2A) Housing

The quality of housing relates to the way it is designed, the amount and flexibility of space, levels of comfort (neither too hot nor too cold), indoor air quality, sound insulation, ventilation, daylight levels and external space.

This has been a particularly important issue in the Covid-19 lockdowns where people are forced to spend much more time in their homes as chronicled by the Social Life/ Kaizen Partnership survey. This is partly about having enough space, but it is also about the flexibility to use space in different ways and this does not necessarily mean open-plan spaces.

Separate kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms can be used for different activities by various household members. There are also concerns with flats created using Permitted Development Rights, including flats with very small floor areas and even in a few cases no windows!

Space Standards

In 1961 the Parker Morris Committee detailed a set of housing standards in their report Homes for Today and Tomorrow. This was based on an ergonomic study of how different households lived. The standards became Government guidance in England and Wales in 1963 and similar guidance was adopted in Scotland. While the council estates built to these standards have not always succeeded, the internal design of the homes has rarely been surpassed.

After the abolition of Parker Morris in 1980, the size of UK housing fell. A RIBA report The Case for Space written in 2011 showed that the average private new build home in the UK was only 92% of the recommended minimum in Parker Morris. The authors conclude we have the smallest homes in Europe and that this has real consequences on our health, family relationships and the educational attainment of children.

Since that time many councils have introduced minimum space housing space standards. The most influential is the GLA’s London Housing Design Guide published in 2010 that covers the overall size of homes, circulation, the size of different rooms, storage, home working and external space.

In 2015 the Government published Nationally Described Space Standards. These apply to England and include minimum areas for new housing based on how many bedrooms, bed spaces and storeys the home has. These standards are the same as the London Guide and also include some guidance on minimum sizes for bedrooms and storage space. Local authorities are able to apply these standards through the planning system provided that they have considered viability and demonstrated ‘local need’. Currently, there are no equivalent space standards in Wales and Scotland.

Accessibility

An important aspect of housing standards is accessibility, not simply so people can con- tinue living in their homes if they become disabled, but also if they begin a family and need access for a double buggy or just want to move furniture and benefit from wider doorways and level access. Accessibility is currently covered by Building Regulations which are different in England and Scotland and Wales. Broadly there are three levels.

Visitable: Homes that are visitable by people with disabilities, particularly wheelchair users. This requires that there is level access to the main living room and a WC on the entrance floor.

• Lifetime Homes: Homes that are ‘accessible and adaptable’, meaning that if the occupant becomes disabled the house can be converted to their needs (also sometimes known as the ‘Lifetime Homes Standard’).

• Accessible: Homes that are either laid out to accommodate wheelchairs, but not yet fitted out, or are fully accessible for a wheelchair user.

The English Building Regulations only require developers to build to the first of these levels but local planning policy can go further. The Scottish regulations go a little further but stop short of the second level.

Accessible homes should be adapted to the needs of the occupier so it wouldn’t be sensible to apply to all housing. The debate is over Lifetime homes and many people argue that, because any of us could become disabled, all homes should be adaptable. This is something that communities may want to consider particularly where many local people are older. Given our ageing population, it is imperative that we plan for our future as well as current needs, so that all homes meet the needs of all ages.

Comfort

An important aspect of housing standards is accessibility, not simply so people can con- tinue living in their homes if they become disabled, but also if they begin a family and need access for a double buggy or just want to move furniture and benefit from wider doorways and level access. Accessibility is currently covered by Building Regulations which are different in England and Scotland and Wales. Broadly there are three levels.

For energy efficient homes care also needs care also needs to be taken to avoid overheating. Poor ventilation can harm the internal air quality  and lead to condensation and mould. Levels of daylight and sun have a huge impact on mental health and can be a particular problem on the lower floors of high-density schemes. Noise is also an important issue both between neighbouring properties and within the home between rooms.

These issues are dealt with through a combination of the Building Regulations and Planning. England, Scotland and Wales also have ‘Decent’ or ‘Quality’ Homes standards but these only apply to social housing, setting the minimum standards for energy efficiency, condition and warmth. Although these set minimum standards, communities may want to go further.

What You Can Do

Communities

Pressure your local planning authority to include the Nationally Described  Space Standards in local policy. Where groups are involved in developing new homes they should take an interest in the proposed house types and compare them to the London Housing Design Guide. It might even be possible to source some large sheets of cardboard and create full-scale models of the house interiors in a local community centre (see picture, left).

 

Developers and Designers

Include space standards in the brief for all new housing and consider whether it is appropriate to use Lifetime Homes. Undertake daylight and overshadowing studies, particularly in high-density schemes, considering both the development and existing accommodation in the surrounding area.

Councils

Include the Nationally Described Space Standards in local planning policy and consider the application of Lifetime Homes. Check the space standards of all planning applications and the implications of daylight and overshadowing.

Case study

2A) Derwenthorpe, York

Derwenthorpe properties are built to Lifetime Homes standards, to enable residents to remain in their home and adapt the space should they become less mobile or physically impaired.

Additionally, residents have the capacity to extend living spaces into the loft – a feature which enables the home to expand to meet the needs of a growing family or to accommodate live-work patterns.

There are over 500 homes on the 21.7 hectare site, with a mix of affordable rent and market sale properties. Derwenthorpe is a partnership scheme between the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust and Barratt Developments.

Post-occupancy evaluation has spanned six years and revealed that the majority of residents (89%) were satisfied with their homes, with residents more likely to be ‘very satisfied’ than the national average. Residents repeatedly complimented the space standards of the contemporary design. The generous architectural design of homes includes higher ceilings than most new-build properties and larger windows. The additional space and light are highly regarded by residents and impacts positively on their quality of life.

The homes have proved flexible enough to meet a variety of needs, with some modifying the original purpose of the room: for example, converting an upstairs bedroom into a study. People generally like having space for all members of the family, and many like the open plan nature of the living space.

Front gardens are small and ungated, so front doors seem more approachable, and lend to a strong sense of community. In addition, the variety of social clubs, mix of people and abundance of well-designed green space, including a tranquil nature pond, has led to a thriving neighbourhood.

“Great York Pre-Walk.” by robbophotos is licensed under CC BY 2.0, ©Tim Crocker