:20.

Also a new measure has been added that individual flights should be not more than 18m long for gradients up to 1:20.

The practical effect of these changes is that whereas under ADM, a level approach with a gradient of up to 1:20 could be unlimited in length, under the proposed Category 1, a landing would need to be introduced where the length of the approach exceeded 18m.  

There is a new definition for ‘suitable ground surface’ which includes the criterion for the approach to be ’slip resistant’.  As this did not exist under the existing ADM provisions, it will prohibit the use of some building materials that were previously considered acceptable. 

A revised definition of ‘steeply sloping plot’ has been introduced.  Under ADM this was defined as a ‘plot gradient’ of more than 1:15.  Under the proposals for Category 1 dwellings this is defined as ‘one where the ‘underlying gradient’ exceeds 1:15.’

Under the existing ADM, the criterion for when a stepped access to the principal entrance was acceptable was based on the ‘plot gradient’ rather than the ‘underlying gradient’.  Plot gradient being defined as “the gradient measured between the finished floor level of the dwelling and the point of access.”

This proposed change could have a significant impact – and add extra cost – for dwellings with comparatively short frontages that are close to their plot curtilage.

In addition, the Category 1 proposals appear to be inconsistent with some provisions in the Approved Document for Part K of the Building Regulations.

 

Question 2. Do you think that the technical requirements of the proposed guidance for Category 2 – accessible and adaptable dwellings are correct? 

a.            Agree                                     x

b.            Agree only in part                x

c.            Disagree                                YES

There appear to be some errors.

If you do not entirely agree, please explain why and, if possible, suggest how it should be corrected.

The draft wording of the ‘limits on application’ of optional requirement M4(2) and M4(3) differ.

M4(2) (a) states ‘may only apply in relation to new dwellings’ whilst;

M4(3) (a) states ‘may only apply in relation to a dwelling that is erected’

We would question the reasons for door clear width to communal lifts differing between category 2 and category 3 dwellings.  Category 2 is 800mm and Category 3 is 850mm.

In Category 2 and 3 dwellings there is a very limited unrestricted zone left for the placement of radiators in circulation areas, once the localised obstruction zones are excluded.         

 

Question 3. Do you think that the technical requirements of the proposed guidance for Category 3 – wheelchair user dwellings are correct 

a. Agree                                             x

b. Agree only in part                        x

c. Disagree                                        YES

If you do not entirely agree, please explain why and, if possible, suggest how it should be corrected.

See question 2 response.

 

Question 4. When do you think that the requirement for a dwelling to be wheelchair accessible (fitted out) should apply?

a.            Only where local authority allocation policies apply                           YES

This should be based on robust needs based evidence.

b.            Across any tenure where a local authority believes this is necessary  x

c.            All wheelchair housing should be fully wheelchair accessible                     x

 

Question 5. Which of the following best reflects your views?

 a. I agree with the extent to which accessibility requirements are required in the proposed standards.                                                                  YES

b. Where dwellings are required to be fully accessible they should include one or

more of the following at point of fit out (select all that apply);              x

i) Shallow insulated sink in the kitchen                                                  x

ii) Height adjustable worktops in kitchens                                               x

iii) Height adjustable sinks                                                                         x

iv) Plumbing which is installed to work with height adjustable sinks (but not the

height adjustable equipment itself).                                                         x

v) Other (please specify)                                                                             x

If you do not entirely agree, please explain why and, if possible, suggest how it should be corrected

Making such decisions as to accessibility is best made with reference to the specific needs of a prospective purchaser to ensure that the provision effectively meets the needs of the individual/s. We should avoid a tick box approach, therefore, which the list of measures in (b) above risks suggesting. The list at (b) should be purely indicative and not exclusive for this reason.

 

Question 6. Should regulation 3 continue to apply in relation to material alterations of dwellings?

a. Yes.                                    x 

b. No particular view            x

c. No                                       YES

The fact that you are asking this question would seem to signify that you are prospectively expecting too many Category 2 and 3 homes to be built as a result of the new standards regime. This demonstrates the downside risk of local authorities seeking to over-apply optional standards under the new regime.

Unless such a risk can be eliminated, we think that it would be appropriate to allow subsequent modifications to be made to Category 2 and 3 homes that might result in changing or removing features of the Category 2 and 3 standards so that these homes could then meet the wishes and requirements of their future owners. The existing regulation on material alterations should, however, continue to apply to Category 1 homes.  

 

Question 7. Do you agree the Government’s proposals for a single level of requirements in the nationally described space standard?

a.            Yes                                         x

b.            No particular view                x           

c.            No                                           YES   there should not be a level at all. 

If you do not agree, please explain why and, if possible, suggest how it should be corrected.

To date no tangible evidence supporting the need for a space standard has been presented. Evidencing the existence of a market failure should be the starting point from which to discuss the necessity and form of a nationally described space standard.

There could be significant cost implications for purchasers of homes that are the subject of unnecessary local space standards as larger homes inevitably come with a higher pricing point to reflect the higher costs incurred by the developer. This is most likely to be an issue for first-time buyers and could either cut them out of the market for particular types of home or potentially out of the market altogether.

Depending on the market context this may or may not correlate with viability for the development. If the Government chooses to proceed with a non-mandatory national space standard, therefore, it must pay very particular attention to the criteria to be satisfied in the justification required in Local Plans for the local application of a space standard. Viability impacts must certainly be considered, but the impact on affordability for prospective purchasers in the local market must also be given material weight with reference to the assessment of housing demand undertaken by the local authority.

The impact of applying a space standard would vary from area to area and company to company. Companies have different market offers and local markets and price levels also vary considerably.

There is perceived by most of our members, however, to be a clear risk that the space standards proposed could have a particular impact on affordability for purchasers in the starter home market and risks cutting some people out of the market altogether. The standards could also have an adverse impact on peoples’ ability to access the market in lower value areas. As an illustration of the potential impact on the market offer, some HBF members have indicated that the proposed space standard could mean the loss of 25 to 30% of their current portfolios and potentially most or all of their starter homes. The overall result in such cases could be to reduce new housing supply in the area and place additional pressure on private rented and affordable homes provision.

Without evidence to substantiate the need for new standards and in light of the Government’s focus on deregulation HBF would recommend a re-think of this proposal. Customer feedback – for example, from the HBF’s annual customer satisfaction survey -does not suggest that space of new dwellings is a concern for buyers and prospective buyers of new homes and house builders remain responsive to market signals and the needs and requests of buyers.

As discussed elsewhere, the testing of the viability of particular standards during the drafting and examination of Local Plans is a notoriously difficult process and can border on the impossible which introduces the potential for unnecessary standards to be imposed locally with little or no feasible and robust challenge with long-term consequences for housing supply locally and nationally.

In this regard, should the Government proceed with this approach, the conditions required for local authorities to enforce their own local standards will be of vital importance, as is reflected in our response to the relevant questions. The onus must also be very much on the local authority to make the case that its proposed adoption of the space standard will not have adverse impacts on viability or affordability or access to the market rather than for developers to be asked to prove that it will have such impacts.

Consideration in addition needs to be given to the application of a space standard to specialist retirement housing. While we believe most of such housing is likely to meet the general floor area requirements of the standard, there may be valid instances where this is not the case for some units in developments taking into account the development context – often tight, inner urban brownfield sites – where a minimum critical mass of units is needed to support a viable and affordable offer on services for residents, the needs of particular customers and the provision of communal areas which comprise a significant proportion of the development’s total floor area. The consultation has not addressed the position of specialist retirement housing and should do so in order to ensure that where any space standard may be applied it allows sufficient flexibility for the realisation of specialist retirement housing in a way that meets residents’ requirements while maintaining viability and affordability.

 

Question 8. Do you agree with Governments proposals for internal storage? 

a. Yes                                     x

c. No strong views               x

d. No                                       YES

If you do not agree, please explain why and, if possible, suggest how it should be corrected

There is no justification for seeking to prescribe minimum storage in addition to minimum floor area. It is a natural function of design that in providing for particular floor areas home builders will integrate storage in an efficient way in order to meet customer requirements. There is also no hard and fast way of defining storage and we believe including storage requirements in a standard would both lead to potential rigidity in design approaches and confusion about agreeing the measurement of storage.

 

Question 9. Do agree with the proposed requirements for bedrooms and bedroom sizes? 

a. Yes                                     x

c. No strong views               x

d. No                                       YES

If you do not agree, please explain why and, if possible, suggest how it should be corrected.

This is again an over-prescriptive approach. For example, it makes no allowance for under-occupancy on the part of the purchaser and how they would square their wishes with their ability to afford particular properties - as products of the proposed space standards or otherwise. It would be clear in terms of consumer marketing requirements what would and would not constitute a bedroom.

 

Question 10. Do you agree with the Government’s proposed approach to ceiling heights as set out in the proposed nationally described space standard?

a.            Yes                                                     x

b.            No strong views                               x

c.            No                                                       YES 

d.            Other approach (please specify)   x

If you do not entirely agree, please explain why and, if possible, suggest how it should be corrected?

Due to the age of the majority of our housing stock, more than a quarter of national carbon emissions come from the residential sector. Reflecting the shift in society’s views and the rising cost of fuel, the industry has made great strides in increasing the energy efficiency of new homes to help meet the UK’s climate change targets.

The measure in question would likely lead to a 7-8% increase in a householder’s fuel bills compared with an otherwise identical property. Again, should such a measure be included in the design of a new build home in order to meet the needs of a market it is understandable but the introduction of a catch all standard which increases the costs of running a large proportion of new homes is unnecessary and would make new build a less attractive option for a cost conscious consumer.

Furthermore, this proposal presents practical and logistical difficulties. Plasterboard currently comes in lengths of 2.4 metres. The implementation of this measure will likely require plasterboard manufacturers to increase this length to 2.6 metres which will present manual handling problems to the site operatives. (The alternative of sticking with 2.4 metre length plasterboard would entail more waste than at present.)

An increased ceiling height would also presents implications to scaffolding lifts which have been designed to reflect Health and Safety Executive recommendations – so that more lifts would need to be provided in some cases in order to ensure safe working.

It has also been pointed out that greater ceiling heights could create planning concerns. For example, in the case of specialist retirement housing, typical inner urban sites are often sensitive in planning terms and an increase in ceiling heights could result in planning objections to an optimum design for an apartment block – that is, because the number of storeys needed for a viable number of units might then be judged too intrusive for the context. Clearly similar issues could also arise in the case of other developments, particularly of apartments. 

 

Question 11. Would you agree that Government should continue to explore the potential role of building control bodies in providing plan checking and type approval of the nationally described space standard?

a. Yes                                     YES   

Single body approval is the way forward. Key questions would include the local authority payment method.

b. No strong views               x

c. No                                       x

If you do not agree, please explain why 

 

Question 12. How do you think on site compliance with space standards would best be checked?

a. At individual local planning authority discretion                               x

b. Checking by the building control body providing plan checks.      x

c. Through conditions requiring the relevant Gross Internal to be published as part of the     property sales particulars                                                                               x (see note below)  

d. By another approach (please specify)                                                 YES

The industry already publishes in sales literature to prospective purchasers the relevant internal rooms sizes etc. Therefore, in practice, the industry is already delivering something akin to ‘C’. The justification for further regulation in this instance is questionable. It should also be borne in mind that the sale of new homes is covered both by the Home Building Industry Consumer Code and by the Consumer Protection Regulations (CPRs). These existing mechanisms should provide sufficient protection for consumers and incentive for developers to ensure that where the proposed space standard might be applied its requirements will be delivered.

Any approach that could involve a planning condition having to be discharged prior to sales completion must be avoided as this could add significant delay and risk to the sales process.

 

Question 13: The Government is minded to implement the security standard as a national mandatory requirement. Do you agree with this approach? 

a) Yes             x

b) No              YES

We disagree with the proposal, but if this is to happen then it should act as the single security standard. Also, as we have commented on many occasions we see no reason why the industry’s own NHBC standard on this should not become the security standard. The NHBC standard is considered to be a robust and realistic standard.

The PAS 24 standard that is mentioned should be noted in the regulation with a date of the document. This is to ensure that future changes to PAS24 when added to amended regulations can be properly considered in future RIAs.

 

Question 14 - Are the proposed changes to Approved Document G technically correct?

a). Yes                                    YES


when it is recognised that an area is water stressed. It needs to be decided who informs whether an area is water stressed or not. Our view is it should be the WaSCs.

b) No particular view           x

c) No                                       x

If not please explain why and, if possible, suggest how it should be corrected.

 

Question 15. - Do you agree with the proposed changes to reinforce the importance of good design for external waste storage? 

a). Yes                                    x

b). No particular view          YES

c). No                                      x

 

If not please explain why and, if possible, suggest how it should be corrected

We generally agree with the principle but this is primarily an issue for the local authority concerned and centres around their own collection procedure

 

Question 16.- Do you agree with the proposed changes to reinforce that the provisions relate equally to where dwellings are created through a material change of use?

a). Yes                                                YES

b). No particular view                      x

c). No                                                  x

If not please explain why and, if possible, suggest how it should be corrected 

 

Question 17. - Do you agree with the proposed technical changes to provide clarification of existing requirements?

a). Yes                                                x

b). No particular view                      YES

c). No                                                  x

 If not please explain why and, if possible, suggest how it should be corrected

 

Question 18. Do you agree with the Governments proposed approach as to how the use of optional requirements and nationally described space standard should be taken forward?

a.            Yes                                         x

b.            No strong views                   x

c.            No                                           YES 

 

If you do not agree, please specify why.

As discussed elsewhere in this response, the pre-requisite should be a coherent and robust evidence base for the imposition of the higher costs entailed in the optional standards when the result is likely to involve a reduction in housing supply in some areas coupled with the potential cutting out of some people from access to the housing market.

As we have argued in answer to other questions, we believe the onus must be very clearly on the local authority to make a reasoned and substantiated case for the proposed adoption of local standards and to demonstrate beyond doubt that their adoption would not adversely affect the viability of development or have other adverse market consequences, including reducing affordability and the ability of people – particularly first time buyers – to access the market.

In addition, local authorities should be asked to show that their proposals would not have adverse impacts on different market areas within their district, especially taking account of higher and lower value areas to that end.

For the optional accessibility standards there must be a very clear and robust evidence base relating to identified housing need for such provision.

 

Question 19. - Do you agree the proposed approach will be sufficient to ensure local planning authorities and neighbourhood planning qualifying bodies in future only set policies requiring compliance with the optional requirements and nationally described space standard to address a clear and evidenced need? If not, please indicate why.

a) Yes                         x

b) No              YES

For the reasons set out above, we think more thought needs to be given to ensuring the justification for the adoption of optional standards in local plans is truly robust and that local authorities have clearly demonstrated that there would be no adverse impacts on housing supply or the housing market offer in their area. This is essential if the results of the Standards Review are truly to deliver the Government’s stated objective of arrangements where optional standards are properly justified and not just nice and want to have aspirations. 

 

Question 20 – Do the proposed arrangements provide the correct balance between allowing time for developers and local authorities to adapt to the new regime whilst delivering benefits as quickly as is reasonable? If not, please indicate why.

a) Yes             x

b) No  YES

Such a fundamental change both to the standards as well as the precedent for local optional standards running parallel to Building Regulations should require a roadmap for the industry to work to. It is extremely difficult to respond unambiguously to this question without an indication from Government as to the transitional arrangements and the implications for legacy planning permissions.