Eos Architects Director Jaime Moya looks back at the Welsh Government consultation on proposed changes to Development Quality Requirements
04 Oct 2016
Earlier this year the Welsh Government launched its consultation on the Implementation of Mandatory Quality Standards for new, rehabilitated and existing homes. The consultation period ran from 18th January to 11th April and the consultation document was divided into Part A and Part B, which invited responses to a series of specific questions in relation to the introduction of mandatory standards based on the existing Welsh Housing Quality Standards (WHQS) and on the existing Development Quality Requirements (DQR), first published in 2005, respectively.
Of particular interest to architects and their housing association clients involved in the provision of affordable new homes were the proposed changes to the existing DQR guidance described in Part B. The proposed new standard would be largely based on the 2005 standard but amended to reflect recommendations made to Welsh Ministers in 2014 by their DQR Review Group and the draft guidance was duly attached to the consultation document.
For those of us involved at the ‘nuts and bolts’ end of the design process; ensuring such things as room sizes and furniture layouts are compliant, wheelchair turning circles are achievable, accessible routes uncompromised and that kitchens and cupboards provide adequate storage capacities, the long awaited revisions to DQR had been keenly anticipated because the 2005 document relied heavily upon reference to standards published by other organisations but had failed to keep pace with changes in those standards, such as Lifetime Homes and Code for Sustainable Homes (CfSH). Instead, some of these changes were covered by Welsh Government Circulars, whilst others such as conflicts between some of the detailed requirements of DQR, Lifetime Homes and CfSH, were just not addressed and relied upon architects providing reasoned justifications for the design decisions made in respect of the many grey areas that had evolved over the years.
Needless to say, the ad-hoc and often conflicting suite of design guidance documents being used as regulatory standards for the design of new, grant funded affordable dwellings in Wales was, and remains, less than satisfactory and a unified standard therefore seemed like a very good idea. However, it seems that whilst the proposed amendments to DQR do indeed simplify the guidance and make it more accessible as a result, some of the conflicts and lack of clarity arising from references to other design guidance have not been fully addressed.
To take just one example, the bedroom furniture clearances in the new DQR standard still conflict with those prescribed by Lifetime Homes Criterion 7. Is it acceptable for a dressing table to be placed under a window or to encroach on the 750mm zone required by LTH at the foot of a bed as the proposed guidance currently implies? Do the DQR furniture offsets apply or the LTH ones? These are the sort of design decisions that have a direct impact on both build cost and on the quality of life of residents, often in inverse proportion.
At the time of writing, the consultation ended 5 months and 3 weeks ago and the Welsh Government website states that the consultation responses are currently being reviewed. Hopefully the remaining grey areas will have become ‘black and white’ when the Mandatory Quality Standard for new homes is published in its final form
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