The Housing White Paper could help meet the inclusive housing needs of older and disabled people, says Michelle Horn, Centre for Accessible Environments
We’re beginning to see a much-needed government focus on accessible housing in national policy-making, but how will this affect housebuilders and planners in practice? Will it really make any difference? We’ll need to see the detail, but those concerned with the housing needs of older and disabled people can be assured that the matter is firmly on the agenda.
The scale of the issue is significant now and will be exacerbated by our ageing population. With only 7% of homes in England meeting the most basic access standards, the options are as limited for young disabled people looking to buy their first home as they are for older people looking to ‘right size’ for their needs. What is clear is that new homes should be future-proofed, fit for purpose and able to adapt to life’s changing demands.
The policy context is changing. There’s plenty now for planners, developers and policy makers to ponder and we hope policy is amended to incorporate and require the available access standards.
What’s new this year?
The government’s flagship Housing White Paper was finally unveiled in February. It’s pleasing that the national housing strategy demonstrates a clear understanding of the lack of housing available that meets the diverse requirements of our communities. When considered alongside further explicit references to help local authorities deliver these policy aspirations, there seems to be clear recognition that the conditions for accessible housing growth could be improved. The measures outlined to improve these conditions for growth include:
• Strengthening national policy so that local planning authorities are expected to have clear policies for addressing the housing requirements of groups with particular needs, such as older and disabled people.
• Ensuring there is more consistent delivery of accessible housing. The government is introducing a new statutory duty through the Neighbourhood Planning Bill on the Secretary of State to produce guidance for local planning authorities on how their local development documents should meet the housing needs of older and disabled people.
• Setting a clear expectation that all planning authorities should set policies using the Optional Building Regulations (Approved Document M4 Cat 2 and 3) to bring forward an adequate supply of accessible housing to meet local and future need.
• Consulting on a new standard methodology for calculating ‘objectively assessed need’, and encourage councils to plan on this basis. The consultation outcome will be reflected in changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
If implemented the proposals could have an impact on the way that homes are planned and developed for the benefit of local people.
Statutory guidance for local authorities on accessible homes
We’ve called for increased support for local authorities with the new accessible housing standards in these pages before. At the Centre for Accessible Environments (CAE) we provide access consultancy and training for built environment professionals, this includes training in accessible housing standards. We continue to witness confusion amongst designers and inconsistencies in applying policies and interpreting the new Part M (Volume 1) Building Regulations and its Approved Document.
Ensuring that local authorities are properly equipped to meet this challenge is an essential step. So the passing of an amendment to the Neighbourhood Planning Bill to place a statutory duty on the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to provide local authorities with guidance to properly meet the housing needs of older and disabled people is very welcome.
We hope this guidance will be readily adopted by local authorities when considering their planning policies and helps to stimulate an increase in the supply of accessible homes.
Looking forward – regional devolution
Next month sees elections for mayors in devolved regions in Greater Manchester, Liverpool, West Midlands, Tees Valley, West of England and Cambridgeshire. New devolved regional administrations could see an impact on housing delivery and accessible homes.
Liverpool’s draft local plan aims “to ensure that new homes provide quality living environments for residents both now and in the future and to help deliver sustainable communities”. With plans to build all new homes to a default M4 Category 2 (broadly equivalent to the Lifetime Homes Standard) with a percentage designated to Category 3.
These regional plans build on the strong example of the London Plan. Since 2004, London has required all new homes to be built to the Lifetime Homes standard with 10% to wheelchair accessible standards. London has since pass-ported over to the new national accessible housing standards with 90% to Category 2 and 10% to Category 3. There has been cross-party support for this measure.
We hope the government and devolved regions will continue to progress with these plans which have accessible homes and inclusion at their heart. With an ageing population, any long-term attempt to tackle the housing crisis must consider this a top priority alongside the need to relieve the crisis of delayed hospital discharge.
We know that it’s vitally important that we increase the supply of mainstream accessible and easily adaptable homes across the country, so people have choices, independence and access to employment.
We’ll all look forward to seeing the detail of the proposals to build a more inclusive future.
Inclusive Environments Specialist
Centre for Accessible Environments
Tel: 020 7822 8232