Ben Derbyshire, RIBA: "The government needs to recognise the extensive benefits that higher accessibility standards provide." | Latest news

Ben Derbyshire, RIBA: "The government needs to recognise the extensive benefits that higher accessibility standards provide."

It's Habinteg's #ForAccessibleHomes week of action. From 9-13 September we'll be featuring expert guest blogs all week on the Accessible Housing Crisis and the steps we need to take to build more, quality accessible homes for our ageing and disabled population. Today's blog is from Ben Derbyshire, the outgoing president of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

The RIBA recently announced the projects that have been successfully shortlisted for the inaugural Neave Brown Award recognising the best in the country in new affordable housing. When launching the award I spoke of the need to raise the bar of new build housing to ensure that architects, developers and local authorities are designing and building homes that meet the needs of current and future generations. Given that over 5 million of England’s projected 6.6 million population rise by 2041 will be among those age 65 and older, ensuring new housing is accessible and adaptable is going to be integral to achieving this.

Addressing the first point on raising the bar of new build housing, research has shown that many of the features required in homes to meet the M4(2): Category 2 Accessible and adaptable dwellings standard are widely desirable. Having a covered entrance with outside light, a downstairs toilet and low-level, easy-to-open windows are design attributes valued across age groups. Wider hallways can help visitors with bikes or parents with buggies navigate more easily.  The benefits go beyond only people that rely on them due to having specific needs.  Higher accessibility standards improve the quality of housing for everybody.

On the second point about meeting the needs of current and future generations, a joint report published by the RIBA and Centre for Towns has demonstrated the extent to which every region will get older over the next twenty years. Towns and villages will be particularly impacted, but even core cities, which for the past few decades have had proportionately younger populations, will age substantially. Despite this, we know that only 7% of the current housing stock has all four accessibility features that provide visitability to most people.

The country is already behind where it needs to be in the delivery of accessible and adaptable housing and evidence suggests that continuing with the current approach simply will not deliver what is required. Habinteg’s analysis of local plans in England found that outside of London only 23% of new homes are set to meet any of the optional access standards and only 1% of homes outside London are set to be wheelchair accessible properties. Adding London into the equation helps to boost the national average, yet the RIBA’s report has shown that it is towns and villages that are most in need of higher accessibility housing stock in future, rather than core cities.

This has huge social implications for those that will be forced to live in housing ill equipped to meet their needs, but it will also have important impacts on national and local government through the substantial added health and social care costs of older people living in inappropriate housing.

The government needs to recognise the extensive benefits that higher accessibility standards provide. Raising the baseline standard for housing benefits everybody and ensures a level playing field across the country, meaning that those seeking to avoid building to higher standards do not have an unfair advantage over those that are building better. The government now needs to take action and make M4(2): Category 2 the minimum standard for all new homes to ensure that the housing we build is ready for the future.  It is time that we expected better from all new housing, and at a minimum that new homes are not exclusive of those with disabilities.

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