General Needs Housing applies to general family housing and dwellings for singles and couples.   The accommodation is normally provided in self – contained bungalow, house, flat or maisonette form. Singles may however be accommodated in 'shared' dwelling form.  

The TCI Area/Cost bands applicable to self-contained and shared General Needs accommodation are described in the detail in the General Needs Housing TCI Area/ Cost Bands Applicable in Table 1 below. The background information and the detail of calculation of grant is contained under Calculating Grant.

The Design Standards are predicated upon new build General Needs dwellings as this is the majority of the provision that is funded by the Department.  In addition to the space standards in Table 1 the design standards that must be adhered to in relation to General Needs dwellings are covered in the specific sections as follows:

  • internal environment
  • lifetime Homes
  • energy and sustainability
  • security
  • layout and external environment

The General Needs design standards apply to other new build provision where the accommodation to be provided is similar to that of General Needs in all aspects other than categorisation (see 4.1 above).  However some of the categories or types of accommodation, other than General Needs housing, require additional specific and supplementary design features and standards over and above the core General Needs standards.  Guidance on these additional standards which apply to Wheelchair Housing, Elderly Housing and Supported Housing are included elsewhere in the Design Standards and Annexes ‘A’ to ‘C’. The TCI Area/Cost Bands applicable and any special design features for these accommodation types are also included.

Shared accommodation is accommodation predominantly for single persons, which includes a degree of sharing between tenants of some facilities (eg kitchen, bathrooms, living room) and may include an element of support and/or additional communal facilities.

Bungalow and single storey provision - associations should note that with effect from 1 April 2007 restrictions apply to bungalow and single storey development in social housing provision.  Generally, residential building land is in short supply and expensive.  As bungalow/single storey provision is wasteful in terms of land use required compared to other forms of development it will only be grant-aided in very exceptional circumstances, e.g. where the Association can demonstrate that an alternative design solution would not be appropriate for the need or where specific planning restrictions apply.

In designing apartments associations should pay particular attention to the provision of adequate storage, drying space and balcony / terrace private space.  Associations should contain the cost of providing these facilities within the relevant TCI.

Apartment blocks need to provide reasonable vertical circulation for all, whether its residents carrying shopping, or those who have small children, are pregnant, or have mobility issues due to age or disability. Where practicable, Associations should aim to provide lift access in apartment blocks to all dwellings above entrance level. As a minimum however, a wheelchair accessible lift must be provided in blocks of flats with three or more floors in addition to the entrance level (i.e. four or more storeys). Furthermore, to allow for breakdown or routine maintenance, two independently operating lifts must be provided in blocks of flats with seven or more floors in addition to the entrance level (i.e. eight or more storeys). All wheelchair useable homes above ground floor shall be served by a minimum of two lifts. Lift requirements for blocks containing homes for CAT1 older people are included in Table 7.

There is also a general need to optimise housing density in all schemes in order to maximise the potential of the site and to ensure that schemes represent value for money. They should be economical, efficient and sustainable. For further information on density see Planning and Housing Density.

Flexibility is a key design objective that can be used to help reduce the risk of obsolescence, improve sustainability, reduce whole life costs, and encourage the creation of stable, flexible communities.

From the outset, in addition to incorporating Lifetime Homes criteria that improve access and adaptability for those with physical impairment, Associations are encouraged to consider how their homes might be adapted in the future to meet residents’ changing circumstances by, for example, designing homes to be expanded or reconfigured to cope with a growing family.

In addition, flexible design has the potential to allow Housing Associations to reconfigure their stock to take account of varying housing needs and to reduce the risk of voids. View the Flexible Design Report which presents the case for flexible design and illustrates how this might be incorporated into one bedroom units.

Where, due to aspects such as site restrictions or Planning decisions, the design solution for terrace housing requires the use of pend(s), and extra floor area exceeding the prescribed area band is required to avoid putting pressure on ground floor living space, an Association may be permitted to claim one additional area band. Where the additional area band is claimed it is expected that pends will be shared between adjacent dwellings and that the extra area required is sufficient to justify the increased grant, otherwise the higher area band may not be approved.

Internal environment

Generally, the aim for any new housing design should be to ensure that the internal environment is safe, comfortable, convenient, and capable of sensibly accommodating the necessary furniture and equipment associated with specific room activities and be suitable for the particular needs of the intended user groups. When planning the internal environment of new accommodation associations need to consider:

  • the activities likely to take place in each space
  • the furniture and equipment necessary for these activities
  • aspect and prospect
  • communication with other parts of the home
  • occupiers lifestyle and
  • the method of space heating

Note: The minimum width of a living area is to be 3.0m (preferably 3.2m)

Kitchens are not only the main workplace in a home but provide the focal point for much social activity.  The design of the kitchen should, therefore, recognise its use as a family room.  The approaches to kitchen design are well documented and centre around meal preparation, including the following:

  • storage and preparation of food
  • cooking and serving
  • waste disposal and washing up and
  • clothes washing and drying

The dimensions of units should comply with BS 6750: 1986 and appliances with BS EN 116: 2004.  The equipment and fittings include the following: the sink unit, base units below plus wall cupboards and spaces for washing machine (unless accommodated elsewhere) and tall fridge.  The minimum standards for Kitchen Storage Units and Appliance spaces are noted in Table 2.

Space standards

In addition to General Needs TCI Area/ Cost Bands in Table 1, Associations must ensure that their architect/designer takes cognisance of the following space standards and achieves the standards noted as ‘essential’. Where indicated as ‘desirable’ the standard is good practice which, though optional, is expected to be met where it appears readily achievable:

  • Internal Floor Area (essential):

Associations must comply with General Needs TCI Area/ Cost Bands in Table 1.

  • Built-in storage* (essential):

Associations must provide 1m2 of built-in storage for a 1P1B dwelling, 1.5m2 for 2P1B, and then a further 0.5m2 of storage for each additional bedroom. Storage below a stair will only be counted as 1m2. Other storage areas with headroom of 900-1500mm will be counted at 50% of its floor area, and any store with headroom below 900mm won’t be counted. This storage requirement is in addition to the tall kitchen unit and any hot press or linen storage.

  • Bedrooms sizes* (desirable):

Associations should aim to provide single bedrooms with a minimum floor area of 7.5m2 and width of 2.15m, and double or twin bedrooms with a minimum floor area of 11.5m2 and width of 2.55m wide (2.75m wide for the principal bedroom).

  • Combined living/kitchen/dining floor area* (desirable):

Associations should aim to provide a combined living/kitchen/dining floor area of 22m2 for a 2-person dwelling with a further 2m2 for each additional bedspace. The living space should equate to approx. 55% of the total L/K/D area.

* These standards are based on Section 3.1 of the National Housing Federation’s ‘Housing Standards Handbook: A good practice guide to design quality for affordable housing providers' (ISBN 978 0 86297 588 3). Associations should refer to this document for further details.

The designer should also ensure that all legislative requirements are fully addressed within the proposed accommodation.

Regarding deviations from these Design Standards, including these ‘Internal Environment’ and ‘space standard’ requirements, associations are referred to the notes ‘Deviations from the Design Standards’.

The revised space standards apply with immediate effect but deviations to the storage element may be permitted where designs have already progressed prior to this Guide amendment.”

Lifetime Homes

Lifetime Homes (LTH) consists of standards that have been developed to ensure that a home is flexible, adaptable and accessible - and that there is added comfort, convenience and safety for tenants and visitors.

The Department requires all new build (Acquisition & Works and Works only) self-contained bungalows, ground floor flats, flats served with a lift and 2 & 3-storey houses to be designed to LTH criteria and ‘LTH Additional Departmental Requirements’.

Flats above ground floor level without a lift, should also be designed to lifetime homes criteria as far as is practicable.  In exceptional circumstances associations may submit reasons for non-compliance with LTH criteria to DPG for consideration.  

The ‘LTH Additional Departmental Requirements’ are noted in Table 3: Lifetime Homes (LTH) - Additional Departmental Requirements 

From 1 April 2012 the LTH standards and the ‘LTH Additional Departmental Requirements’ became part of the core design standards for all new build dwellings. An adjustment has therefore been made to TCI Baselines for the additional cost incurred in complying with the LTH requirements and, consequently the previously available supplementary multiplier for in relation to these is no longer available.

Regarding deviations from these Design Standards, including the ‘LTH’ requirements, associations are referred to the notes under ‘Deviations from the Design Standards’.

Energy and Sustainability


Sustainable Communities

The Department aims to promote thriving, vibrant and sustainable communities. These are often defined as places where people want to live and work, now and in the future. They meet the diverse needs of existing and future residents, are sensitive to their environment, and contribute to a high quality of life.

Sustainable Housing Design

Good housing design has a key role in meeting the aspirations of sustainable communities and protecting our environment, stimulating economic growth, maximising wellbeing and achieving social inclusion. Therefore, in terms of sustainable design of social housing, the key objectives are:

  • ensuring homes that are liveable, comfortable, healthy, safe, and help improve people’s overall quality of life
  • protecting the environment and specifically reducing the effects of greenhouse gases and impacts of climate change
  • helping to tackle fuel poverty by reducing resident outgoings on fuel; and
  • leading by example and helping residents to live sustainably

There are a large number of key initiatives, guidance and statutory legislation that have been produced to assist in creating better living environments for all and achieving sustainable design. Key considerations for Sustainable Housing include:

  • Health and wellbeing
    Design should aim to maximise natural daylighting and minimise unwanted noise; provide good quality private outdoor space and usable communal green space; support the creation of community and a 'sense of place'; encourage active lifestyles; and to integrate with the surroundings / landscape.
  • ‘Fabric first’
    Focusing efforts on maximising the insulation and air-tightness of the long-life building fabric is considered more sustainable over the long term by helping to ‘future proof’ homes and reduce reliance on ‘bolt-on’ technologies that may be complicated to operate, expensive to maintain and likely to become obsolete.
  • Indoor air quality
    Indoor air quality has a major influence on the health, comfort and well-being of building occupants. Inadequate ventilation can lead to a buildup of CO2 and other pollutants as well as high humidity, condensation and mould growth.
  • Sustainable water use
    Water is a finite natural resource that needs to be used efficiently. Reducing water use will decrease the energy consumed and the carbon emissions associated with distributing and processing water, while sustainable drainage (e.g. SuDS) will help with managing flood risk and improving water quality.
  • Sustainable materials
    Materials used in construction should have low environmental impact and reduce resource depletion and waste. Materials should be long-life, have low embodied energy, non-toxic, from renewable and sustainable sources, recycled or capable of reuse/recycling in future.
  • Use of passive solar design and shading
    A design strategy that maximises solar gain in winter but avoids overheating in summer.
  • Flexibility and adaptability
    Design to accommodate residents’ changing needs and circumstances, such as mobility or a growing family, and change of tenants over the life of the dwelling, and therefore reduce obsolescence. 

Further guidance on designing for sustainability can be found in the Ministerial Advisory Group’s (MAG) paper on the ‘Principles of Sustainable Design (May 2014).

Energy and Sustainability

Improving our energy efficiency is a key strategic objective for Government and forms part of a global effort to combat climate change. In the UK the Government has signed up to various international commitments to reduce its CO2 emissions as it works towards achieving its statutory target under the Climate Change Act (2008) of an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 compared with 1990 levels. These commitments, in which the housing sector will play a vital role, include the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive 2010/31/EU (EPBD recast) which is the main legislative instrument, at European level, for improving the energy efficiency of buildings. A key element of the EPBD is its requirement for all new buildings, including housing, to be ‘Nearly Zero-Energy Buildings’ by 31st December 2020.

Environmental Assessment

Supplementary multipliers may be claimed by developing Associations who choose to design and construct to the following optional environmental assessment standards:

  • BREEAM UK New Construction -  Multi-Residential (2018):
    Applies where new build, shared, multi-residential schemes achieve a rating of ‘Very Good’ or better
    BREEAM UK Refurbishment - Domestic Buildings (2014):
    Applies where major rehabilitation/re-improvement schemes achieve a rating of ‘Very Good’ or better.

Code for Sustainable Homes (CFSHs)

Since 2012-13 there has been no mandatory requirement under the SHDP for new build social housing to have formal assessment under CFSHs. Subsequently in March 2015, as a result of the Housing Standards Review, the CFSHs was withdrawn by the UK Government for all new housing developments in England aside from the management of legacy cases. In light of this winding down of the CFSHs, the Department is withdrawing the supplementary multiplier with effect from 1st April 2017.


  • BREEAM UK (2014) New construction- Non-domestic buildings (NI): Technical Manual, Watford: BRE (Applies to multi-residential). Available at BREEAM website 
  • BREEAM UK (2014) Refurbishment- Domestic Buildings: Technical Manual, Watford: BRE. Available at BREEAM website
  • DCLG (2010) Code for sustainable homes technical guide, London: Communities and Local Government Publications (withdrawn). Available at .gov website
  • DRD (2016) Sustainable Water: A Long-Term Water Strategy for NI (2015-2040), Belfast. Available at the Department for Infrastructure website
  • Northern Ireland Housing Executive (2015) Energy efficiency good practice guide for refurbishment of the residential sector (low rise), Belfast: NIHE. Available at the NIHE website 
  • Zero Carbon Hub (2016) Fabric Energy Efficiency Standard, Available at Zero Carbon Hub website 


Guidance on EcoHomes is available for Housing Associations and designers on:

Regarding deviations from these Design Standards, including these ‘Energy and Sustainability’ requirements, associations are referred to the notes - Deviations from the design standards.


Secured by Design (SBD) is a national police initiative to encourage the adoption of crime prevention measures in the initial design process, so as to reduce the opportunity for crime and the fear of crime, and to create a safer and more secure environment.

Secured by Design has three differing levels of security award - gold, silver and bronze. The SBD Gold Award is awarded to new developments or refurbishment schemes that have achieved compliance with the ‘Development Layout and Design’ requirements within Section 1, together with the ‘Physical Security of the Home’ requirements in Section 2a, and supplemented by the ‘Additional Features for the SBD Gold Award’ requirements within Section 3, where applicable. Section 3 relates to features that will not apply to every scheme (e.g. bicycle stores, underground car parking, etc.) but if provided, they should meet the requirements within the section to ensure that the full award is achieved.

The Department requires all new build and major rehabilitation and re-improvement schemes seeking HAG funding, to achieve the SBD Gold Award where possible. If a development has a unique design (e.g. listed building) which precludes the use of conventional enhanced security door and window products, and it contains no more than four homes, then a SBD Silver Award will be acceptable. In this scenario the requirements of Section 2b apply rather than Section 2a.

Advice on SBD is available from the Designing Out Crime Officer (DOCO) who is part of the PSNI Crime Prevention Branch. Advice on SBD is available free to associations. However, the Association will normally be responsible for any associated Consultant’s fees. The Department requires all new build, and major rehabilitation and re-improvement schemes seeking HAG funding, to achieve the ‘Secured by Design’ award.  


Layout and external environment

In relation to housing development layout and external environment, PPS7 offers specific guidance in relation to considerations such as site context and characteristics; site layout; local neighbourhood facilities; form, materials and detailing; density; landscape design; public and private open space; movement; parking; privacy and security from crime.  

The statement advises that ‘The design of house types and other buildings, the relationship between them, their relationship to streets and the spaces created around them will all strongly influence the character of the overall site and its surroundings and contribute significantly to the quality and identity of the new residential environment '(para 4.14).

In preparing development layouts associations should have regard for site context and in particular the relationship of the new housing development to the local natural and built environment and the need for these to be integrated into the overall design concept.  

Such integration extends to the use of holistic and consistent design approach to public areas and dwellings, one overall designed environment, using a common palette of materials with consistency of colour and tone for buildings and hard landscape.  This integration is likely to be critical in establishing a successful design for the housing development.

Layout design should aim to generate an identity of place which helps foster residents’ sense of ownership and responsibility for the development thereby contributing to the creation of a sustainable community.  

Development layouts should help ensure that dwellings / residents benefit from natural views; orientation and sunlight, thereby making best use of the site for energy efficiency and conservation; well planned and managed external spaces; and landscaping and buildings design which contribute to shelter and noise control.

The design of roads, footpaths, drainage, site servicing, landscaping and associated specifications will be determined by (the required or approved) housing density, statutory legislation and in agreement with the relevant department or agency eg PlanningNI, Transport NI, NI Water etc.

During design development associations should pro-actively engage at an early stage with the relevant department or agency in order to address on-site design issues, the requisition of off-site infrastructure and identify potential adoption issues.  Associations must retain on file for audit purposes details of all engagements, and matters discussed, with the relevant department or agency. Associations should prepare minutes of meetings held and keep a record on file of sending these to the relevant department or agency.

The main sources of external noise are road, air and rail traffic, industry and neighbours.  Action should be taken at the design stage through the design of the development layout and, as appropriate, site features and design and orientation of dwellings to reduce noise to acceptable levels.  Advice on sound insulation measures is contained in BRE Digests 338 and 379.

Residents need to feel safe and secure in and around their homes and in public areas of the development.  It is important therefore to ensure that public areas are suitably related, but clearly delineated from private and semi-private space to create a zone of defensible space over which residents has both responsibility and control.  Also:

  • spaces between dwellings should be designed to minimise the amount of public open space and reinforce the feeling of territoriality and personal ownership by the residents
  • the area of defensible space will normally be in the form of semi-private and private spaces around all self-contained houses and bungalows
  • rear gardens should be designed to back onto each other for mutual protection and rear access paths/public open spaces should be avoided. Provision of external clothes drying facilities, outside water tap and outside light to be provided as appropriate. In the treatment of boundaries it is essential to provide a clear distinction between private and public space to avoid abuse or vandalism and
  • for apartment developments private open space may be provided in the form of communal gardens where appropriate management arrangements are agreed
  • see also Security above

The location of refuse and fuel storage should be located for the maximum convenience of users and comply with the requirements of the local Council and fuel delivery service.  External storage, where provided, should be convenient and secure but, where practicable, be located in an inconspicuous position or integrated with the design of the buildings.

A hierarchy of spaces will enable the development to be more accessible to both residents and visitors, and enable the effective transition from public to private zones.  Proposals regarding vehicular and pedestrian movement should be an integral part of the overall design of the development and should be appropriate for the residents’ needs in terms of safety, convenience, security and scale; they should seek to reduce reliance on the private car, foster movement by pedestrians and cyclists and provide convenient access to public transport.

The amount of car parking required in any development will be agreed with PlanningNI according to the specific characteristics of the development, its location and having regard to published standards.  Car parking provision should be adequate for the need and be both convenient and secure.  Car parking provision:

  • will normally be in the form of open hard-standings, immediately adjacent and preferably to the front of dwelling private space, where there is direct supervision from habitable rooms
  • should preferably be in-curtilage or limited to small groups of communal spaces to discourage parking by others
  • should not compromise defensible space and the impact of ‘in-curtilage’ parking requires careful consideration to reduce its intrusion into the development and
  • should, where feasible, have reasonable proximity to an external tap (provision of the external tap considered to be best practice for all ground floor dwellings)

For apartment developments communal bicycle stands may be required.

Soft and hard landscaping designs should make the most of existing features and give due consideration to durability, low maintenance, security and environmental impact when specifying materials, components and planting for development and in-curtilage solutions.

Generally the responsibility for the provision of play and recreation areas belongs with the local Council and contact should be made in this respect in the first instance.  Where the need for play and recreation areas has been established it should be appropriate to the long-term needs of the residents, be safe and convenient for use, and not create a nuisance to adjacent dwellings.  

Provision will normally depend on the housing mix, particularly the number of family dwellings and the proximity of alternative public facilities.  Responsibility for providing, maintaining and insuring any play areas and equipment provided must be resolved at an early stage of a project.

Associations should aim to achieve cost effective solutions in developing their layout and external environment solutions. The cost of achieving success in all of these areas may not be always be achievable, in such circumstances an optimum balance should be sought.  Particular attention should be paid to designing around particularly difficult topography or other physical constraints.

Regarding deviations from these Design Standards, including these ‘External Environment’ requirements, associations are referred to the notes under ‘Deviations from the Design Standards’.

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