Disability and The Built Environment: Improving Accessibility

Just under 12 months after the initial findings were released, the Government has published its long awaited response to the Women and Equalities Committee’s (WEC) inquiry into disability and the built environment.

This was a significant inquiry which is set to shape the continued development of Building Regulations to ensure that disabled people can easily access homes, buildings and public spaces. In particular, WEC says the Government must act to lead the charge in improving access and inclusion in the built environment.

As a provider of building control services to developers and construction companies across the UK, Bureau Veritas has followed the inquiry closely and we welcomed the Government’s response earlier this month.

Here Andy Lowe, technical director for Bureau Veritas’ Building Control division, summarises the Government’s response, under a series of topics.

On the overall approach

“The Commons Committee recommended that more needs to be done on individual components of the policy framework to ensure delivery of an accessible and inclusive built environment for disabled people.

“This will be delivered by enhancing existing legislation and policy rather than bringing forward new strategies, some of which will involve the planning and building control aspects, so it was particularly interesting to Bureau Veritas and our clients.”

On updates to Part M

“BRAC (The Building Regulations Advisory Committee) has already been engaged by the Government to review statutory guidance and develop Building Regulations Part M (Access to and use of Buildings) guidance as necessary, whilst others such as the Department for Transport are reviewing proposals for transportation and accessibility plans covering rail, bus, taxi, aviation and maritime policies.

“The Commons Committee raised a concern that the current Part M is not based on the latest BS8300 code of practice, which was released in 10 January 2018. Instead, the Part M2 which deals with all aspects of buildings other than dwellings was published in 2004 and so consideration will now be given to make sure this guidance is included within the future revisions of Part M.”

On planning guidance

“Planning guidance is also set to be strengthened by the revised National Planning Policy Framework (due to be published in summer 2018), which supports the importance of early engagement discussions with local authorities and community about design and types of homes required, including aspects of inclusivity.

“All planning authorities should now set out the Optional Building Regulations policy, which is a policy based on need of the community to ensure that the levels of a particular category of housing are provided, like accessible or wheelchair adaptable homes.

“The London plan, for example, requires 90 per cent of flats on appropriate schemes (more than ten in a typical development usually) to be category M2 as defined as accessible in Part M. The remaining ten per cent are to be either wheelchair accessible (designed and completed fully for wheelchair users) or wheelchair adaptable, where certain features can be altered as the needs arise but with sensible modification rather than any structural alterations.

On upskilling

“The Government is also supporting expertise in inclusive design for planning departments, enabled through increased fees and the recent 20% uplift in actual planning application fees.

“The Committee was keen to encourage upskilling and training in inclusive design aspects, and due consideration of an online module is to be reviewed. Notably, Bureau Veritas already has a series of technical seminars on this topic – click here for more information.”

On Building Regulations

“The Committee added that consideration should to be given to broadening the scope of application of the optional requirements for accessible dwellings within Building Regulations, as this is currently precluded. The Government is considering this aspect carefully, because applying these principles to existing buildings would be difficult to achieve.

“It also recommended uplifting the baseline standards from visitable to accessible (M2 category) – whilst recognising slight increase in costs, the Government said it recognised this issue and will consider adjustments in the framework review that will follow Dame Judith Hackett’s inquiry into fire safety regulations.

On other changes

A series of other changes are set to be made following a study, commissioned by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, into the application of Part M on non-domestic buildings which shows that what is actually being built is often not to the required standard.

For example, changing places sanitary accommodation is to be introduced into all transport infrastructure projects were applicable, supported by National Rail. BRAC is also considering the definition of large buildings where this may be applied, such as shopping centres and large auditoria.

The committee also made reference to the Licensing Act and making a case for stronger enforcement of provisions for disabled users in these types of premises, whilst the Government is working to provide inclusive mobility guidance to act as a defined standard for shared spaces and public realm – areas which are currently reviewed at local level only, often leading to missed opportunities for accessibility.”

In summary

“All in all it appears that the accessibility aspect of regulation is to be overhauled and standards updated in line with the latest research and we applaud that. It will bring much needed equality for disabled persons throughout the built environment.”

For more information about our Building Control services, or to see how Bureau Veritas can support your project, click here.