Government’s proposals to shake up housing standards were proclaimed as ‘lukewarm’, with London a special case that shouldn’t be lumped in with entirely different conditions in the rest of the country.
So said John Lett, strategic planning manager at the GLA at a breakfast conference session this morning at the NLA, which sought to explain the main thrusts of the impending Housing Standards Review.
Lett was talking following a presentation of the review’s key thrusts given by Levitt Bernstein’s Julia Park, who was seconded to DCLG to provide technical support during the review process, whose consultation process ends on 22 October. The deregulatory process is part of the so-called ‘Red Tape Challenge’ that aims to reduce unnecessary costs to industry while maintaining quality. But Lett argued that since London is an area eight times larger than Manchester and in need of building some 50,000 homes a year, to densities three times the national average, any review needed flexibility to be able to cope with the capital’s tight sites and ‘congestion’. ‘Government’s position that we all have to be the same just doesn’t hold water’, he said. ‘The proposals are lukewarm, to be charitable.’
Newham’s director of Community Infrastructure Operations John East said that the provision of space is a key issue, worrying about the notion of moving space as an issue from planning to building control and disagreeing with the government justification that most homes are under-occupied. ‘Forcing people into smaller dwellings won’t improve their standards of life’, he said. ‘Space absolutely matters’. And Matt Bell, group head of external affairs at the Berkeley Group, said that although simpler and shorter guidance is welcome, the idea that housing standards are not about increasing quality is a problematic one. ‘It’s clearly about volume, not quality, and I struggle with that.’ Although Berkeley had argued against having space standards in London Bell said they had ‘egg on their face’ and recognise that they result in housing that looks better and is more ‘liveable’. Andy von Bradsky, chairman of PRP Architects said that space is the ‘final frontier’ and biggest issue – standards are necessary but it is how you define space that needs to be looked at clearly.
Park took the audience through the complexities involved in the standards’ three main options – a set of new nationally described standards in addition to building regulations; a set of new nationally described standards as an interim measure – en route to full integration into building regulations as ‘regulated options’; and lastly standards integrated into building regulations as ‘regulated options now’. Issues raised also covered energy – with a desire for definition of what Zero Carbon means; water, and a request for compulsory water metering; security, and accessibility, with its ‘logical and cost-effective’ proposed three-tier standard.
NLA audience members, asked to vote between rejecting the proposals or working with the DCLG to find an acceptable compromise, were split down the middle, half raising the hands for each. ‘That’s why it has been so hard’, said Park.
Park’s practice, Levitt Bernstein, has produced an ‘Easi-guide’ to the review alongside the PowerPoint presentation she spoke to this morning, both of which are downloadable here:
http://www.levittbernstein.co.uk/00,news,962,213,00.htm David Taylor, New London Quarterly