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Standards Within Dwellings

Standards Within Dwellings


26 May 1993


Introduction

The Council influences standards within dwellings by use of Housing Acts, and in particular the Council's policy on houses in multiple occupation, and by the Building Regulations and Town and Country Planning Acts.

There is evidence of an inconsistency between the standards being applied to house conversions and these being achieved in new build schemes.

This report sets out to provide guidelines for the achievement of acceptable standards within dwellings, whether provided by new built or conversion. These guidelines should as far as possible be consistent with standards in the Building Regulations and Housing Acts, and with the powers provided by the Town and Country Planning Acts.

Legal Powers and Standards


A. Town and Country Planning Acts

Planning permission is required for the creation of new dwellings, whether by new built or conversion. Permission is also required for the subdivision of existing dwellings into separate residential categories. Class C1 comprises hotels and hostels where there is no significant element of care. Permission would therefore be required if a house were occupied, for example by 6 people who were provided with services such as meals.

Class C2 comprises residential institutions which include hospitals, nursing homes, residential colleges, schools or training centres, and accommodation and care for people in need of care by reason of old age, disablement, past or present dependence on alcohol or drugs or past or present mental disorder and also includes personal care of children and medical care and treatment. Permission would therefore be required, for example, for the conversion of a large house to a home for the care of 12 people suffering from mental disorder (but see below).

Class C3 comprises a dwelling-house which is in use by a single person or by people living together as a family or by not more than 6 residents living together as a single household; including a household where care is provided for residents. The use class can be difficult to define at the margins. For example, 6 students living in a house but sharing kitchen, bathroom and living room and eating some meals together would fall into Class C3. However, where each bedroom had its own cooking facilities and where there was no communal room or kitchen it is probable that the house would be regarded as multi-occupied and thus permission would be needed.

PPG1 and 3 give guidance on the matters which can properly be taken into account in considering planning applications for residential development. PPG1 points out that planning legislation should not normally be used to secure objectives achievable under other legislation, for example, it is pointed out that the Building Regulations impose requirements on health and safety matters such as ventilation and insulation and access for the disabled, and it would not therefore be appropriate to impose separate requirements through planning powers.

PPG3 states that functional requirements within the development are for the most part a matter for the marketing judgement of developers. Such matters would include internal space standards. To the extent that regulation is justified the Government look to the Building Regulations and not the planning system to impose requirements.

These points are confirmed in a recent appeal decision in which a proposal to convert first floor storage accommodation to a self contained flat at 7 Concord Way was granted approval notwithstanding the Council's concerns about deficiencies in internal standards. The Inspector stressed that detailed attention to precise internal standards is not part of the planning function and quoted the sections of PPG1 and PPG3 which are referred to above.

Matters relating to the external environment of a dwelling are, however, a legitimate planning matter. Thus, it should be proper to consider the impact of noise, whether generated by roads or factories, or from within a conversion, for example where bedrooms adjoin a neighbours living room. It would also be proper to consider the outlook from a habitable room and privacy, for example, the Council recently succeeding at an appeal where dwellings had been created with an outlook which was limited by a wall a mere 6 feet from living room windows, and where privacy was seriously compromised. The Government has also issued guidance on criteria to ensure adequate daylight and sunlight for properties.

The Draft Deposit Unitary Development Plan contains policy H4 which states that 'Conversion or subdivision for residential properties... will only be permitted subject to the achievement of acceptable standards of internal space and facilities, and to avoidance of undue disturbance between occupiers.' The commentary recognises an overlap with other legislation but points to problems which can arise from details of internal design.

B. Building Regulations

These cover matters of health and safety such as means of escape, fire protection, heating, thermal insulation, ventilation, lighting, construction, washing and sanitary facilities, and noise transmission between walls and ceilings.

The Regulations do not specify minimum room sizes or ceiling heights, the Government being of the view that these are matters which can be left to marketing considerations.

C. Housing Acts

These lay down standards for the fitness of dwellings and set out standards on overcrowding.

Fitness encompasses such criteria as disrepair, structural stability and dampness. It also includes the need for adequate ventilation, heating, lighting, water supply, drainage, washing and toilet facilities and facilities for the preparation and cooking of food. There is clearly a degree of overlap here with the Building Regulations.

Standards are also set to ensure that dwellings are not overcrowded. For example, the minimum bedroom size for a child under 10 is 50sq feet (4.65m2), and for an adult it is 70 sq feet (6.51m2). The number of occupants is measured against the total number of habitable rooms in the dwelling (i.e. bedroom and living room) and account is taken of the size of these rooms.

Tameside has adopted its own standards for houses in multiple occupation. These apply to dwellings which are occupied by persons who do not form a single household and include bedsits, flat lets, hostels, lodging houses, bed and breakfast establishments and houses divided into self-contained flats. Standards encompass lighting, heating, ventilation, the provision of facilities for washing, cooking, toilets and refuse disposal. Standards are also set for room sizes, including bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and living rooms.

Tameside has also adopted a policy on standards for new built Housing Association developments on Council owned land or which are being supported by the Council. This policy includes standards on heating and insulation and also sets out the maximum occupancy which would be expected in properties of differing sizes.

D. Standards within new build dwellings

As has been pointed out standards within dwellings are dictated by the building regulations, but no standards are imposed relating, for example, to room sizes. An examination has been carried out of thirteen dwelling types which have recently been approved by the Planning and Development Services Committee. These varied from 1 bedroom Housing Association flats to 4 bedroom detached houses. All these dwellings complied with the Building Regulations, and were either nationally approved house types, or were being funded by, and presumably satisfactory for the Housing Corporation. The dwellings would meet Housing Act standards of fitness, and occupied at reasonable levels would not be overcrowded. However, two of the 1 bedroom flat types contained bedrooms which are smaller than the Housing Act guidelines for double bedrooms, although taking into account living rooms they would not be overcrowded.

When compared with the Council's standards for houses in multiple occupation every dwelling type contained 1 or more rooms which was below standard. The most common room to be below standard was the bathroom, but second bedrooms and kitchens were also often smaller than the Council's guidelines.

Conclusions

  1. Planning powers cannot, as a general rule, be used to enforce the internal space standards of dwellings or the level of facilities to be provided.
  2. The Building Regulations cannot be used to impose ceiling heights or space standards, but do govern health and safety issues such as ventilation, lighting etc.
  3. The Housing Acts define fitness and overcrowding in dwellings.
  4. The standards for room sizes employed by Tameside for houses in multiple occupation are not consistent with room sizes being provided in new build dwellings.
  5. It would be extremely difficult to justify at appeal some of Tameside's room size standards because of the inconsistent treatment of new build dwellings, and because of the Governments clear guidelines that internal space standards are not a planning matter.
  6. Planning powers can, however, be properly used to secure adequate living conditions in dwellings insofar as these are affected by sunlight, daylight, outlook, privacy and noise, and these factors can impinge upon the internal layout of dwellings, especially dwellings in multiple occupation.
  7. It would be inconsistent of the Council to approve planning applications for dwellings which could not comply with the Building Regulations or which would fail the Housing Act standards of fitness or overcrowding.

Recommendations

  1. That in considering applications for dwellings, whether by new build or conversion, an assessment should be made of living conditions within the prospective dwellings to take into account the following factors:-
    1. Sunlight and daylight for habitable rooms.
    2. Outlook from habitable rooms. This is to ensure that the main habitable rooms have a reasonable outlook. The Council has guidelines for the spacing between habitable room windows and blank walls.
    3. Privacy. This is to ensure that inhabitants have a reasonable degree of privacy. The Council has guidelines about the spacing between habitable room windows to secure privacy.
    4. Freedom from noise whether it be from externally generated sources, such as factories or roads, or from internally transmitted noise, such as noise from other units within a block of flats or a multi-occupied house.
  2. That liaison should take place as necessary between planning officers, building control officers, housing officers and the applicants where it is apparent that proposed dwellings will not conform to the building regulations or to the standards of fitness and overcrowding imposed by the Housing Acts.
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