A proposed amendment to the government’s new Infrastructure Bill that would have forced local development plans to include policies to secure inclusive design and accessibility for the maximum possible number of people has been rejected by the Public Bill Committee.
The inclusion of the amendment, put forward by MP Roberta Blackman Woods, would have been a milestone for disability activists who have fought long and hard to improve access to suitable housing in the UK.
But despite the amendment gaining huge support from charities, think-tanks, private companies and housing associations, committee members rejected it by nine votes to six when they met on 15 January.
Dr Hugh Ellis, Head of Policy at the Town and Country Planning Association, commented “Naturally we are disappointed that the government have failed to use this chance to ensure that accessibility is at the heart of place-making… There is a wide consensus and clear evidence to show that we are failing to ready ourselves for the health, housing and social care needs of our population.”
The fact we are all living longer means that demand for accessible housing is rising and will continue to grow rapidly over the next two decades. There is serious concern among those in the housing industry that we are far from prepared to adequately house the growing number of elderly and disabled people in the UK.
Most existing and new homes, even in the wealthiest developed nations, lack basic accessibility features (unless the current resident has a disability) and to make matters worse, we are not making good use of the limited accessible housing stock that we do have. Far too many accessible and adapted properties are being sold and let to people without disabilities, and there is a clear need for more and better accessible housing platforms to help people find suitable housing.
Part of the problem with improving the accessible housing situation is that the list of adaptations required varies greatly from one end of the spectrum to the other, and there is little by way of a national agreed set of minimum requirements.
The closest we currently have to this is the Lifetime Homes initiative, which encourages developers to incorporate 16 design criteria that can be universally applied to all new homes at minimal cost. These design criteria cover aspects such as car parking and access, entrances, doorways and hallways, bathrooms, stairs (for example installing lifts) and other key features.
Lifetime Homes’ Standards have already been adopted in some parts of the country. For example, the Mayor’s ‘London Plan’ already requires all new build developments to meet Lifetime Homes Standards.
There is clearly still much to do if adequate accessible housing is to be available to everyone who needs it. There are a variety of groups and charities campaigning for better accessible property legislation and practices. For a list of useful websites and resources, visit TheLittleHouseCompany.com