With the Paralympian David Weir in the news for having to drag himself upstairs to use his bathroom, campaigners have raised concerns about a lack of accessible housing in years to come. Sunil Peck hears how short-term Government thinking may affect long-term supply.
Adam Thomas can only get into one out of the 50 homes of the people on his Christmas card list. The only property he can access belongs to his parents. A designer of accessible kitchens, he has been involved in promoting the design of accessible housing for some time. But he is worried that government proposals will lead to even fewer accessible properties being built.
As part of its ‘red tape challenge’, a strategy sold on cutting bureaucracy, the Government is consulting on proposals which it says will simplify regulations and make it easier to build new housing.
Among the regulations under review are standards which govern the accessibility of property. Campaigners fear that any new standards will not take account of the need for more accessible housing and are anxious to keep the issue high on the agenda.
As Paul Gamble, Chief Executive of accessible housing provider Habinteg says: “Unless lifetime homes, or their equivalent, are established as the default standard for new housing, the Government’s proposals will have missed a golden opportunity to ensure an increase in the accessible flexible homes that we need.”
Thomas says that the idea of a new set of simplified standards is good in principle because there are several sets of regulations now which often contradict each other. But he says that in an age when we can send people to the moon, it’s ‘scary’ that we are having to campaign for new properties to be accessible for everyone.
“At the moment, the guides are that the parking area for your car is on a level, your front door is covered so you don’t get soaked in the rain, the rooms are big enough for a wheelchair user to manoeuvre around and that kitchen spaces are designed so you can put in an accessible kitchen. But my concern is that the proposed change is being driven by the building lobby. Builders have always said that it costs more to build an accessible home, and we only want to build the cheapest homes possible. And if we’ve only got a small plot of land, we want to squeeze in as many properties as possible.”
Thomas says that there is also a focus on the short-term cost of building accessible homes which ignores the expense that will arise in years to come when local authorities have to move people into accessible properties, provide alternative care settings, or fund expensive adaptations to people’s properties because of age or disability.
He is also concerned that enforcing watered down standards will compromise the high standards that some local authorities lay down now.
“In Camden and Manchester for instance, they have very good policies and they’re building way in advance of minimum standards. So if older and disabled people move into social housing there, the chances are that their places are going to be reasonably, if not very, accessible.”
Paul Gamble adds: “The need for accessible and adaptable homes will not diminish and any reform must prioritise accessibility now. Without that commitment, the homes of the future will not be fit for purpose and the population’s changing needs.”