Dozens of unnecessary and confusing measures imposed on house builders by councils and government will be scrapped under proposals put forward by communities minister Don Foster. The aim is to help free up the industry, support growth and get high quality homes built.
In parallel, the government is inviting views on minimum space and access standards that would allow councils to seek bigger homes to meet local needs, including those of older and disabled people. The Royal Institute of British Architects said that it supports a national space standard and that it could mark an end to rabbit-hutch Britain. But it urged the government to go further and introduce national minimum space standards in Building Regulations, to “address the disastrously small housing that we have seen built over the last 30 years”.
The rationalisation of standards and guidance will target the patchwork of additional - and often confusing - measures that councils are free to apply locally. Under the proposals, these will be reduced from over 100 to fewer than 10. It is also planned to reduce more than 1,500 pages of guidance to fewer than 80. No changes are being made to planning rules and essential safety and accessibility rules will not be changed. Instead,
A period of transition will be allowed to phase out certain standards, such as the code for sustainable homes, due to existing contractual or legal commitments. For the handful of housing standards that will be kept, councils will only be able to apply them after conducting a rigorous viability and need assessment.
Foster said: “At a time when we are working closely with British business to create jobs and build a stronger economy it’s essential the government plays its part by taking off the bureaucratic handbrake that holds back house building and adds unnecessary cost. I’m proposing to cut needless red tape to let house builders get on with the real job of building the high quality new homes that people need, especially families and first time buyers.”
Standards that face the axe include:
- requirements for rainwater harvesting in places that don’t suffer from water shortages
- demands for solar and wind energy sources that can’t physically fit onto the roofs of apartment buildings
- a stipulation for multiple phone lines in home offices, irrespective of need and in addition to broadband connection
- requirements to build accessible flats on floors that can’t be reached by disabled people
- rules on window sizes that include a ‘dirty window factor’ - imposing bigger windows to allow for dirt on them, rather than assuming people will have the common sense to clean them to let more light in.
Foster added: “The current mish-mash of housing standards means that from Allerdale in Cumbria to Zoar in Cornwall no same set of rules always applies – it’s confusing, bureaucratic and cannot be allowed to continue.”
RIBA chief executive Harry Rich said: “This rationalisation of local housing standards is important to ensure quality for its consumers across the country and certainty for the industry. We are pleased to see the government consulting on space standards, our public research has repeatedly revealed that space in new homes is a major concern.”
National Housing Federation chief executive David Orr said: “We were involved in the housing standards review because we want to see greater consistency and clarity across standards for all new housing. For truly sustainable new homes that will provide enough space for families to grow, have low fuel bills and reflect local character and conditions we need strong guidelines that ensure good homes are built, but without imposing needless or inappropriate requirements. Moving from 100 standards to 10 is a good start in reducing red tape while safeguarding good quality home building but we look forward to seeing further details of the review.”