Christina McGill, Head of Communications, Habinteg shares her wish list following the snap General Election and calls for accessible housing to be a priority
Now that the general election is over, we can once again start to think about what we hope to see from government policy. Although there is not much clarity at the time of writing, what we do know is the nature of a hung parliament means that the Queen’s Speech will be somewhat different to the manifestos published by the parties. So in the wake of these significant parliamentary changes, it is important that accessible and inclusive housing doesn’t get overlooked, especially given the momentum and cross-party support achieved before the election.
With just 7% of homes in the UK meeting basic accessibility standards, the shortage of accessible housing is significant. Inaccessible housing has a substantial impact on the lives of many older and disabled people.
Alok Sharma has been appointed as the new Housing and Planning Minister, replacing predecessor Gavin Barwell in the role at the Department for Communities and Local Government. Barwell is now the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff in Downing Street. We hope that these personnel changes will enhance rather than detract from the strong direction of travel in seeking to meet the challenges of the housing crisis in an inclusive way.
With this in mind, the government should:
- Require Part M(4) Cat 2 (accessible, adaptable) as the default standard for new homes countrywide (as is currently the case in London), with a suitable provision of Category 3 (wheelchair standard) homes.
- Review the definition of viability contained in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to balance the financial interest of developers and the long-term financial interests of the public purse.
- Require local authorities to report in their annual returns the number of new homes built according to each access category now enshrined in building regulations.
- Provide local authorities with more direction and support how best to build their plans to deliver for the needs of their whole population including approved sources of data and projections.
These proposals would ensure a greater level of accessibility and flexibility in the new housing we build and should be integral to planning for our ageing population in the future, as well as for meeting the access needs of our current demographic.
We are not starting with a blank canvas
We were pleased to see accessible housing, the needs of older and disabled people and reference to the accessible housing standards explicit in February’s Housing White Paper. However, it is now up to the government to ensure that these issues continue to receive the attention they deserve in upcoming policy decisions with new Ministers in their posts. We would like to see the proposals form the basis of a Housing Bill that has access and inclusion at its heart.
The strategy set out in the White Paper outlined the need for clear policies for addressing the housing needs of particular groups, such as older and disabled people, and called for guidance for local planning authorities on how to meet this need. The White Paper also identified the importance of ensuring more consistency in the delivery of accessible housing and set an expectation that the optional Building Standards Part M (4) category 2 and 3 should be used to set policies which help ensure an adequate supply of accessible housing. The White Paper called for every area to have an up-to-date plan, to put communities back in charge of getting the homes they want and need – with specific reference to young professionals, older people, growing families, people on low incomes, and disabled people.
The Neighbourhood Planning Act, which passed into law earlier this year, now requires the Secretary of State to provide guidance to Local Authorities on meeting the housing needs of older and disabled people. This is a significant step towards ensuring that accessibility, inclusion, and the requirements of local people are considered within the planning process at a local level with national direction. However, what this guidance looks like, and how it will be used, is yet to be determined. We will be working hard to ensure the guidance is fit for purpose and effective in delivering plans for an adequate supply of mainstream, accessible housing in each local authority area.
Earlier this year, the Women and Equalities Select Committee inquiry into disability and the built environment concluded that the government must work strategically to improve access and inclusion in the built environment, through public procurement, fiscal initiatives and transparently modelling best practice. The Select Committee also suggested that all new homes should be built to access standard Part M (4) Category 2 as default, supporting Habinteg’s assertion that the current Part M (4) Category 1 default is not fully ‘visitable’ and therefore inadequate. The inquiry also concluded that “the Government should make it easier for local planning authorities to follow this lead through revision and clarification of national planning policy and guidance”, and that Local Plans are a crucial means of assessing and delivering accessible housing in line with local need.
We believe that homes, buildings and communities should be accessible to all. New homes should offer flexibility and adaptability to easily meet a household’s changing needs, whether that be a family with young children, somebody returning home after a hospital stay, a young disabled person looking to move for employment, or an older person with increasing mobility impairment. I’m sure the Minister’s constituency correspondence will mention some of these issues and government policy could help to alleviate them.
We would like to see the government prioritise the housing requirements of older and disabled people, within a wider nationwide housing strategy which recognises and appreciates the diversity of our population. We’d like to see the new Housing Minister commit to working with access experts, disability organisations and bodies representing older people to help bring about inclusive policies.
Amongst the political uncertainty, this much is clear; we need many more accessible homes.
Head of Communications
Tel: 020 7822 8700