A recent discussion with major builders and the NHBC provided guidance and clarification surrounding the Housing Standards Review and its impact on the industry. PBC Today Editor Lisa Carnwell reports on the meeting and its outcomes…
I was kindly invited to join the NHBC Building Control Industry Support Group (BCISG) meeting in July to uncover what concerns major builders have with regard to a number of matters – especially the Housing Standards Review. Attended by a number of the Technical Directors of major builders, along with NHBC’s Head of Technical Services Diane Marshall, and Steve Evans, NHBC Senior Area Technical Manager, we discussed some of the latest developments from NHBC and how industry are dealing with building control matters.
Working with the house-building industry to raise the standards of new homes, NHBC marked their 75th anniversary in 2011. This year marks the 30th anniversary of NHBC Building Control Services Ltd marking them as the largest and longest established Approved Inspector in the country.
NHBC is also expanding its services to include a Major Projects Team. Headed up by Andy Mullins, the new teams will deal with all risks associated with high rise projects. This is a major expansion that will be headed up by a dedicated team for each project.
The Building Control Industry Support Group (BCISG)
The purpose of this select group is to provide an opportunity for discussion and exchange of information on building control and other industry issues between NHBC Building Control and its leading major builder customers.
With continued regulatory change expected over the coming years the NHBC created the group to facilitate and co-ordinate input to proposed regulations, and play a role to support the implementation of new regulatory changes. For further information on the group, please visit the NHBC website here. http://www.nhbc.co.uk/Builders/ProductsandServices/BuildingControl/NHBCTechZone/BCISG/
The Housing Standards Review
On 26th March, just minutes before the dissolution of Parliament, the then coalition government issued the final results of the Technical Housing Standards Review. With over 4000 pages of legislation, regulation and guidance, the package was meant to be a ‘tidying up’ exercise, replacing over 100 different policies and standards into a single set of national standards, most of which are published in the Building Regulations.
The final results of the review sees tiered regulations in Part M and Part G, as well as a new mandatory regulation for all new housing Part Q – security, as well as a National Space Standard which has not been placed in the building regulations. In a very brief nutshell this means the following:
– Space — In addition to a minimum gross internal floor area and built-in storage area dependent on the number of bedrooms, the standard will insist that at least one bedroom in a two-bedroom home is a double (or twin) room. Minimum room sizes also apply as well as a minimum floor to ceiling height of 2.3m for at least 75% of the gross internal area.
This standard has not been incorporated into Building Regulations. Instead, it may be imposed by Local Planning Authorities as a planning condition.
– Water – Minimum water efficiency standards were introduced in 2010 and currently require that new homes are designed so that calculated water use is not more than 125 litres/person/day. This minimum standard is to be retained with an optional tighter standard of 110/litres/person/day available locally ‘where there is a clear local need’;
– Access – The new 2015 regulations substantially change Approved Document M to allow for new optional access requirements to be available locally. It defines 3 different sets of provisions;
• Category 1 – Visitable Dwellings;
• Category 2 – Accessible and adaptable dwellings;
• Category 3 – Wheelchair user dwellings.
Only 1 of the above requirements will apply to any given dwelling.
– Security – The new mandatory Part Q standard intends to introduce a level of consistency across different areas and consolidate around cost effective measures to reduce the incidence of burglary. It sets standards for doors and windows giving access to dwellings and conforms to the PAS 24 Standard.
Steve Evans mentioned that the review would see a rationalisation and streamlining of the mass of housing standards that house builders typically applied through the planning system. Optional building regulations, if selected by planners will be enforced by the Building Control Body (BCB).
Local Planning Authorities (LPA’s) will have to decide if the optional requirements are needed for Access, Water and Space, and will need a proven evidence base to require any optional standard. This has to be included and published in the Local Development Plan (LDP), where the requirement can be challenged. With only 30% of local authorities having a LDP in place, the remaining councils should act swiftly.
As part of the evidence base, LPA’s will need to answer a variety of questions regarding the new standards. For Access, they would have to answer what is the likely need for housing? What does the existing stock look like and what will be the impact on viability? It is expected that for Water, the authority will need to consult with the local water supplier, and for Space they need to understand the need, size and type of dwellings, and again, what is the viability assessing the impact of potentially larger dwellings.
Local Authorities beware
The ministerial statement given on the 25th March set out the government’s view on how housing standards should be applied. In the statement by the former Secretary of State at DCLG, Eric Pickles, he warned councils that the government will consider implementing legislation if they don’t give new housing standards ‘sufficient weight’. He also pointed out that LPA’s “should consider their existing plan policies on technical housing standards or requirements and update them as appropriate, for example through a partial local plan review, or a full neighbourhood plan replacement in due course.”
He continued by saying that:
“Local planning authorities may also need to review their local information requirements to ensure that technical detail that is no longer necessary is not requested to support planning applications”.
“If, in the light of experience in implementing this policy statement, the government considers that it is not being accorded sufficient weight by planning authorities, we will consider bringing forward new legislation to secure implementation”.
It’s important to note that only Building Regulations can be mandated, standards have to be ‘opt-in’, meaning that Local Authorities can take it up if they choose to and can prove need and viability. All targets would be set through planning but assessment would be carried out by the BCB.
Builders should also be aware of the removal of the top £5k fine for breaking Building Regulations and note that future fines could exceed this figure by some way. It is expected that the removal of the cap on fines will act as a big deterrent for any non-compliance.
Impacts on major builders
The introduction of the new Part Q for security did raise a concern, with one member in our discussion expecting an increase of around £350 per plot to meet the new requirement. The DCLG noted that implementing security standards is a relatively inexpensive exercise and wouldn’t place much burden on developers. But as those very developers, what was the BCISG response?
It was felt that it may impact more on builders as the tangible benefit to customers of a new home built to Part Q is not so obvious to a new home that is built without it. Unlike the space standard which the potential homeowner will recognise as providing more space in the home, doors and windows built to a higher standard are not necessarily a big enough differentiator enabling the builder to charge more for a Part Q property over a non-Part Q property. This will mean that the builder will probably have to absorb any additional costs themselves. The potential initial cost of around £350 (whilst not a definitive figure) will eventually, as Part Q becomes the norm, mean the majority of new doors and windows will be manufactured to the new standard in much the same way as following the changes to the requirements for boilers a few years ago. Hopefully, the initial burden will become less so.
In respect of the Space Standard, the impact on builders will overall be limited, as the additional costs they encounter in being asked to build larger dwellings will ultimately be passed onto the consumer in the actual costs of the new homes they want to buy.
Having to build larger dwellings than perhaps the builder had originally intended on a site will mean fewer homes overall on the site and larger floor spaces, which will mean the cost of each dwelling will increase in order for the builder to recover the cost of additional materials, and also to maintain a return on the site overall.
It will take time for the new regulations to bed-in, but with the deadline of October this year, the major developers and building control will certainly have their work cut out. For LA’s, this should prove yet another incentive to get those local plans in order. ■
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