Government consultation on housing standards for England

Posted on 22 September 2013 0 comments

The Government has recently launched a consultation paper on housing standards for England which includes a proposal for minimum space standards for new homes. The aim is to simplify the many local and national guidelines that currently exist. Many existing housing guidelines overlap with one another and sometimes even contradict one another. Some examples of current housing guidelines are:

The consultation paper proposes consolidating standards in one of two ways. Either developing a set of nationally described standards, or integrating new standards into the Building Regulations for England. The consultation paper states:

“The government is keen to realise the benefits of this rationalisation exercise as quickly as possible. Subject to consultation, therefore, the government is minded at this stage to group the standards proposed in this consultation into a simple, short, ‘nationally described standards’ document that will reduce cost and complexity for housebuilders.”
“Currently information about housing standards is spread over a huge array of sources, and is difficult to assemble. In contrast to this, nationally described standards (if taken forward) should be presented in a single common point of information about housing standards, which everyone will know how to access.”

The consultation paper is organised around different themes:

  • Accessibility
  • Space
  • Security
  • Water efficiency
  • Energy
  • Indoor environmental standards
  • Materials
  • Process/compliance

All of these themes would form part of any new national housing standard. One of the proposals in the consultation paper is to adopt a space labelling scheme for new homes. Space would be measured in square metres using the Gross Internal Area of a new property and individual room sizes.

According to the paper, space labelling would allow home buyers to compare the size of similar properties more easily. It also unrealistically suggests that this might help consumers influence the size of new homes offered by home builders.

“...space labelling could be adopted as an alternative to national space standards on private sale housing. This would mean that space standards could not be mandated (required) in new development. If this were to be the case, we would be interested in understanding views as to whether the space labelling should also be ‘benchmarked’ against a minimum recommended space standard – for instance, a purchaser buying a two bedroom flat would be offered a comparison of actual size against a benchmark.”
“The Government’s preferred approach would be for market-led, voluntary mechanisms such as space labelling, in order to meet consumer needs rather than mandatory application of space standards.”

The consultation paper also seeks views on the case for mandatory national space standards. Encouragingly, the view is that space standards should apply to all homes: private and publicly funded.

“Opinions are divided as to what tenure of housing space standards should be applied to. Many but not all affordable housing organisations, designers and housing professionals believe that a minimum space standard is vital and should be applied across all tenures, and at all levels. Similarly many but not all home builders strongly believe that the market should remain free to meet local demands and that space standards should not be applicable to private housing development at all. The government is of the view that a distinction should not be made between housing tenures in terms of what standards should apply.”

Earlier this year (April 2013), the RIBA launched a new housing campaign called Without Space and Light. As part of the campaign, they commissioned Ipsos MORI to survey members of the public, to understand whether people were satisfied with their homes and whether standards have a role to play. The report found that there was strong support for minimum housing standards from respondents in the survey.

“The idea of minimum standards being introduced for space, energy and security is viewed favourably by respondents and the majority suggest it would positively affect their choice when choosing a home.”
“Space is the most popular standard to be mentioned by respondents with four in five (80%) saying they would be more likely to choose to rent or buy a home that meets a minimum standard relating to this.”

The RIBA is campaigning against a voluntary space labelling scheme which it quite rightly believes is unlikely to raise the quality of new homes. On its campaign website, it says:

“We believe the best solution would be a national space standard. Better marketing information will be useful, but it won’t force house builders to stop building small homes.

We are telling the Government there should be a national space standard for councils (who apply the standards locally) to set in their communities. Even better, this standard should be in Building Regulations – which apply to all homes, everywhere. The Government isn’t consulting on this option but we’re telling them they should.”

If you agree with the RIBA’s stance, they have created a pre-prepared response to the consultation paper that you can find on the Without Space and Light website and which you can use to send feedback to the Government.

comparison of house size UK vs, Ireland, Netherlands and Denmark
Image from the Without Space and Light website

It's hard to predict if there will be a positive outcome to the housing standards review. Past actions by the Conservative Party are not encouraging. The last set of national space standards - the Parker Morris space standards - were abolished by the Conservatives in 1980. Back in November 2010, Grant Shapps, the former Housing Minister, scrapped core housing standards drawn up by the Homes & Communities Agency. These standards would have applied to publicly-funded homes. It was also Shapps, now Conservative Party Chairman, who rudely and aggressively attacked the findings of UN special rapporteur Raquel Rolnik when she recently criticised UK Government housing policy.

The government consultation period for the housing standards review ends on October 22 2013.

If you want to send your own feedback on the consultation paper you can do so by email or in writing. The details are on the consultation paper website.

Update 23 October 2013: the consultation period is now over and, according to the consultation website, feedback collected during the consultation period will be published shortly.

March 2014: A summary of responses has been published on the consultation website. It seems highly unlikely that the responses will have any impact or influence on Government policy (other than to keep the status quo). The report on the consultation findings state:

“This report is an analysis of the responses received. It does not set out how the Government intends to take these proposals forward. Decisions on the implementation of proposals will be the subject of separate statements.”

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