Introduction and design objective

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


This section of the Department's Housing Association Development Guide sets out the Design Standards required by the Department for all new build social housing schemes that receive (Housing Association Grant (HAG) or utilise Disposal Proceeds Funds (DPF).  The aim of social housing for rent is to provide suitable quality housing stock for people with housing needs, at affordable rents and within value for money criteria.  The purpose of design guidance is to give a clear indication of the design standards that should be achieved for all development schemes applying for grant funding. Primarily aimed at new build, the design guidance is applicable to housing provision for all scheme types however procured. This does not remove the responsibility to ensure that each scheme complies with the relevant statutory controls as determined by Department for Infrastructure Planning, Building Control, TransportNI, NI Water etc.

Given scarce resources and the need to achieve ‘more-for-less’ in delivering the Department’s Social Housing Development Programme (SHDP), ‘Facing the Future: Housing Strategy for Northern Ireland’(2012-2017) included a proposal to reduce the regulatory burden on the construction of social housing. It also aimed to harmonise standards with those used for private housing development.

In reflecting the new policy direction these new build Design Standards aim to be less prescriptive, limit the extent of its mandatory requirements and increasingly rely on the statutory framework and good practice design guidance.  Where appropriate reference is made to various industry standards and provides a web link or reference document rather than duplicating the information.

Whilst housing associations must design to the stated space standards (area bands) and comply with the provisions of the current Northern Ireland Building Regulations (NI) 2012 there are flexibilities elsewhere in the Standards. For example, the decision to achieve formal environmental assessment under BREEAM UK New Construction (Multi-Residential)  rests solely with the developing association, with a modest supplementary multiplier being available for those choosing to do so.

Designing to CFSHs Level 4 or above is no longer a formal objective of the SHDP. Designing to Lifetime Homes and Secured by Design standards will be the norm unless it can be demonstrated that full compliance with these standards would not be commercially viable.  In addition, associations should aim to design around physical site constraints and limit, where possible, the extent of building services, including that of mechanical ventilation.  Baseline Total Cost Indicators (TCIs) have been set to reflect these revisions.

All schemes should be designed to be sensitive to their environment and contribute to good quality of life by ensuring they are: safe and inclusive; well planned, constructed and maintained, and offer equality of opportunity and services to all.

Associations are also encouraged to deliver better value for money through greater involvement of the supply chain in the development of innovative and cost effective design solutions. The use of a competitive design and build construction procurement approach may contribute to the achievement of these aims.

Design objective

The Design objective is to ensure that Associations receiving Housing Association Grant (HAG) or utilising Disposals Proceeds Funds, produce well designed social housing which will be fit for purpose and ensure that the end product will:

  • provide housing accommodation suitable for the intended need-group, set in a safe, secure and visually attractive environment
  • contribute to policies on sustainability, regeneration strategies, and a stable and balanced community
  • cater as far as possible, for tenants’ present and future needs by the provision of accessible/lifetime homes environment to ensure the home is flexible, adaptable and accessible
  • provide a user-friendly quality product of sufficient size, and with account taken of arrangement, safety and security, energy efficiency, fittings and equipment, construction etc, that will aim to deliver tenant satisfaction, and pride and participation in the care of the dwelling and its environs and
  • deliver value for money by striking an appropriate balance between the capital and maintenance costs of various design solutions and choice of construction materials

In meeting the Design Objective, associations should incorporate into their development brief the Design Standards referred to in this Guide. In addition, the good practice recommendations referred to in the Guide should also be considered by and, where appropriate, be incorporated into the development brief with the aim of producing appropriate good quality housing to meet the identified needs.

Deviations from the design standards

The Design Standards set out in this Guide apply to all schemes and associations will be required to certify – on a scheme-by-scheme basis - that the scheme complies with these design standards.  However, the Department accepts that strict adherence to the standards could result in abortive works, substantial delay and a level of cost disproportionate to the benefits.  Where, in a new build scheme an Association proposes to depart from a specific design standard, the departure, and reasons for the departure, must be clearly documented and DPG approval should be sought at the earliest possible opportunity.

In relation to the application of the standards to Rehabilitation, Re-improvement, Off the Shelf (OTS) and Existing Satisfactory Purchase (ESP) Schemes, Associations should endeavour, in so far as it is reasonably practicable, to ensure that the standards set out in this Guide are addressed in these schemes types to satisfy the particular need group requirements. Again, the Department accepts that strict adherence could result in abortive works, substantial delay and a level of cost disproportionate to the benefits. In such schemes, an association must document the case as to why it is necessary to disregard particular items and that they are satisfied the resulting scheme will provide suitable accommodation for the people to be housed. DPG will consider the appropriateness of such schemes as part of the Technical Assessment element of the Scheme Approval process, and will communicate to housing associations any areas for enhancement of the proposals prior to confirmation of Scheme Approval. In some exceptional instances, DPG may consider that the deviations from the Design Standards are such that the proposals are unsuitable for Approval.

It would be considered that OTS and ESP schemes may be more appropriate for the provision of the General Needs category of accommodation unless an ESP property was originally constructed to meet a Supported Housing Category or can be reasonably adapted to meet current standards for Older People or the Supported Housing categories.  When an Association deviates from the design standards, the Association shall appropriately consult, review and assess the prospective tenant’s requirements. This examination should ensure that any design standard deviation(s) does not negatively impact the tenant’s occupation, enjoyment and use of the property..

In addition, associations should retain all relevant information which provides the basis for all ‘Deviations from the Design Standards’ and evidence of associated approvals, on file for audit purposes. 

Back to top