Scrap­ping stan­dards could re­sult in slums of the fu­ture

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY - Ric Blenkharn

THE govern­ment is scrap­ping a new set of house build­ing stan­dards that would have ap­plied to homes built with govern­ment fund­ing or on pub­lic land.

Hous­ing min­is­ter Grant Shapps an­nounced this week that he is get­ting rid of them to help speed up the build­ing process.

The RIBA Hous­ing Group, of which I’m a mem­ber, has been cam­paign­ing for some time to have one doc­u­ment that cov­ers all stan­dards, rather than the nu­mer­ous pub­li­ca­tion­snum­ber­ing be­tween 50-60, which cover leg­is­la­tion about af­ford­able homes.

The cam­paign is to en­sure that new af­ford­able hous­ing is built to a high stan­dard in terms of en­vi­ron­men­tal per­for­mance and in­ter­nal space, so that they stand the test of time and cater pos­i­tively for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Sadly, the con­cept of re­duc­ing stan­dards, with the hous­ing mar­ket be­ing led by the pri­vate de­vel­oper, is a ret­ro­grade step, and we will see a low­er­ing of de­sign qual­ity and as­pi­ra­tions. The logic of this lat­est ap­proach could re­sult in cheap, in­fe­rior prop­er­ties, which would be­come the slums of the fu­ture.

It’s so sad that we can’t plan for well-de­signed hous­ing that has good space stan­dards. Well-de­signed prop­erty has a pos­i­tive ben­e­fit to both users and the broader en­vi­ron­ment. It is a proven fact that de­cent hous­ing stock has a pos­i­tive phys­i­cal, so­cial and psy­cho­log­i­cal ben­e­fit to oc­cu­pants. Re­duc­ing or elim­i­nat­ing stan­dards will have a huge neg­a­tive im­pact on so­ci­ety. It makes me so an­gry when we could ac­tu­ally em­brace the sit­u­a­tion we are in with in­vest­ment in good af­ford­able hous­ing stock, which would also get the con­struc­tion in­dus­try mov­ing again.

RIBA Pres­i­dent Ruth Reed said of Grant Shapps’s an­nounce­ment: “This is a deeply trou­bling de­ci­sion that will have pro­found im­pli­ca­tions for com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try. The pro­posed HCA stan­dards were de­signed to raise the over­all qual­ity of pub­licly funded hous­ing and en­sure that new homes meet the most ba­sic of life­style needs – re­form was desperately needed.”

Re­becca Roberts-Hughes, pol­icy of­fi­cer for the Royal In­sti­tute of Bri­tish Ar­chi­tects (Riba), be­lieves it’s time for Bri­tish vol­ume builders to start think­ing big­ger and bet­ter.

In most things we wel­come minia­tur­i­sa­tion: com­put­ers, phones, cars, but not for our homes. Sadly, how­ever, this is the sit­u­a­tion that the Bri­tish house­buy­ing pub­lic faces.

Homes in Bri­tain have the small­est rooms in western Europe. The av­er­age floor space is al­most a quar­ter smaller than in Den­mark – western Europe’s most spa­cious coun­try – and we are be­com­ing ac­cus­tomed to liv­ing cheek-by-jowl in cramped, poky quar­ters.

Res­i­dents of many flats and houses across the coun­try don’t have enough room for iron­ing boards, stor­age or even so­cial­is­ing, ac­cord­ing to re­search last year from the Com­mis­sion for Ar­chi­tec­ture and the Built En­vi­ron­ment.

We have a pos­i­tive op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate sim­ple leg­is­la­tion to en­sure that all homes, ir­re­spec­tive of ten­ure, are de­signed for to­day’s liv­ing. Homes where we have space to live, work and play. The con­stant gripes that most peo­ple have in­clude a lack of stor­age space, bed­rooms too small to ac­com­mo­date any­thing more than a bed, cramped liv­ing ar­eas, and poor out­side space. It is not dif­fi­cult to de­sign prop­er­ties with good in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal stor­age, with in­ter­nal space that is prac­ti­cal and wel­com­ing, and that con­sider en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues.

I fear that we will see a re­duc­tion in qual­ity and space, with re­sult­ing so­cial prob­lems for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. I would en­cour­age de­bate and di­a­logue to en­sure that we de­sign and build new homes fully fit for pur­pose. Surely, it’s not much to ask?

Ric Blenkharn is co-founder of Bramhall Blenkharn Ar­chi­tects, Mal­ton.

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