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Gove under pressure to scrap ‘foolish’ window planning rules

Michael Gove
Housing Secretary Michael Gove ordered officials to review the controversial rules last year - UK Parliament/Maria Unger

Michael Gove is under pressure to scrap health and safety regulations that are forcing homebuilders to shrink the size of windows to stop people falling out.

Developers up and down the country are building “gloomier” and “darker” homes due to rule changes brought in by the Government two years ago.

Upstairs windows in new-build homes must now be at least 1.1 metres (3.6ft) from the floor, leaving younger children unable to see outside.

The regulations were introduced over fears that hotter summers brought on by global warming will lead to people opening their windows more frequently, putting them at risk of falling out.

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Mr Gove ordered officials to review the controversial rules last year, and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities carried out a consultation with housebuilders, which closed last month.

The outcome of the review is expected soon, with insiders hopeful the “strange” window rules will be axed.

Nicholas Boys Smith, chairman of the Create Street think tank on urban design, said the regulations have “incentivised the building of extremely small windows”.

“People are not able to look out of their windows if they are sitting down,” he said.

“This means, in a normal-sized suburban house, first-floor rooms are darker and less pleasant.

“It’s making it nearly impossible to create houses that fit in with their 20th century, Edwardian, Georgian or Victorian predecessors. The majority of England’s most beloved buildings would violate these regulations.”

The Telegraph has been shown a number of examples of new homes built adhering to the rules, including a development in Didcot, Oxfordshire, where windows on the upper storeys appear squashed, seemingly as a result of the regulation changes.

Small windows
Building regulations mean new homes are being constructed with increasingly small windows

Mr Boys Smith, who says fewer sash windows are being incorporated into new designs, added: “There can be ways round some of these regulations but these cost money and take time, care and love.

“Our fear is that many housebuilders won’t invest in these for more budget properties, meaning that lower-income neighbourhoods will take most of the hit.

“Michael Gove was 100pc right to announce a review of these foolish regulations. I hope that the Government is able to scrap or materially improve them.”

Most developers trying to refrain from installing small first-floor windows instead install bars across the glass to prevent people falling out, or seal the lower sections of windows shut so they cannot be opened.

The height of window sills on upper floors already had to sit at least 80cm above the storey’s floor level, but the 2022 rules increased this requirement to 1.1 metres.

A government report used to justify the changes warned that “openings which are intended to be open for long periods to reduce overheating risk might pose a higher risk of falls from height”.

Rico Wojtulewicz, spokesman for the National Federation of Housebuilders, said the window regulations are “making it difficult and unviable to deliver unique and beautiful homes”.

“Local authorities and building control don’t fully understand the regulations so there is a lot of confusion out there,” he said.

“The industry raised these concerns years ago and we simply weren’t listened to, so it’s good that the Government may be listening now, before every building is subject to these rules.”

Results of the Government consultation are expected to be revealed in the coming days or weeks.

It did pose the question of bringing existing buildings into the fray, by suggesting that “change of use” buildings should also conform to the 1.1 metre rule. This would widen the scope to office block conversions or a house being split into multiple flats, for example.

However, critics of the stringent window regulations are confident the Government will water down its rules, or scrap them entirely.

A source said: “They are rethinking it, and I would be surprised if Michael Gove wants to go down in history as the man who did this.”

A spokesman for the Housing Department said: “We have recently closed a call for evidence on building regulations, including on windows and their safety.

“We are now considering the responses and will publish the Government response in due course.”