Government changes could lead to 'rabbit hutch homes'
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Local Government and also in Central Government, Housing, Regulation
British Property Federation calls for 'level-headed dialogue' over planning reforms
A council is warning that government proposals to change the standards developers are obliged to meet when building new houses could lead to "rabbit hutch homes".
A response drafted by councillor Marie Pye, Waltham Forest Council's cabinet member for housing, raises various concerns about the potential impact of the coalition’s plans put forward in its housing standards review consultation.
Cllr Pye said: “There're some really big issues at stake here and I’m very worried that in their relentless drive to supposedly ‘cut down on red tape’ the government are giving developers a pass on maintaining the sorts of high standards we are used to in Waltham Forest.”
The government is proposing relaxing requirements around accessibility, with the suggestion of a move away from ‘up-front’ investment towards a more responsive approach.
“What we’re talking about here is simple measures that mean homes are designed and built in such a way as to be easily adapted should the needs of the occupants require it," commented cllr Pye.
“One in five of the population have some form of disability, so it makes sense that new homes are built in such a way as to make it easy to adapt if a disabled tenant takes up residence or someone develops a disability.
“By taking away the insistence to make homes easily adaptable, it can mean a great deal of expense in re-designing a home that has been built without that in mind. Simple measures such as wider doors, and the wall next to the stairs being able to take a handrail, can save thousands in significant alterations down the line."
Other measures discussed in the consultation include a move towards a lower standard on security, which the council believes could lead to unacceptably insecure homes, particularly in cities. It would be up to councils to prove that ‘exceptional circumstances’ required more than a basic standard.
“This sort of suggestion just shunts the cost and the bureaucracy onto the local council,” said Cllr Pye. “Having to prove the need for a higher standard would be a cumbersome process that would mean jumping through all sorts of hoops.”
The consultation also floats the idea of national minimum space standards, governing the use of land and the density of developments. The council says it currently has its own minimum space standards which "respond to the needs of the borough and provide a good standard that could easily be compromised and lead to smaller homes in Waltham Forest".
Other areas of concern for the council include water efficiency, with a standard proposed for building regulations which is lower than the existing Waltham Forest requirement.
Concerning energy, there is a suggestion of no higher standards for insulation levels, the scrapping of renewables targets and no limit within the planning system around connecting to low carbon heat networks. It is also proposed that developers will not have to meet a nationally described standard with regard to materials, instead allowing it to be ‘market-led’.
“I’ve written to say how concerned I am about these proposals on a number of levels,” said Cllr Pye. “Eradicating red-tape in Whitehall, only to replicate it in councils up and down the country, doesn’t seem to me a solution at all.
“Likewise reconciling the government’s localism agenda with a series of measures that seem to take the control out of the hands of local authorities seems somewhat counter-intuitive to say the least. Finally, I don’t really see that there is much, if any, co-ordination between this consultation and the parallel consultation on the review of planning guidance.”