What can we do to provide more wheelchair-accessible homes? | #ForAccessibleHomes News

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What can we do to provide more wheelchair-accessible homes?

Charlotte Watson, Senior Policy Adviser at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), says Accessible Homes Week is a great opportunity to consider where we are, and the next steps needed, in our journey towards creating homes that cater to everyone's needs – including ensuring that we have adequate provision of wheelchair user homes.

Over a year has now passed since the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities published its response to the consultation on raising accessibility standards for new homes.

In welcome news, the Government has announced that it will raise the mandatory minimum standards to meet the ‘accessible and adaptable’ design standard (set out in volume 1 of the Building Regulations M4 Category 2).

RIBA has long called for accessibility standards to be raised in all new homes, including as a member of the Housing Made for Everyone (HoME) coalition, which campaigns to address the UK’s shortage of adaptable and accessible homes.

Adaptable or accessible?

Mandating M4(2) standards as a minimum allows for a home to become adaptable across the life course, which not only benefits older people and people living with reduced mobility and chronic health conditions, but benefits everyone.

In providing stability, space and flexibility to changing circumstances, such as unexpected illnesses and disability – allowing people to retain their independence – there are clear positives to raising accessibility standards across the board.

But what about progressing provision of homes which meet the M4(3) wheelchair accessible homes standards?

At present, M4(3) homes are provided where there is evidence of local need through planning policy in accordance with demand.

Architect and expert on accessible built environments, Amy Francis-Smith, points out that there is no clear-cut obligation to provide a certain amount of M4(3)-compliant homes: “At the minute, it’s very reliant on different local authorities to make decisions on what they feel is necessary. There is definitely a need there, and it could be more of a universal provision.” 

London Plan

However, some local areas are setting their own requirements for M4(3) homes – for example, the London Plan “seeks to ensure that 10 per cent of all new housing is wheelchair accessible or easily adaptable for residents who are wheelchair users.”

While there is no requirement for M4(3) standards at present, it’s possible that the forthcoming changes to minimum accessibility standards may help local planning authorities focus on evidencing the need and proportion for wheelchair-user dwellings.

It’s clear that the economic and social benefits of provision of housing that meets M4(3) standards are plentiful. Amy notes that the “provision of M4(3) homes will help ease the care system as well as pressures on the NHS. It helps to alleviate people being stuck in hospital and intermediary care and allows people to stay in their homes for longer.”

So, to the all-important question: what can be done? Crucially, national and local government should support the development of a national accessible housing register, so that it is easier for wheelchair users to find and apply for suitable housing in all types, tenures and locations.

Context and need

Amy suggests considering a stronger link between the context of an area and the potential need when calculating the minimum percentage of M4(3) homes needed in a development, looking at factors such as density of a particular place.

In addition, to assist with providing the evidence base and illustrating demand for M4(3) homes, while ensuring that they are fit for purpose, their use should also be nationally monitored to ascertain how many are occupied by wheelchair users and how well they meet the needs of their occupants. 

 “In a lot of cases, you have design guidance that is very generic in terms of addressing space standards and doesn't really account for things like reclined wheelchairs,” Amy adds.

By considering the varied needs and preferences of wheelchair users, M4(3) standards could go even further to provide immense social and economic benefits.

As the insufficient provision of accessible homes persists, it is more crucial than ever to call on Government to take steps to allow more accessible homes to be built. It is imperative to deliver more high-quality, accessible housing, and initiatives like Accessible Housing Week play a significant role in raising awareness of this challenge head-on.

RIBA remains committed to working with colleagues throughout the sector, with the shared vision of ensuring that every individual can access a home tailored to their specific needs. Together, we can create a future where accessible housing is no longer a luxury, but a fundamental right for all.


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