New Housing Quality Standards

There is a lot of discussion and movement currently on the topic of Housing Quality Standards. With the Housing Standards Review a lot of questions were asked by DCLG, but in truth, many of them went unanswered. The cessation of the Code for Sustainable Homes leaves a gap that is not going to be filled by Building Regulations because low carbon housing, even very low carbon housing, is not the same as high quality housing.

With the announcement of the London housing Zones, which will be developed to the mayors Standards, the question must be asked, what the Mayors standards are going to be, if the Code is not to continue?

Most of the issues contained in the Code are not moving to Building Regulations, and the ones that are are not going to be as demanding as the requirements of the Code. My view is that we need more demanding standards than Building Regulations to offer customers choices in the quality of home they want to buy, to encourage innovation in the supply chain, and to point the industry towards future changes in regulation. In the Housing Standards Review, space standards, overheating and daylighting were all mentioned, all of them are important, but none of them are currently regulated. Since the outcome of the HSR there has been a further announcement that ‘minor’ development may not be subject to Building Regulations 2016, and we await further detail.

So we are moving towards a situation where instead of one national standard, we will have two, one for major development and one for minor development, and where local Core Strategies will continue to call for development to meet the Code for Sustainable Homes since it is a very expensive process to change Core Strategies these will remain in place for some time to come. In London we appear to have a different view where the London Plan will remain in place and Code Level 4 will continue to provide a benchmark for new homes, probably because any viability argument against providing sustainable homes would be unconvincing.

The BRE has announced a consultation on the future of sustainability standards, and is suggesting the preparation of a new BREEAM standard for homes which would work in a similar way to other BREEAM standards. The consultation is open until the 25th July and I encourage you to submit a response.

The Housing forum is running a project called Mind The Gap which is trialling the idea of Performance Labelling for Homes. This is using BIM to produce a series of metrics about home performance characteristics, such as space, daylight, energy use, running costs. Could we create a market where house purchasers and tenants compared existing and new homes using the same benchmarks?

My view is that we need a much more ‘consumer’ focussed standard than the Code for Sustainable Homes ever was. The Code never became a part of the house purchasing story, many housebuilders who build Code homes never even attempted to use this as part of their marketing material. The Code was seen as an imposition that added cost but never as a benefit that added value. Any new standard must bridge this gap.

I am on the Technical Advisory Board of ActiveHouse, a pan-European effort to encourage the delivery of homes that are substantially higher quality than normal development but in terms that most home occupiers would understand: warmer, brighter, more spacious, healthier, cheaper to run. These are terms that any purchaser or future tenant can understand and we need to work together to develop a housing industry that speaks about and markets development in those terms, rather than focussing entirely on CO2 emissions which, though vitally important,  are baffling to the majority of people.

This week I spoke about this at the CIH annual conference in Manchester in a Kingspan sponsored event, together with Shelagh Grant of the Housing Forum and Martin Townsend of the BRE. The room agreed that we need standards that go beyond Building Regulations, and my belief is that these standards will only work if we in the industry create them for our customers. I will be hosting a series of workshops at HTA on this topic over the coming months, let me know if you want to be involved.

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