- Levitt Bernstein, 203 pages, ISBN: 9780862975883, (NHF 2016)
Essential for Housing Professionals
The government’s Housing Standards Review has huge implications for what local planning authorities can and can’t ask for, and how performance in key “technical” areas will be assessed. Focussed on deregulation to boost housing supply, and after 5 years preparation, the new package of standards and regulations came into force just six months after publication. Everyone was supposed to switch from the existing technical standards - including the Code for Sustainable Homes - on 1st October 2015.
Understanding what the new measures mean in practice, how the new “optional requirements” for accessibility and water efficiency are invoked and assessed, and where we are with energy standards now that the “zero carbon” target has been called off, is what this book is about.
Going Beyond Government’s Narrow Remit
In commissioning the book, the National Housing Federation wanted to keep quality on the agenda by promoting good practice in a climate where all the talk is about numbers. Its brief was to create a definitive resource, or at least to provide a complete overview of what good housing means and signpost to other documents. In bringing everything together it aims to make the status of the various regulations, standards and additional good practice recommendations, crystal clear.
Simply structured, highly readable and supported by diagrams and annotated sketches, it is a book you can read from cover to cover or consult for specific information.
Three Main Elements
- Introduction, explaining objectives and context
- The standards and the rationale behind them
- Overview of managing the design process.
Covering “Placemaking and the public realm”, “Communal spaces” and “The home”, this is the most important section. Colour-coded to distinguish between these three categories they cover:
- nationally defined and universally applied (baseline regulations);
- nationally defined and locally applied (optional higher regulations and the nationally defined space standard that local authorities may apply subject to demonstrating need and viability);
- additional good practice standards (bespoke to the handbook but informed by existing standards).
It also reminds readers that other local planning policy standards (design issues such as density, mix, open space, car parking cycle storage etc.) need to be added for each project to complete the set.
Vital Extra Detail
Appendices provide vital extra detail in complex areas, like “energy” (including the pros and cons of combined heat and power and low or zero carbon technologies); “metrics and measurement” (how to measure gross internal floor area for the purposes of the new space standard and calculate density); and “CDM” (with a focus on the client’s duties). The glossary is a resource in itself, as is the index of further reading.
Affordable Housing Focus
Aimed primarily at housing associations and local authorities that are starting to develop again, the private sector can gain much by understanding its future ‘competition’. Indeed, since all projects are team efforts, often with mixed tenure, it has a much wider audience – designers, developers, builders, academics, students and anyone else with an interest in housing. Designing so as to mitigate management and service charges is also a recurring theme. What's the Levitt Bernstein view on the new housing standards?
The Author Architect’s View
Seeing regulatory baseline standards as necessary safeguards, extra (or higher) standards are seen as helpful in promoting good practice and paving the way for future regulation. Accordingly they feel very strongly about housing quality and the added value of good design, with good teamwork being vital to establish a common understanding of what’s realistic, and a shared will to deliver the best possible outcome. They would like to see contractors involved much earlier in the process (pre-planning) so that what is designed is what is built and vice-versa.
Good, Clear Project-specific Briefs Essential
These save everyone time. If changes are needed they can be tracked by making dated amendments. Clients have a right to change their mind and a duty to pay more when this means significant redesign. With clear aims, cost estimates are more likely to be accurate and there is more accountability if they aren’t.
The Handbook as a Tool
Rather than a book of rules it provides a framework for an early discussion about the kind of housing and the level of quality that’s right for the project. It should make it more likely that the end result lives up to the initial aspirations. It may not be feasible to meet all of the standards in the handbook (and it is a pretty long list) but it will at least have considered the consequences of not doing so.
Priced at £59.95 the handbook is available here
As will become clear to readers, the ‘New Rules’ don’t mean turning back to less satisfactory regulations or standards of performance. Indeed these remain to be ‘built upon’ for higher standards in future. As housing designs change, so they also need to embrace new and improved methods. One sector leading the way and providing builders with a new workforce to meet their needs is Timber Engineering. Timber Frame and related systems, like SIP’s and CLT, are now well established and reliable ways of doing this. However, engagement of timber frame designers and manufacturers at the earliest possible stage is essential to capture all the benefits this holds for developers, builders and home owners.