HUDU has responded to two recent Government (DCLG) consultations – one on greater flexibility for changes of use and the other on housing standards. Both form part of the Government’s drive to make the planning system work more efficiently and effectively, and both have implications for health and wellbeing.
The consultation on housing standards proposes to ‘wind down’ the Code for Sustainable Homes and to rationalise housing standards into a set of national standards in advance of integrating them into building regulations.
Housing standards are a key tool to ensure that new homes are healthy and inclusive. Overall, the consultation review focuses on economic costs ahead of environmental and social impacts and costs. The costs to the NHS of poor housing and avoidable personal injuries in homes are well known. However, good quality homes also create the conditions for healthy, active lifestyles.
It is proposed that local authorities would have to demonstrate that local standards are strictly necessary and justifiable. HUDU suggests that any ‘viability’ test should go beyond finance and development costs and take into account health and social impacts.
The consultation proposes that space standards are linked to access standards. Whilst related, HUDU suggests that space standards should be developed independently of access standards, using the London Plan standards as good practice. The review also excludes some important standards, such as those relating to internal sound insulation and the layout of homes and communal areas, for example by making stairs more visible.
The Government is seeking to encourage housing growth and assist town centre renewal by removing the requirement for planning permission to change the use of existing buildings. In the latest consultation, it is proposing that retail uses are allowed to change to housing and to banks and building societies without the need for planning permission. HUDU questions whether this is needed given existing powers, such as neighbourhood development orders and draws attention to the need for a wider review of the A2 use class, given concerns over a proliferation of betting shops.