The Housing Standards Review, concluded just over a month ago, was designed to streamline and simplify the planning process for creating quality, sustainable housing in the UK. Unfortunately, however, it appears to have caused a lot of confusion instead.
The main issue is that different policies and standards relating to domestic planning applications will be implemented at different times, until the introduction of zero carbon homes in late 2016. So, depending on what date a planning application is submitted and the content of the relevant planning authority’s Local Plan, different standards will apply.
At a time when housing demand is at its highest, there is a fear that private developers might delay submitting an application until the conditions for planning are most favourable for their projects. Or avoid submitting on the cusp of change in case their scheme gets deferred.
In London, standards for small housing developments are to be relaxed, which we feel sends completely the wrong message. Currently, in the London Plan, housing development must demonstrate a 35% improvement on Part L to secure planning consent. From the introduction of zero carbon homes in 2016, it will drop to 20%, with residual emissions being addressed using the Allowable Solutions mechanism. However, developments of fewer than 10 homes will be exempt from Allowable Solutions, and developers may delay submitting a planning application until then because it helps with viability.
Local authorities are effectively stuck in the middle of conflicting advice from central government and the GLA. There’s also a lack of guidance on how projects ‘prove’ themselves in future. With the Code for Sustainable Homes no longer enforced, how do developments demonstrate their sustainability? What criteria are sustainable elements measured against? How do we ensure issues such as materials, ecology and pollution are addressed?
It is up to Local Authorities to implement the changes in their Local Plans, so they need to keep on top of the changes. Until that happens and things settle down, legal challenges may have to set precedence. In the meantime, planning officers will become the go-to for information on requirements to ensure everyone is working to the same targets.
The key changes:
- From April 2015, Local Authorities can’t require new residential planning applications to achieve certification through the Code for Sustainable Homes.
- Where an existing planning policy references the Code, authorities may continue to apply a water efficiency standard equivalent to the new national technical standard.
- Flood resilience and resistance, and external noise will remain a matter to be dealt with through the planning process.
- From April 2015, local authorities are expected not to set conditions with energy requirements above a Code level 4 equivalent, contradicting the London Plan.
- From October 2015, Local Authorities can specify additional technical standards to be met through Building Regulations relating to access, internal space and water efficiency.
- When the Zero Carbon homes standard is introduced in late 2016, new housing developments will have to achieve an approximate saving of 20% over Part L 2013, with residual emissions being addressed using the Allowable Solutions mechanism
- Housing developments of 10 units or fewer will be exempt from Allowable Solutions.
- From the introduction of the Zero Carbon homes standard, Local Authorities cannot specify energy targets above Part L through planning policy. In London, if a housing development is 10 units or fewer, it maybe less onerous to wait until Part L 2016 is introduced.
- The timetable may change, although it is highly unlikely that this will happen prior to zero carbon homes being introduced in 2016.