A consultation on housing design and standards raises the prospect of smaller window sizes at new-build developments.
The “Future Building Standards” consultation document states:
Overheating of new homes is given as a reason. Have they never heard of shutters or blinds? Anyone who has lived or stayed in European homes (airbnbs will have greatly increased numbers) would have seen built-in shutter systems. An image within the document appears to show window size at upper floors of a home reduced into small boxes. One of the aesthetic horrors of much poor recent architecture was small square windows.
Many new builds now have reasonable window size across London after the dark days of previous decades:
This attempt to reduce window size is even more bizarre given experiences over the past year with many more people working from home. Natural daylight is essential for wellbeing. Commercial buildings such as hotels do not require decent window sizes which can be seen in hotels, which is less of an issue for short stays:
This consultation threatens a return to weak standards seen from the 1980s through to the 2000s when small windows were commonplace on residential new builds. Things have improved in the past 15 years but a return to the bad old days now appears possible, under the guise of thermal efficiency.
Small windows were not the only problems in recent decades. Many minimum Parker Morris standards for homes drawn up in 1961 – and covering room sizes, storage and heating – were ditched in 1980 under the new Conservative Government. New standards came into effect in London after 2011.
Small windows are sometimes seen at proposed blocks such as the one above in Greenwich, yet this is permissible with bigger windows on other sides of the structure. New plans could see this on all sides.
London has its own standards as a result of devolution. However this could be ominous: “We intend to work with the Greater London Authority to ensure that this new Building Regulation and the existing and emerging requirements in the London Plan work together and do not result in requirements which are contradictory or unduly difficult for developers to meet”.
One reason given for proposed smaller window size is having to open them in areas of high traffic and resulting noise.
If the current Government are so concerned about energy usage nationally a substantial investment in public transport would be seen – rather than attempts to continually cut in recent years.
This is the same Government that refuses to fund schemes such as the Bakerloo Line extension to reduce usage of roads.
In terms of overall energy usage they’re also refusing to greenlight further investment in railway electrification which again risks losing expertise built up over the past decade. The UK all but halted electrification from the 1990s to the 2010s losing a skilled workforce in the process. Now the same looks like happening again.
There’s HS2 – but most other developed nations built an extensive High Speed network long ago alongside investing in local transport. Even Crossrail is something the likes of Paris have built five of under the guise of RER Lines. Tokenistic announcements such as “reopening Beeching closures” wont get lines much more than half a platform and a three wheeled Pacer at current pitiful funding levels. It’s a PR stunt.
Even the announcement this week on the East-West line linking Oxford and Cambridge didn’t commit to electric trains, instead relying on untested technology – which by some estimates sees the use of a bespoke hydrogen system as less efficient than standard electrification. Almost nowhere in the world proposes a new line like this.
On a personal level I find these proposals inconceivable. I’ve moved around a lot as a private renter (often not through choice) and small windows have been awful in some of the places. Having lived in small newly-built flats on occasion, large windows were one of the things that made it tolerable. These plans will deeply affect liveability of many homes and the health of many, many people if they are approved. There’s much to learn from how European countries build, and the answer is not to reduce window size and natural light.
Not content with ever higher new house prices beyond the reach of people, making new homes less liveable offers a bleak prospect to many.