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Monday28 July 2014

Building regulations are 'stifling development'

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Leading architects call for simplification of standards to encourage innovations in housing design

Building regulations are stifling development, tying people to their homes for too long and preventing England from accumulating the diverse stock of housing it so desperately needs, a group of leading housing architects has warned.

Andy von Bradsky, chairman at PRP Architects and a member of the government’s four-strong Challenge Panel that is overseeing the overhaul of building standards across England, said criteria such as Lifetime Homes were hindering housing construction.

“Regulations surrounding design for disabled access need to be simplified and brought together under the existing Part M,” said von Bradsky, suggesting a three-tier accessibility system based on Swedish housing standards as a blueprint for change.

He was speaking at a New London Architecture breakfast last week alongside HTA director Ben Derbyshire and Andrew Beharrell, executive director at Pollard Thomas Edwards Architects.

Beharrell agreed that disabled access standards needed to be overhauled, but said it was “difficult to criticise Part M without being accused of discriminating”.
“One of the unintended consequences [of Lifetime Homes] is a tendency to grow the circulation spaces of homes, sometimes at the expense of habitable rooms,” he said.

Andy von Bradsky

Andy von Bradsky

Accessibility is one of the key areas being addressed by the government’s review, which is seeking to simplify building regulations and standards and bring them together under one national document. Fifteen organisations including BRE, Habinteg, the RIBA and the Association of Chief Police Officers, will take part.

An independent Challenge Panel, which includes von Bradsky, developer Kirk Archibald, planning specialist Paul Watson and City of London surveyor David Clements, will oversee the work, which is scheduled to be put out to consultation in the spring.

When the review was announced at the end of October overlapping standards were immediately raised as a problem, specifically those surrounding windows and stairs.

But Derbyshire said deregulation was only half the story and that the needs of consumers needed to be addressed. “Our market has such a poor performance of allowing people to move to places when they need to do so,” he said.

He compared housebuilding unfavourably with other industries such as the automotive sector, which has shown huge innovation in design over the past 50 years, despite a strict regulatory regime — particularly relating to safety.

England also needs to have regulations that allow the construction of a variety of homes that can be accessed by different users at different times in their lives, he said: “It must be about enabling people to access the right homes,” he explained.

More broadly, the panel argued that the role of planning departments needed to be clarified.

“We have to be clearer about the criteria the planning system is applying and [ensure it does not] stray into areas outside its remit,” said Beharrell. “We often see committees that are swayed by matters that aren’t strictly planning matters.”

And while the government has sold the review as a boost for the housebuilding industry, architects have already expressed fears that interest groups such as the UK Green Building Council could jeopardise the shake-up of building regulations.

“If ministers think this is an easy fix I think they’re mistaken,” said von Bradsky. “This will take a long time.”

Silly standards

There are hundreds of existing housing standards, here are a few on the more bizzare end of the scale:

-          The requirement for two phone lines in home offices, irrespective of need

-          The ‘dirty window factor’ – imposing bigger windows to allow for dirt on them, rather than assuming people will simply clean their windows

-          A requirement that ‘drying space’ is designed and assessed when often this is nothing more complicated than a washing live over the bath

-          Standards being assessed repeatedly by different people such as planners, code assessors and building control officers – often looking at the same issues but coming up with different answers

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Readers' comments (7)

  • zecks_marquise

    lest we forget 99% of the uk car industry died when it was exposed to the global market

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  • Which 'silly standard' requires 2 phone lines in a home office? It's not the Code for Sustainable Homes, as that only requires one, as long as the home is on a site with broadband avaliability, as most UK homes are, via the telephone lines.

    Also, I would have thought having a 'requirement' for a drying space, which is easily met by a £12.99 retractable line over the bath, would be a an easy standard to meet, and encouraged by a magazine which recently ran an article on how recent research has proved that drying clothes in habitable rooms is bad for people's health?

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  • Has somebody actually asked disabled people what they think before making some comments on accessibility? They are terribly under-represented in the review panel. Perhaps Andy von Bradsky can invite the Access Association to make a comment on this.

    It is very worrying that access standards for disabled people are being discussed as a reason for 'stifling development'. Will disabled people now get the blame for not enough houses being built?

    Also, can somebody explain the following statement of the CLG website when launching the review: 'But Mr Foster also made clear that essential safety and accessibility protections will remain untouched and that homes will always need to be built to high sustainability and quality standards'

    It sounds as if accessibility standards are already in the firing line.

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  • Surely the aim should be to improve housing standards not reduce them.
    Most volume housebuilding is poorly designed particularly compared with other European countries. Simple deregulation will make this worse not better.
    And space standards in Singapore housing for example are far better than here even in a country with far less space.
    The whole structure of the market, rented and sale is wrong here. There is too much empty property too.

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  • Wouldn't the review panel benefit from hearing from access consultants who were there 20 years ago and to hear how/why these standards have developed?

    It's always so easy to deem accessibility standards as 'red tape'. I haven't found a single colleague or friend in the industry who blames accessibility for the lack of growth. We need to look at this in context - the radical welfare reforms will place thousands more disabled people into the job market and require them to be more geographically mobile. BB Inside Out this week showed these young disabled people flat hunting and the stock was non-existent or unsuitably designed (at 11mins): http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01nwc3x/Inside_Out_London_12_11_2012/

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  • From your interview with the lately departed John Winter:

    Q. What one piece of legislation would you introduce?

    A. An act repealing all existing legislation relating to building. The existing legislation has been so changed and amended that it can no longer be serviceable. We need a new start.

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  • 44commonplace

    I thought it was architects who looked at the same problem but came up with different answers!

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