Design guidelines for London housing

Posted on 27 September 2009 0 comments

NOTE: Since originally writing this post in September 2009, a new edition of the London Housing Design guide has been published (in August 2010). See the update at the end of this post for details.

London Housing Design guide cover

In July 2009, the London Development Agency (LDA) released a draft consultation document: The London Housing Design Guide.

The guide proposes a series of minimum design requirements for all publicly funded homes in the capital. This includes minimum standards for floor space and private outdoor space. The guide also provides best practice advice for many different aspects of housing design: noise, privacy, daylighting, ceiling heights, entrances, shared circulation, and so on.

There are some clear parallels with the Parker Morris Standards from the 1960s which also tried to improve the quality of public housing. The London Housing Design Guide states:

“It is worth recalling the impact of previous design standards for UK public housing, primarily those set out in the influential 1961 report Homes for Today and Tomorrow by the Parker Morris Committee which are still quoted today.

The concern at that time was to ensure that every home was provided with a basic level of functionality and amenity – space, heating, and even an indoor bathroom. Today the concern has moved to the quality of provision and whether it is fit for all. It is not just about providing space, but ensuring that space can be flexibly used to respond to varying needs and that development takes an inclusive approach for all users.

Beyond requiring that every home has heating, today we recognise the issue is how to provide heating and use other limited resources such as water and energy in the most efficient way in order to reduce carbon emissions and lessen the environmental impact.”

But why does London need its own set of guidelines separate from the rest of the country? As the guide states:

“At the heart of the challenge for London today are the key issues of building at higher densities and space standards. Whereas in England as a whole over 80% of people live in houses, in London 50% live in flats and the proportion is growing.”

One of the authors of the Guide, Michael Howe of mae architects, wrote about the new standards in the 30 July 2009 edition of the Architects Journal. Here are some extracts from his article:

“If adopted, the guide will cut documents governing London Housing design to a fifth of their current number, making life easier for everyone involved.”

“Some will argue that new legislation is the last thing we need when the property market is stagnant, prices have fallen and we still have problems with affordability. But new homes in London have some of the smallest rooms in Europe, with an average size of a newly built home of only 76 square metres compared with 109 square metres in Germany and 88 square metres in Ireland.

House builders can’t shift surplus, unsellable stock onto housing associations because their design and build quality just isn’t good enough to meet government funding requirements.

CABE recently reported that less than 20 per cent of recent developments in London were rated good or very good.”

I think mandatory design guidelines are essential for the housing market given the abysmal quality of new build homes in London and the country as a whole. Will the London Housing Design Guide – intended for publicly-funded housing – be enough to influence private builders to raise their game?

The guide itself is well-written and wide-ranging, although some of the guidance is necessarily general. Anyone with an interest in housing should read it. It’s good to see the guide address issues of privacy and noise for example. Surprisingly, there’s no discussion of service charges for blocks of flats and how these can be kept to a minimum – a disappointing omission.

When discussing space standards, the guide uses the term gross internal area (GIA) to refer to the internal floor area of a dwelling:

“…the area of a building measured to the internal face of the perimeter walls at each floor level.”

“The GIA are derived from an inventory of the furniture commonly required in different rooms and take account of space for activities, access around furniture, and the requirements of the Lifetime Homes standards.

Changing lifestyles and patterns of occupancy mean the rooms of a home are put to use in a greater variety of ways. The space requirements aim to ensure rooms are large enough to take on varying uses.

Space standards relate to the occupancy of a home rather than number of bedrooms, and the developer will be required to declare the number of occupants each dwelling has been designed to accommodate.”

The consultation period for the draft guide closes on Wednesday 30th of September 2009. You can submit your own comments and read the feedback of others on the LDA website. [ Update April 2012: The London Development Agency was abolished on the 31 March 2012. Its’ functions have been folded into the Greater London Authority (GLA). The feedback comments for the guide have been deleted from the LDA website. ]

It’s a shame publicity for the guide hasn’t been more widespread. A serious, informed debate about the quality of housing in the capital is something we urgently need. A debate is something I think the public would hugely welcome and yet our press remains neglectful and uninformed about this incredibly important subject.

UPDATE August 2010: A new “interim edition” of the London Housing Design Guide was released on the 19 August 2010 by the Mayor of London’s Office. From April 2011, London housing that receives funding from the Homes and Communities agency will need to adhere to the space standards set out in the guide. Will the standards encourage the volume housebuilders to raise their game in the private sector? Let’s hope so. (Good news on this - see the additional update at the end of this article.)

Below is a selection of the space standards set out in the August 2010 interim edition. For the complete list of space standards, see page 13 and Appendix 1 of the guide.

Single storey dwellingNo. of personsInternal floor area (sq m)
1 bed1 person37
1 bed2 persons50
2 bed3 persons61
2 bed4 persons70
3 bed4 persons74
3 bed5 persons86
Two storey dwellingNo. of personsInternal floor area (sq m)
2 bed4 persons83
3 bed4 persons87
4 bed5 persons100
Three storey dwellingNo. of personsInternal floor area (sq m)
3 bed5 persons102
4 bed5 persons106
4 bed6 persons113

UPDATE: In July 2011, the Mayor of London's office published a revised version of the London Plan (an economic, environmental, transport and social framework for the capital). The Plan requires all new housing developments in the capital - both private and public - to meet the minimum space standards set out in the London Housing Design Guide. The London Plan has been adopted and is now in force in London. This is excellent news.

Now we just need national space standards for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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