The Government today published its proposals to review the housing standards in the hope that this will ‘free up the building industry, support growth and get high quality homes built’. Over 100 standards currently available to local councils, such as Lifetime Homes, face abolition.
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’. While this will undoubtedly cut red tape, it’s likely to be seen as bad news by localists: if the proposals go ahead local communities, via their councils, will have far less scope to develop standards for the homes built in their locality. For example, many of London’s design standards could be at risk.
The good news is that the Government is willing to consider a national space standard for all new homes.
Government acknowledges evidence that homes in England have been shrinking and that England now has the smallest new homes in Western Europe. Most importantly, the Government acknowledges Shelter’s recent research showing that setting minimum space standards would help to reduce opposition to new housing development by addressing worries about ‘rabbit hutch homes’ blighting local neighbourhoods.
Our research shows that the public want something done about the housing crisis, and accept that many thousands more new homes should be built, providing much-needed employment. But a big sticking point in public support is the quality of new homes. People are far more likely to support house building in their area if the homes are large enough to meet the needs of a growing family.
With most people unable to buy their first home until they’re well into their 30s, new-build ‘starter homes’ are quickly occupied by young families with no financial scope to move up the ladder. We need to build the sort of good quality, solid family homes that were produced in the 50s and 60s and are still seen as desirable family homes today. The homes we build today will be our legacy many decades into the future. Setting minimum space standards would ensure this. It’s a no-brainer, as our European neighbours have concluded – we’re one of the few countries in Western Europe not to take this approach.
The house builders are less keen. The consultation says: ‘many but not all home builders strongly believe that the market should remain free to meet local demand and that space standards should not be applicable to private housing development at all’.
And herein lies the problem: home builders argue that people are happy with design and size of new build homes – but those likely to oppose development say they are not. The Government’s seems to think that the market will deliver the quality, spacious homes families want on its own, but is ‘interested in gauging the extent of support’.
We continue to argue that the only way to make space standards effective – and financially viable to developers and buyers – is to set mandatory national standards in the Building Regulations. This way, there is a level playing field for every community, every council and every developer – the cost of extra space is pushed back onto the owner of the land. We must build on the precedent set by the London Space Standards. The RIBA’s Without Space and Light campaign will be urging people to respond to the consultation to indicate their support for national space standards.