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Housing: Accessibility

Volume 799: debated on Monday 22 July 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the case for mandating M4(2) of Schedule 1 to the Building Regulations 2010 to ensure that future houses are accessible and adaptable.

My Lords, on 25 June the Prime Minister announced that we will consult on mandating higher accessibility standards for new housing. New planning guidance was published on 26 June to support councils to put clear policies in place for addressing the housing needs of older and disabled people.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, but he will be aware of alarming research published last month by the housing association Habinteg, which revealed that the inaccessible housing crisis for disabled people is rising quite rapidly, largely because only 1% of new homes being built will be suitable for wheelchair users to live in. This is unacceptable. I am aware that the Government are going to consult on this issue, but we simply cannot wait another year or more for tangible action. Will the Minister meet me to discuss this latest research with Habinteg and to talk about what can be done now and in the very short term to alleviate the crisis?

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness for all the exemplary work she does in campaigning on this issue. I am very happy to meet her to discuss this further. She will know that we have brought forward consultation on M4(2) ahead of the consultation on the wider Part M in regard to accessibility, precisely because this is so important. We are looking at it ahead of other issues concerned with Part M and value the work that Habinteg does as a valued partner on this.

My Lords, I remind the House of my registered interests. I also remind the Minister that 45 of the 322 local plans still refer to older accessible housing standards, putting planning requirements at risk of challenge. Given the importance of this issue, will the Minister urge local planning authorities to update their plans to ensure that they are compliant with the updated post-October 2015 access standards very soon?

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right to address that issue. He will understand that the Statement by the Prime Minister on 25 June dealt specifically with the planning aspects of this and the guidance in relation to accessibility following the Neighbourhood Planning Act, reminding local authorities of the responsibility and providing this guidance to ensure that they comply with the law.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is a matter not just of new houses but of existing houses that are going through a process of extensive refurbishment? Could it also be made mandatory that, in those instances, adequate attention is paid to access for disabled people?

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right on that point. Obviously, wherever planning is required, it will have to be compliant with the statement and guidance that the Prime Minister activated on 26 June. He also raises the further problem of potential retrofitting at some stage for homes that do not yet comply with the new standard, which applies only to new builds.

My Lords, I remind those on the Benches opposite that in 30 years’ time most properties will still be the ones we are currently living in and not new builds. Does the Minister think it is time that the Treasury and whoever moves in this Thursday with his boxes look at taking the VAT off retrospectively fitting homes to make them fit for life?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question. I had better be very careful about advice to the Treasury; when I was getting a briefing on this issue, my officials told me I could undertake to meet a particular Member, or at least my successor could. I asked them what they had heard; they said they had not heard anything, and I am taking that at face value. The noble Lord is right that there is a continuing issue that will need to be addressed. There is a range of properties that will not meet these new standards, which apply just to M1, but that, as it relates to funding, is a matter for the Treasury.

My Lords, as a long-term supporter of lifetime homes, I first visited Rowntree’s New Earswick estate in York 25 years ago. There is some good news, because all its homes have been built as lifetime homes since then. With our rising longevity and ageing population, it is common sense that new homes should be built to be more accessible and adaptable, but that is not happening as much as it should. The report that only 32% of local authorities comply with this is evidence of that. The All-Party Group for Ageing and Older People, which I co-chair, published a report this month on how to get more accessible and decent housing for older people. I suggest that the Minister treats this as a priority and follows the report’s recommendations.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness: all that she does in this area is very much noted. I will certainly look at the report. Obviously, this is an issue that concerns all of us. It is worth saying that this is not just about disabled people, important though that issue is. It is about all of us as we age; hence its importance.

My noble friend will know that I am very keen on good models of behaviour and codes of practice. Is it possible for the Government or the universities to construct model homes that show developers, including small developers, how they can build accessible, safe and attractive homes—and lead the way in areas such as energy conservation, and therefore reduce people’s bills?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend. It is indeed possible, and modelling is being produced for us on a range of issues. It is important, as my noble friend said, that we look at that in terms of energy conservation and ensuring that we have lifetime standard homes and improved accessibility. These things are happening.

My Lords, I take this opportunity to thank the outgoing Prime Minister for a number of important reversals of unwise policies and the introduction of some much better policies, including taking the cap off local authorities’ borrowing to build new council housing and find more money for social housing. However, does the Minister agree that we have taken a step backwards in relation to accessibility and adaptability in allowing what are called permitted development rights for developers to produce incredibly small—indeed, even windowless—flats in conversions of existing buildings? Can we not get on top of that as well?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for all that he does and for his compliment to the Prime Minister on the important action on accessibility and planning in this area. I agree with him: he is absolutely right in his point about permitted development and possible loopholes. I am very happy to meet the noble Lord to discuss that further.