Annex D - Specific ESP & OTS Design Issues

Part of: Housing Association Guide, Development Guide, Design standards

Existing Satisfactory Purchases (ESP) Design Issues

Associations must first read the guidance provided in the main Design Standards Guide before proceeding to consider the following issues.

The Minimum Standards as laid out in the Department's Design Guide apply to all schemes. In considering any Existing Satisfactory Purchase opportunities Associations should carefully consider Guide compliance issues before entering into any form of commitment to the property. It may be more appropriate to reject ESPs with significant compliance issues. Associations must make this assessment before applying for Scheme Approval.

Generally, Associations should ensure that ESPs provide an internal environment that is safe, comfortable, convenient, and capable of sensibly accommodating the necessary furniture, equipment and activities associated with specific rooms. For example, bedrooms for children and young people should have sufficient space for homework, play and hobbies, storing their belongings, entertaining friends, and spending time alone.

See Scheme Types for detailed criteria that must be applied to define an acquisition as an Existing Satisfactory Purchase for the purposes of NIHE (DPG) scheme approval.

Space standards   

As a general rule, Associations should aim to provide accommodation based on the TCI Area/Cost Band for General Needs housing, applicable for the persons/bedrooms required in the DfC Design Standards. Two TCI area bands above the minimum standard may be considered for approval by NIHE (DPG) provided Associations can justify the additional expenditure in terms of value for money. This will not lead to an automatic approval but will be considered by NIHE (DPG) in the context of the whole scheme.

There may be cases where an ESP almost meets the TCI area bands standard for the occupancy level initially identified. In such cases, the Associations should provide justification with their submission to facilitate the assessor in applying a reasonable judgement to the specific case.  In order to comply with the Department's space standards Associations need to be realistic with their assessment of proposed occupancy levels. The costs associated with the construction of en suite bathrooms and utility rooms will be considered in the context of the area band assessment.

For more information on measuring unit floor area go to Calculating Grant - Explanatory notes for Measuring Unit Floor Area (TCI Base Table)]

Associations are reminded of the Decent Homes Standard requirements found at Property Maintenance - Decent Homes Standard when considering the extent and type of repairs/ checks/ upgrading works. It is in the Associations interest to maintain the stock levels achieving this standard.

Non-qualifying costs for properties where floor area is within the additional two bands allowable

  • the fitting out of any en suite Bathroom is deemed as non-qualifying costs with costs identified by the Association’s cost consultant or suitably qualified and competent in-house staff
  • the fitting out of any Utility room - where all or part of utility is needed to meet kitchen requirements then all of the fitting out in utility is deemed as qualifying costs and
  • the fitting out of any Utility room - where the kitchen by itself meets requirements all fitting out of utility area is treated as non-qualifying costs with costs identified by the Association’s cost consultant or suitably qualified and competent in-house staff

Qualifying Floor area band is assessed 'as existing' by the Association’s valuer.

Non-qualifying costs for properties where floor area is larger than additional two bands allowable

Fitting out rules apply as above.

The Association’s brief to its valuer should clearly direct the valuer to identify a cost for any non-qualifying Floor area. Therefore two valuations are obtained by the Association.

  • qualifying floor area valued up to and including the two area bands allowable
  • the remaining floor area, over and above the two additional area bands, has a value identified and recorded as non-qualifying costs

Kitchens - Unit and worktop provision

Limited flexibility will be allowed in terms of the provision of kitchen units and worktops. Associations must clearly specify the reasons for any non-compliance with minimum standards. This will not lead to an automatic approval but will be considered by NIHE (DPG) in the context of the whole scheme.

It is essential for Associations to note that the above potential flexibility will only be applied in the context of a scheme which:

  • is fundamentally Guide compliant;
  • is designed appropriately to meet the needs of the intended occupants; and
  • represents value for money (VFM) as demonstrated by the scheme’s economic appraisal and cost assessment

Condition Report

The Association shall appoint an appropriately qualified and experienced consultant to assess the condition of an ESP, identify all necessary repairs/inspections/upgrading works including costs and future maintenance requirements. The Association shall ensure when appointing consultants, that the scope of service is adequately defined to minimise the risk associated with purchase and tenant occupancy of an ESP.

The level of service and resource required from a consultant will be dependent on the complexity of a property.  The scope and level of service required from a consultant in inspecting and reporting on the condition, required works and future maintenance of an apartment block will be greater than for a traditionally constructed house. An apartment block is likely to require input from a range of construction discipline professionals to provide assurance on its suitability for purchase and tenant occupancy by an Association

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors provide guidance on the surveying of residential properties and also for commercial properties which includes residential apartment blocks:

Associations should give consideration to a tailored version of a service level 3 survey as identified in the RICS Home Survey Standard for traditional non-complex residential properties, taking account of the statutory risks and hazards to the health and safety of tenants. The DFC inspection of Development for ESPs will reference the latest version of the above guidance when reviewing condition reports commissioned by an Association.

The Condition Report shall include a list of itemised repairs with associated costs per item for each property. The Association must clearly indicate the actual work items that the Association intends to carry out and the total of these costs must tally with the works costs stated on the TA1/NT1 form.

Associations are reminded of the list of miscellaneous works/ measures necessary to ensure Health and Safety of tenants/ others, referred to in Housing Maintenance (particular attention is required regarding Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) for existing housing stock).

Consultants should be appointed in compliance with the Procurement Guide.

Repairs

In undertaking repair/ checks/ upgrading works for ESPs the type and scale of works can vary, examples of larger scale works include installation of new windows, replacement kitchen/bathrooms and rewiring. Properties should be avoided that require extensive works such as:

  • extensions; and
  • structural alterations;

Works necessary to upgrade the property to meet the appropriate Need Group Design Standard should be carried out when:

  • the works have been procured in line with NIPPP and best practices procedures; and
  • only when the Association is in full ownership of the property.

Works are to be delivered within the permissible ESP cost threshold. The scenario may occur when non-essential works will be delivered at a future date, as part of an Association’s property maintenance programme.

Whilst this guidance cannot list all the possible works, the following should be included /checked in all cases where relevant:

  • new locks to front and rear doors;
  • window restrictors fitted (subject to building control/ fire safety assessment);
  • low-level glazing replaced with laminated safety glass;
  • electric services, consumer unit, fuses, trips etc. checked;
  • CO alarm fitted;
  • fire safety, e.g.
    • escape window(s) from first floor;
    • fire doors; and
    • hard wired mains smoke/heat detector(s).
  • plumbing and drainage facilities;
  • insulation of hot and cold water tanks;
  • cavity wall insulation (where survey confirms absence and suitability for CWI);
  • loft insulation - thickness, coverage and adequate ventilation;
  • heating appliance serviced/checked;
  • flues swept/checked;
  • property alterations having the relevant statutory approvals, and supplied by the Vendor to the Association;
  • building control guidance provides examples of work that require an application, which includes thermal alterations and installation of mains powered smoke detectors. Therefore Building Control should be consulted regarding the proposed works at an early stage and approval obtained where necessary;
  • any replacement external doors or windows must meet Secured by Design standards; and
  • for further guidance see Statutory Approval and Agreements

Bathroom or WC door

Associations must ensure that the bathroom door is outward opening and ensure that locks on WC and bathroom doors are ‘openable’ from the outside in an emergency. However, only where this is not practicable, the minimum acceptable alternative is for the bathroom door to be fitted with a suitable lock that can be opened from the outside.

See Lifetime Homes in Design Standards for more information.
Also see Table 3: LTH Additional Departmental Requirements

Tapered stairs

Although tapered treads are acceptable under current Northern Ireland Building Regulations Technical Booklet H, the HA Guide requires under 'LTH Additional requirements' (Table 3) in the section Design Standards that the design should incorporate ‘straight flight, dog-leg or L-shaped stairs' construction for all new build units.

The rationale behind this is to promote Health and Safety within the home based on advice provided by a number of relevant sources e.g. BS 5395 Pt1:2010 (Code of Practice for the design of stairs with straight flights and winders).

Realistically when dealing with existing satisfactory purchases (ESP’s) where stairs are already constructed and in place there is no alternative but to accept the status quo.

It is deemed unreasonable to totally preclude these property types because of tapered treads where in essence they meet all other criteria. Subject to the Association being satisfied that the accommodation will present no significant Health and Safety issues and/or potential Management problems they should be accepted.

Maintenance profile

It is in the Association's interest to obtain from the consultant, a projected maintenance expenditure profile for the property, i.e. a 3, 5, & 10 year projection. This would assist the Association in the long term financial planning/control of maintenance expenditure and to comply with the guidance set out in Governance Guide and Finance Guide. For further information see Housing Maintenance

Schemes that do not demonstrate fundamental design compliance or where there are VFM concerns will not be afforded these facilities. 

Off the Shelf Schemes (OTS) Design issues

Associations must first read the guidance provided in the main Design Standards Guide before proceeding to consider the following issues.

The Minimum Standards as laid out in the Department's Design Guide apply to all schemes. In considering any Off the Shelf opportunities Associations should carefully consider Guide compliance issues before entering into any form of commitment to the project. It may be more appropriate to reject OTS schemes with significant compliance issues. Associations must make this assessment before applying for Scheme Approval.

See Scheme approval for detailed criteria that must be applied to define a scheme as an Off the Shelf transaction for the purposes of the Department's scheme approval.

Below are some typical areas where Off the Shelf schemes often fail to comply with the full requirements of the guide but where some departure from the minimum standards will be considered as part of the Scheme Approval process. The intention is to allow associations some limited leeway from the minimum standards for schemes that otherwise are broadly ‘fit for purpose’ and to build in some flexibility to facilitate NIHE (DPG) in making a judgement on such matters in the context of the whole scheme.  

Space standards

OTS properties are new build properties built to current regulations. There may be cases where an OTS almost meets the TCI area bands standard for the occupancy level initially identified. In such cases, the Associations should provide justification with their submission to facilitate the assessor in applying a reasonable judgement to the specific case.  In order to comply with DSD space standards Associations need to be realistic with their assessment of proposed occupancy levels.

Two TCI area bands above the minimum standard may be considered for approval by NIHE (DPG) provided Associations can justify the additional expenditure in terms of value for money. This will not lead to an automatic approval but will be considered by NIHE (DPG) in the context of the whole scheme.

The costs associated with the construction of en-suite bathrooms and utility rooms will be considered in the context of the area band assessment.

Non-Qualifying Costs for properties where floor area is within the additional two bands allowable

  • the fitting out of any en-suite Bathroom is identified as non-qualifying costs with costs identified by the Association’s costs consultant or suitably qualified and competent in-house staff
  • the fitting out of Utility room - where all or part of utility is needed to meet kitchen requirements then all of the fitting out in utility is deemed as qualifying costs
  • the fitting out of utility room - where the kitchen by itself meets requirements all fitting out of utility area is treated as non-qualifying costs with costs identified by the Association’s costs consultant or suitably qualified and competent in-house staff

Qualifying Floor area band assessed 'as existing' by the Association’s valuer.

Non-Qualifying Costs for properties where floor area is larger than additional two bands allowable

Fitting out rules apply as above.

The Association’s brief to its valuer should clearly direct the valuer to identify a cost for any non-qualifying Floor area. Therefore two valuations are obtained by the Association.

  • qualifying floor area valued up to and including the two area bands allowable
  • the remaining floor area, over and above the two additional area bands, has a value identified and recorded as non-qualifying costs

Bedrooms - furniture layout   

Flexibility will be applied to the minimum standards for furniture layout provided Associations are realistic in terms of the occupancy level assessment of the dwelling and provided Health & Safety is not compromised. Associations must clearly specify the reasons for any non-compliance with minimum standards. This will not lead to an automatic approval but will be considered by NIHE (DPG) in the context of the whole scheme. For more information see Calculating Grant - Explanatory notes for Measuring Unit Floor Area (TCI Base Table)

Kitchens - Unit and worktop provision

Limited flexibility will be allowed in terms of the provision of kitchen units and worktops. Associations must clearly specify the reasons for any non-compliance with minimum standards. This will not lead to an automatic approval but will be considered by NIHE (DPG) in the context of the whole scheme.

It is essential for Associations to note that the above potential flexibility will only be applied in the context of a scheme which:

  • is fundamentally Guide compliant
  • is designed appropriately to meet the needs of the intended occupants and
  • represents value for money (VFM) as demonstrated by the scheme’s economic appraisal and cost assessment

Bathroom or WC door

Associations must ensure that the bathroom door is outward opening AND ensure that locks on WC and bathroom doors are ‘openable’ from the outside in an emergency. However, only where this is not practicable, the minimum acceptable alternative is for the bathroom door to be fitted with a suitable lock that can be opened from the outside.

See Safety in Design Standards for more information.
Also see Table 3: LTH Additional Departmental Requirements

Tapered Stairs

Although tapered treads are acceptable under current Northern Ireland Building Regulations Technical Booklet H, the HA Guide requires under LTH Additional requirements and in the Safety section 2.54 of the Design Standards Guide that the design should incorporate ‘straight flight, dog-leg or L-shaped stair construction for all new build units. The rationale behind this is to promote Health & Safety within the home based on advice provided by a number of relevant sources e.g. BS 5395 Pt1:2000 (Code of Practice for Stairs, Ladders & Walkways)

Realistically when dealing with off-the-shelf (OTS) properties where stairs are already constructed and in place there is no alternative but to accept the status quo. Associations should, however, request that if feasible, any tapered treads are fitted at the bottom of the stairs.

It is deemed unreasonable to totally preclude these property types because of tapered treads where in essence they meet all other criteria. Subject to the Association being satisfied that the accommodation will present no significant Health & Safety issues and/or potential Management problems they should be accepted.

Schemes that do not demonstrate fundamental design compliance or where there are VFM concerns will not be afforded these facilities.
 

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