Thanks to successful lobbying by the HBF, it is a case of Carry On Regardless as housebuilders dodge yet another bullet, this time it is building larger ‘fit for purpose’ new homes.
As with most things that effect housebuilders, the new National Space Standards for new homes have been watered-down to such an extent that it is doubtful that any of the major housebuilders will ever be required (or forced) to design new homes that adhere to the new space standards. Not that this matters as the space standards have been set so low, that the size of the average new homes currently being built all but comply anyway!
Unlike other aspects of the Housing Standards Review, the space standard has not been incorporated into the Building Regulations. Establishing compliance and any enforcement action will rest with the local planning authority.
The National Planning Policy Framework confirmed local planning authorities should identify the size, type, tenure and range of housing required in particular locations, reflecting local demand. Where a local planning authority (or qualifying body) wishes to require an internal space standard, they should only do so by referencing the Nationally Described Space Standard in their Local Plan. As most will have already completed their Local Plan for the next five years, it is highly unlikely that any Local Authority will now revise it to stipulate specific requirements regarding space standards.
PPG Paragraph: 020 Reference ID: 56-020-20150327 states:
“Where Local Authorities identify a need for internal space standards (as all should!) they must provide justification for requiring internal space policies. Tacking account of the need, viability and timing.
Need – evidence should be provided on the size and type of dwellings currently being built in the area, to ensure the impacts of adopting space standards can be properly assessed, for example, to consider any potential impact on meeting demand for starter homes.
Viability – the impact of adopting the space standard should be considered as part of a plan’s viability assessment with account taken of the impact of potentially larger dwellings on land supply. Local planning authorities will also need to consider impacts on affordability where a space standard is to be adopted.
Timing – there may need to be a reasonable transitional period following adoption of a new policy on space standards to enable developers to factor the cost of space standards into future land acquisitions.”
The new optional space standards have set an incredibly low bar. The size of a one-bedroom home for one person is just 39sqm (420sqft) rising to 50sqm if two people share – 269sqft per person. Compared with the space standard for five people sharing a three-bedroom new home; 86sqm (925sqft) – just 185sqft per person and 31% less space than 2 people sharing the smallest new home! For each storey, around 7sqm is added to the minimum area, which barely allows for a standard staircase and landing access. Currently, housebuilders are building one-bedroom homes at an average size of 46sqm and three-bedroom homes averaging of 88.5sqm so the new space standards can hardly be considered any tangible real increase. (Source: RIBA ‘A Case for Space’)
The gross internal area of a dwelling is defined as the total floor area between the internal faces of perimeter walls. So partitions, structural elements, cupboards, ducts, flights of stairs and even the void above stairs can form part of the space standards gross floor area required. Single bedrooms should be at least 2.15m wide x 3.488m (7.5sqm) and double bedroom 2.55m wide x 4.51m (11.5sqm) but built in wardrobes and cupboards can be included in the gross area requirement.
The Nationally Described Space Standards assume that the homes sized to meet these low minimum standards will actually be occupied by the number of people used for the design. The reality is that any new home could end up with more occupants than it was designed to accommodate.
Currently, the average size of a new build home in Britain is just 76sqm (818sqft). The average UK house, excluding new builds, is 95.7sqm (1045sqft) so the new space standards don’t even require housebuilders to match the current historic average size of UK homes.
Viability arguments by housebuilders cannot be justified. Land will normally only command a price equating to between quarter and a third of the market price of the homes which the planners allow to be built on it. So fewer but larger homes, perhaps each selling for a little more, will in reality mean the land is valued lower than if more, but smaller homes were built. As regardless of size, each home still has only one kitchen, one front door, etc the actual cost of building the overall development should be marginally similar. It is always more economically profitable to build fewer houses selling for higher prices, than many smaller homes for less money. Especially so when the land is acquired at lower price. Building better larger homes that people want to buy will save on sales and marketing costs too. But the housebuilders’ greed gets in the way of sanity and more homes per acre to them mean higher profit. Yet the likes of Berkeley build fewer but larger homes and make the highest profit margin.
The Government missed an opportunity to force an increase the size of new homes and the quality of life for buyers who live in them by limiting Help to Buy (state aid) only to new homes that are 15% larger than the space standards. But if there was still any doubt that housebuilders’ interests and profitability have been prioritised ahead of new homebuyer’s needs, these statements are clear enough!
Communities minister Stephen Williams, said: “Under the old system of housing standards, builders faced a confusing and contradictory mass of measures. The coalition government is introducing a simple, easy to understand set of requirements. These will help housebuilders and councils to work together to build more of the high quality and sustainable homes for people right across the country.”
Communities secretary Eric Pickles, added: “This rationalises the many differing existing standards into a simpler, streamlined system which will reduce burdens and help bring forward much needed new homes.”