Housing and Planning Bill - Report (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 25th April 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 6:30 pm, 25th April 2016

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for tabling this amendment. The issue of space standards in new homes is worthy of detailed consideration and I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss it.

We are all committed to building the new homes that are needed to meet the needs of our population, both today and in the future, but increased supply must be allied with high-quality, well-designed homes suited to the needs of 21st-century households. I am aware of concerns that increased housebuilding should not be allowed to result in pressure to decrease the size of new homes. The Government have already taken some steps to help ensure that these pressures can be managed.

In March last year the Government published for the first time a national space standard, setting out requirements for the internal size of new homes. This was a significant step forward which built upon work by many local authorities, most notably the GLA. At the same time, the introduction of the nationally described space standard has simplified compliance for homebuilders by consolidating the many and varied standards that were being used by different planning authorities across England.

As my noble friend Lord Deben said, currently it is a decision for individual planning authorities as to whether the national space standard should be required of new housing. This is sensible, as he said, given the differences that exist between local authority areas and the need to balance competing demands for housing development. This provides flexibility of application at a local level, and there is a sound argument that this remains the right approach.

Ensuring that new homes have sufficient internal space is an important element of achieving the good design that we all want. This is a matter of concern not just for the Government or this House but for home owners and communities across the country, who are determined that new housing built in their local area should be flexible, functional and of a size suited to household needs. That is why the NPPF and the nationally described space standard continue to support local communities that wish to influence the type of development coming forward in their local area.

The importance of space standards was reflected in the Lyons Housing Review, which looked at a wide range of housing issues and recommended that consideration be given to making minimum space standards mandatory. The Labour Party committed to taking forward that recommendation in its manifesto, and I recognise that this is the approach that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, probably wish to see taken forward.

However, the Lyons review also recognised that further work was needed to avoid unintended consequences that might impact on supply in some areas. In particular, the Lyons review recognised that space standards could impact more on the market for flats than on the market for houses, could create barriers for smaller builders, and would have the greatest effect on the affordable end of the housing market. These are sensible considerations. While we must avoid any race to the bottom, we must also be mindful of how other aspects of housing supply might be affected by introducing the requirements suggested in the amendment. I would now like to propose a way forward.

Now that the national space standard has been in place for more than a year, we agree that the time is right to assess how it is being used by local authorities. We therefore propose to undertake a review to see how the space standard is operating in practice. This will be completed by next spring and we will be happy to report back to the House on its findings and recommendations. We propose that this review should involve the Building Regulations Advisory Committee—BRAC. BRAC brings together a wide range of expertise from the construction sector to provide independent advice to Ministers on matters relating to building regulations. I hope that engaging its services as part of this review provides suitable reassurance that the Government respect and understand the intent behind the amendment. As part of this process we would want to involve representatives of organisations with a particular interest, such as the Royal Institute of British Architects, which has long campaigned on this issue. I would be very happy to receive suggestions from the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, about the groups they might wish to see involved.

Lastly, I assure the House that powers already exist in the Building Act 1984 to put a requirement for minimum space standards in the building regulations if it is deemed necessary to do so. As a result, there is no need for an amendment to put it in the Bill. I hope that with those words the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.