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Habinteg respond to announcement of new housing standards

31 March 2015

Amongst a raft of planning measures announced as Parliament breaks for the election was the long awaited ministerial announcement on new housing standards for England. These new standards, announced on 26 March, and the policy that surrounds them will govern the design and supply of accessible and adaptable homes from now on.

While it’s disappointing that such a major announcement on the future of the nation’s housing has been published so quietly, the substance of the announcement is our primary concern.

In future, planning authorities will be able to specify only housing standards provided in the ‘New National Technical Standards’ which provide specifications for accessible homes in three categories, ranging from a base line largely aligned with the existing Part M of the Building Regulations to a category designed to meet the needs of wheelchair users as occupants. Anything other than the base line standard will only be permitted where a planning authority has demonstrated that they “address a clearly evidenced need, and where their impact on viability has been considered, in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework and Planning Guidance”.

Of course, we welcome the inclusion of the new accessibility standards into the Building Regulations for the first time but, under these conditions, they could be largely ignored.

Indeed the DCLG review of housing standards impact assessment estimated that 31% of new homes are currently built to Lifetime Homes Standard, expected to rise to 45% by 2024, if we did nothing. Introduction of these new standards will need to increase the supply of accessible homes to achieve at least this baseline, if they are not to be seen as a retrograde step.

However, optional access standards and narrow viability tests based on developer profit may actually reduce the supply of accessible homes at a time of significant and growing demand. We hope we are wrong. We look forward to seeing the finalised technical details that have been in development for the last two years. We are particularly keen to see the detail on any strengthening of the base line design standard for access.

For now, we know that there is a wide and growing consensus calling for accessible, adaptable Lifetime Homes to be the mandatory default for all new homes across the country. These voices will become louder if the construction of such homes is reduced or stalled as a result of the new regulations. We know that the existing baseline access standard is simply not accessible enough. With 95% of homes in England failing short of ‘visitable’ by disabled people including wheelchair users, clearly more must be done.

Habinteg and others will continue to make the common sense case for housing that is fit for purpose, built to last and inclusive to all.

You can see the full written ministerial statement to Parliament here.

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