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Planning: Accessible Homes

Volume 807: debated on Wednesday 4 November 2020


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that changes to the planning system will deliver more homes that are accessible for people with disabilities.

My Lords, with the permission of my noble friend Lady Greengross, and at her request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in her name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, the Government place great importance on the provision of suitable homes for people with disabilities. This is why we are currently consulting on making higher accessibility standards mandatory in reviewing the provisions for accessible and adaptable housing within building regulations. Our consultation has proposals to see more homes delivered, and authorities still need to plan for the housing needs of different groups within their communities, including the needs of people with disabilities.

My Lords, housing with care, sometimes described as assisted living or extra-care housing, provides a vital alternative to residential care for those older people who can no longer live on their own but do not need 24-hour complex medical supervision. It protects safety and security while boosting independence, health and well-being. Will the Minister say what the Government are doing to support housing-with-care developments in any new planning system?

My Lords, we are currently consulting on the accessibility standards. I propose that we wait until the end of the consultation, which completes on 1 December, for our response to that.

My Lords, I support the proposal made by many groups representing those with a disability that Part M of the Building Regulations should be raised to what is known as the adaptable and acceptable standard, or M4, Category 2. This would enable more people to live healthy and independent lives without having to move. Further to what my noble friend just said about the consultation document, when will the results be published and when will its conclusions be implemented?

My noble friend should know that the response to the accessible-homes consultation will be published by March 2021. The implementation of any change will depend on the course of action that the Government take.

My Lords, the need for accessible housing is increasing and we urgently need homes that meet appropriate needs. Delaying provision of such housing and doing nothing is not an option. How quickly are the Government intending to implement the outcome of the consultation?

The Minister indicated that more homes were needed, as well as more accessible homes. We know that the viability test often puts the lid on accessibility being built into the equation by developers when they say that they cannot afford to provide these standards. Can the Minister assure the House that, in this consultation, the Government will not allow developers to hold them to ransom, as well as those in need of these higher levels of accessibility in their homes?

My Lords, the Government recognise the importance of accessible housing for the elderly and the disabled. I point to the strengthening of the policy approach in the NPPF in July 2018 and in the planning guidance issued in June 2019 on housing for the disabled. These point to the direction in which we are travelling to ensure that there is enough accessible housing. As your Lordships know, we have been looking at Part M of the Building Regulations as well.

My Lords, while my noble friend the Minister is looking at the consultation process, will he also look at the new ways of designing housing within an urban planning system? That really should be reflective of the 21st century. Covid has made us all realise that mental as well as physical well-being is essential, and intergenerational living is something that we should seriously consider. We should think about housing for the elderly or disabled not just as separate from us but rather as integrated with us.

My Lords, my noble friend is right: we are living longer and getting older. It is important that we have accessible housing for the elderly and learn from models across the country where there is both public and private housing. Proposals for accessible housing have to be relevant to older people, as she so rightly states.

My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant registered interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and as a trustee of the United St Saviour’s Charity in Southwark. As part of the modern almshouse that we are building, 11 of the 57 units will be for people with physical disabilities and fully wheelchair-accessible. This whole development has been the result of collaboration, with the developer delivering on its obligations to the community, Southwark Council providing the land and investment from United St Saviour’s to develop and manage the facility. What guarantees can the Minister give to the House to reassure us that this sort of development will be encouraged and supported in the new planning regime?

My Lords, we recognise the importance of the almshouses and that they are growing at their fastest rate in more than a decade. We are currently consulting widely on the proposals for reform set out in the planning White Paper and will listen carefully to all the representations made, including from those representing almshouses.

My Lords, it is excellent that the Government seem likely to be raising standards of accessibility for all new homes. When the volume housebuilders object that this will damage profits, will the Minister recall that when housebuilders made similar complaints last time around—when the standards were raised 30 years ago—extra costs actually proved minimal? Profits did not fall and hundreds of thousands of households have enjoyed better homes. This time, will the Government stand firm again?

My Lords, this Government will not seek anything other than an upward drift in the standards that we need for the 21st century. We recognise that developer profits are far greater than those of the construction industry, where they are typically about 4%; it is often up to a third for large-scale developments. The noble Lord, Lord Best, is therefore pointing in the right direction in respect of our ability to raise building standards.

My Lords, accessible homes need accessible transport. While it certainly makes sense to reduce health inequalities through promoting active transport, there will always be some people with disabilities who need to use cars door to door. We are not lazy or bad citizens: we are just trying to play a full part in society while managing our condition. A poorly executed and abrupt shift from car use to congestion charges, large pedestrian areas and public transport that is not yet disabled-accessible risks no-go areas for those with limited mobility. Will the Minister commit to smarter community design options that achieve public health aims without designing in exclusions or penalties for those with limited mobility?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for pointing out a report which is just over a year old. With the Covid-19 pandemic, we are seeing a massive impact on our town centres and we need good policy to ensure that we have more inclusive and smarter options for urban design. Of course, we will look carefully at that report.

My Lords, following on from the question from the noble Lord, Lord Best, does the Minister agree that changing the regulations for homes to be built to accessible and adaptable standards should not mean that fewer homes will be built, as the additional costs per typical dwelling are very small?

My Lords, I made clear in response to the noble Lord, Lord Best, that we can raise standards while continuing the drive for the numbers of homes, of all types and tenures, that this country so badly needs. However, we have to wait to have time to respond to the ongoing consultation.

My Lords, with regions such as the north-west, the north-east and Yorkshire hosting less than one disabled-access home for every 100 homes, and regions such as the West Midlands hosting just over one disabled-access home for every 300 homes, given that 15.2% of the population is elderly and 18% of the population is disabled, is it now time that the Government mandated targets for disabled-access homes rather than simply relying on local authorities?

My Lords, I am afraid I am the wrong person to answer that. I spent 20 years in local government and have every confidence that local councils know the needs of their communities, and can respond to them in a way that ensures we see the drive for standards and improved accessibility needed in our homes.

My Lords, I am glad to report that all supplementary questions have been asked and we now move to the next Question.