Communities and Local Government CommitteeSupplementary written evidence submitted by the City of Bradford Metropolitan Council

Issues Relating to Developments Containing Rooms with Inadequate Natural Lighting

Planning consents have been given and works approved by independent building inspectors to convert large buildings into apartments. Concerns relate to the lack of direct natural lighting into some rooms being used as bedrooms. In line with the Housing Act 2004, Housing Professionals use an assessment tool called the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) to identify hazards and categorise risks and it is on this basis appropriate enforcement action is taken. Guidance on the use of the HHSRS in provided by Housing Health and Safety Rating System, Operating Guidance (Housing Act 2004 Guidance about inspections and assessment of hazards given under section 9) 2006. With regards lighting this category and associated hazard covers the threats to physical and mental health associated with inadequate natural and/or artificial light. It includes the psychological effect associated with the view from the dwelling through glazing.

The Housing Standards Team in Bradford has found flats containing rooms without windows being used as bedrooms, although in one case they were described on plans as “study rooms”. In another case the internal layout differed from the original plans and again an internal room was created without a window.

The health conditions which can be caused by inadequate light include:

Depression and psychological effects caused by a lack of natural light or the lack of a window with a view.

Eye strain from glare and a lack of adequate light (natural or artificial).

Flicker caused by certain types of artificial light causes discomfort and may cause photo convulsive reactions to those susceptible.

Therefore a lack of natural lighting to the main living areas of a dwelling/flat could present category 1 hazards and the Council would have a duty to take appropriate action even though the planning and building regulations requirements have been met and this hazard increases risks to the health and wellbeing of the occupants.

Although not a requirement, the absence of a window would normally not be acceptable under the terms of planning control. However it remains a local administrative choice to have such a policy, whereas it is a legal requirement for all Housing Professionals to use the HHSRS assessment tool and address the hazards associated with inadequate light.

The lack of a specific requirement for a window in habitable room within the Planning Legislation or the Buildings Regulations (which only requires a purged and background ventilation system for bedrooms) introduces immediate conflict when properties are inspected under Housing legislation post development.

Case study

This is a large office block that has been converted into apartments with planning consent. An Independent Building Inspector has signed off works. Plans show that there are internal bedrooms without natural lighting.

The development was completed and as there is no requirement for bedrooms to have natural lighting but must have some form of ventilation, which they did. Assessment under the HHSRS is likely to establish a Category 2 rather than a category 1 hazard due to the availability of natural lighting to the living room but the lack of lighting to the bedroom still presents increased risks.

Issues Regarding Inadequate Kitchen Provisions in Shared Houses and Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs)

There have been three recent cases which concern inadequate kitchen provisions in large developments principally designed for letting to students.

In all three cases relating, parts of the building (cluster flats) are classified as HMOs and the developers have sought Planning and Building Regulations approval. Neither of these regulatory services is concerned with the issues of poor layout or inadequate food preparation facilities as it is not within their control. However, the Council’s Housing Standard Team is tasked with regulating Houses in Multiple Occupation for which it has adopted its own standards (that are consistent with neighbouring Local Authorities) and also has duties/powers under the Housing Act 2004. The kitchen facilities provided in each of the developments failed to conform to the Council’s standards and improvements were necessary following assessment under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System. The Council’s adopted standard requires one set of kitchen facilities for every five residents.

Case Study

A recently constructed purpose-built development, built to a high standard, which included Town Houses specifically designed to house a group of up to 12 students.

The three relevant hazards identified under the HHSRS related to “Food Safety” and “Flames, Hot Surfaces etc” and “Crowding and Space”.

The deficiencies related to insufficient kitchen facilities within the dwellings for the intended number of occupants. To each house there were two sets of kitchen facilities provided in a single area designated for cooking, storage and preparation of food. The layout comprised two cookers sited adjacent to each other with very little space between each appliance and there was a similar arrangement with the two sinks. This in effect was a doubling up of facilities rather than two separate functional kitchen areas. These provisions have been made to facilitate sharing by up to 12 persons. The arrangement and layout effectively limited the number of persons being able to safely use the kitchen facilities at any particular time and there was an increased likelihood of injury etc associated with the above hazards.

The service has addressed the deficiencies by serving hazard awareness notices under the Housing Act 2004 in respect of the inadequate facilities and the poor layout. This did however cause significant consternation to the developers as they had taken advice from their own architects. The Council’s Planning and Building Control sections did not legislate for these requirements during the development. The Housing Standards Team were not however consulted by the developer on their specific requirements for shared facilities which resulted in retrospective enforcement which is never satisfactory.

Overlap of Enforcement Powers Relating to Fire Safety

A grey area of enforcement exists between the Fire & Rescue Service (West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service—WYF&RS) who enforce through the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order “RRO” and the Council under the Housing Act 2004.

For the purposes of HMOs and flats (both purpose built and conversions) the RRO places a duty on the Fire Service to take action in relation to means of escape in case of fire and deficiencies to the common parts of HMOs.

The Local Authority is responsible for licensing of larger higher risk HMOs and also for assessing HMOs using the HHSRS and taking appropriate action under the Housing Act 2004 to address more serious hazards, including that of fire.

Case study

The Housing Standards Team and the fire service were engaged in dealing with matters concerning a large purpose built block split into apartments. Each apartment is privately owned and there is a management company assigned to deal with the common parts. All relevant approvals were obtained at the time of completion of the development. However, the owners of the apartments have since changed the previous fire rated doors to non-fire resisting doors to the main flat door, thereby compromising the escape route. WYFRA do not have powers to gain entry to the flats under the RRO and there was quite a protracted debate about whether the deficient doors should be treated as part of the common parts or part of the flat and therefore who should lead on enforcement. This was further complicated by the fact that the doors are treated as part of the flat under the terms of the lease. The Fire Service eventually did take the lead on dealing with the deficient doors, but on the basis that the council would assist on matters of gaining entry. In order to deal with the grey areas of responsibility, the West Yorkshire Local Authorities and the WYFRA have developed and signed up to a protocol which establishes joint working relationships. The legislative overlap has been recognised and acknowledged by the Chief Fire Officers Association and a circular (2007/1009) was issued to Regional Fire Services and a protocol accompanied the circular. The template Protocol had been jointly endorsed by the Housing Minister and Fire and Rescue Service Minister at CLG and is recommended for adoption by all enforcing authorities.

The Lakanal House tragedy clearly demonstrates that breaches in the compartmentation of individual flats can lead to fire spreading very easily.

In order to carry out a thorough inspection of very large developments, the responsibility for inspection and enforcement with regards to fire safety deficiencies should rest with one Authority—and should rest with the authority or body which possesses the relevant expertise/knowledge in this area. The situation at the moment is that the Council would have to inspect the internal structure and layout of the flats and the Fire Service the common areas. As it stands the responsible person must carry out a thorough risk assessment and act upon the findings—it is often found that risk assessments do not cover internal structures of flats and are usually concentrated on the common escape route only.

These and similar concerns have also been highlighted in a Report to the Secretary of State by the Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser on the emerging issues arising from the fatal fire at Lakanal House, Camberwell on 3 July 2009 by Sir Ken Knight and the LABC Lakanal House CPD Briefing note May 2013.

Provision of Access to Loft Conversions and the Hazard of “Falls on Stairs”

It is a commonly-held assumption that if an element complies with the Building Regulations then it is satisfactory. However the Building Regulations are only technical guidance and our experience is that compliance with Building Regulations does not mean compliance with the requirements of the HHSRS. As well as the example of rooms without windows discussed above there are also potential issues with certain types of staircases.

Alternating tread stairs, also referred to as space saver stairs could be passed in certain circumstances for use in residential properties by Building Control particularly for use with loft conversions. Whilst the use of such staircases are allowed in limited circumstances it is possible that they become the subject of an assessment under the HHSRS and therefore could present Category 1 hazards due to the increased risk of a fall they create.

Should action be necessary under the Housing Act 2004 it would again cause the owner consternation as they would argue that approval has been given under the Building Regulations.

Case Study

The authority had one such case where a single room was accessed off such a staircase. The staircase was only short of handrails in meeting the requirements of Building Regulations. The Authority considered serving a prohibition order to address the hazard of falling on stairs but this was not necessary due to the cooperation demonstrated by the owner who duly removed the staircase.


The enforcement Authorities who work within the private rented sector are faced with various pieces of legislation, supported by technical guidance which is not always complementary, consistent and in some cases conflicts.

June 2013

Prepared 16th July 2013