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Housing: Accessibility

Volume 794: debated on Tuesday 4 December 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of objections raised by the Home Builders Federation to proposals from some local authorities to set targets for accessible or adaptable new-build houses.

My Lords, we want to build more accessible homes that meet the needs of older and disabled people. Government policy provides a clear and robust framework to support the delivery of accessible housing. Building regulations already require minimum standards of accessibility for all new dwellings. The Government intend to publish new planning guidance on housing for older and disabled people before Christmas and are scoping a review of the accessibility provisions in the building regulations.

My Lords, at a time of growing concern about the support required by an increasing number of elderly people as life expectancy grows, the Home Builders Federation is objecting to councils seeking to set new targets to increase the number of homes with room for wheelchair users and that can be adaptable. Given that this is a highly profitable industry where 400,000 permissions to build are as yet unimplemented, what action will the Government take to assist local authorities to ensure, through the planning system, that sufficient housing is provided for people with homes suited to their needs?

My Lords, first I pay tribute to the people who yesterday supported the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Many buildings in both the public and the private sectors were lit up in purple for that purpose. I agree with the general thrust of the noble Lord’s question. As I say, the Government are very clear on this. For the first time in the planning guidance within the NPPF, we have made it a responsibility to take care of the interests of older and disabled people. As I say, planning guidance in support of that will be out before Christmas. We are reviewing Part M of the building regulations, which again is a crucial issue in relation to M4(2). That is also to be published in the new year, I think.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his meeting last week about this issue, which I know he is trying to resolve. I wonder whether his department could point out to the Home Builders Federation that there is a world of difference between homes adapted for disability and the basic minimum access requirements in Part M4(2) of the building regulations. Apparently some builders say that not everyone wants to live in an adapted home. We simply want the basic minimum standards set out in Part M4(2) made mandatory.

My Lords, it was a pleasure to discuss the issue of M4(2) with the noble Baroness and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, last week. The Government strongly support the rights of disabled people. This is important and we are behind local authorities which are keen to take this forward. I agree that it is for building companies to respond to that; they have a responsibility. We have an ageing population as well as people with disabilities. It is the mark of a civilised society as well as a point of self-interest, quite honestly, that we should do these things. On both those bases, the Government are solidly behind what the noble Baroness is saying.

My Lords, in this country only 0.6% of older people live in a retirement community which provides not just housing but care and support. In many other countries such as New Zealand, Australia and the US, the figure is at least 5%. These facilities provide enhanced health and well-being and better outcomes while emergency visits to A&E, hospital admissions and bed blocking are greatly reduced. Does the Minister agree with the vision of the Associated Retirement Community Operators—I am a patron of that organisation, which will be exhibiting here next week—that by 2030 a quarter of a million people should have that option? It would be of huge benefit to the NHS and would ease the housing shortage in society in general, and particularly that faced by young people.

My Lords, I pay tribute to all the work done by the noble Baroness in this area. We worked together on the Neighbourhood Planning Bill, which was then enacted, and made some important provisions in it about disabled and elderly people which I referred to earlier. She is emphasising the point I made, which is that not only is this the right moral thing to do in a civilised society but it is also very much the right economic thing to do because it will save money for the health service and so on, as well as helping people to live longer in the sort of circumstances that they would want.

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for the meeting last week, which was extraordinarily helpful. In addition to stiffening the sinews of the Home Builders Federation, would the Minister write to local councils to point out the data that shows that it costs only just over £1,000 to make a new unit disabled-friendly when building it, whereas later adaptations cost a minimum of £20,000? Councils should therefore insist on access being put in right at the start. That is beneficial to them and to the wider community.

I thank the noble Baroness for that suggestion. I will certainly take it back to the Minister so that it can be picked up in the next letter we write to local authority leaders. She and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, will be aware that we are ensuring that the voice of Habinteg—an active housing association with a vision on this issue for disabled people—is heard. It is a strong voice on Document M for the advisory committee, which is looking at this issue. I think that the House will find that reassuring.