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Government must act and bring in accessible and adaptable homes standard

Habinteg Chief Executive Nick Apetroaie welcomes the Labour Party's pledge to create a ‘grey belt’ and it’s ‘golden rules’ including ensuring at least 50 per cent of homes built are affordable - but what about the longer-term quality and suitability of such new homes?

My colleagues and I at Habinteg Housing Association were pleased to hear Sir Keir Starmer’s recent pledge to create a ‘grey belt’ to free up disused car parks and brownfield sites of the green belt, opening up land to build up to half a million homes.

Five golden rules

Labour’s five ‘golden rules’ – including ensuring at least 50 per cent of homes built are classed as affordable, boosting infrastructure and improving green spaces – add to the pledges Labour made last year to build 1.5 million new homes.

These are all laudable aims, but what about the quality and longer-term suitability of these new homes? Adaptability to the changing needs of occupants is a key aspect of a home’s sustainability over time.

If the current Government does not make good on its decision to make the M4(2) accessible and adaptable standard the new baseline for homes built in England, will Labour follow through?

We know that the need for accessible homes will grow significantly over the next 20 years as the population ages. Currently:

  • 1.8 million people in the UK need an accessible home (Habinteg: The Hidden Housing Market )
  • Only 9% of homes currently provide the four main features for the lowest level of accessibility – a home that is ‘visitable’ ( English Housing Survey  )
  • Over 400,000 wheelchair users live in homes that are neither adapted nor accessible/visitable (Habinteg )
  • 55% of adults without a mobility impairment feel they couldn't remain in their current home if they become disabled due to its design and layout (Habinteg ).

Upholding the M4(2) commitment

To meet the growing need for accessible homes, our hope is that the current Government upholds its commitment to setting the M4(2) baseline for all new homes. To do this, it must ensure the Building Safety Regulator conducts the technical consultation on this change without delay and that exceptions to the amended regulation are minimised, so that the new baseline makes a meaningful difference to the number of accessible and adaptable homes being built.

Resetting the baseline in this way will create the level playing field and predictable requirements that developers want. It will also give local planning teams the capacity to ensure that their policies for delivery of the higher standard M4(3) wheelchair user dwellings are robust and sufficient to meet demand.

Build more wheelchair user homes

There is a strong economic case for addressing the shortage of wheelchair accessible properties whilst tackling the housing crisis as a whole.

Our recent research with the London School of Economics and Political Science Housing and Communities research group - Living not existing: The economic and social value of wheelchair user homes - revealed that the additional cost of building a wheelchair user home – instead of an accessible & adaptable home  - for a typical disabled adult of working age is around £22,000. The potential 10 year financial and social benefit to the individual and the public purse is around £94,000.

The average additional cost of building an M4(3) home for a later year’s (aged 65 and over) wheelchair user household is £18,000 – compared to the 10-year value of benefits of over £101,000, which suggests around five times the benefit compared to the cost. Meanwhile, the average additional cost of building an M4(3) home for a family with a child who is a wheelchair user is around £26,000, compared to the 10-year benefit value of £66,000.

Housing crisis fix not a numbers race

Regardless of who becomes the ruling party of the day following the upcoming general election, Habinteg believes it is vital that they recognise that the housing crisis our nation faces will not be fixed by a race for numbers alone.

Any new homes being built must be fit and suitable for our ever-growing, ageing and diverse population and ensure that, regardless of their changing needs or disability status, people can thrive in inclusive communities, with the capacity, dignity and independence that an accessible home offers.

The planned new regulatory baseline for accessible homes must be implemented as soon as possible, and Local Authorities need to be ready to enforce the requirements to build to new homes to the M4(2) accessible and adaptable standard. This will provide greater accessible and adaptable housing choice for all.

This article was first published in Housing Today, on 29 April 2024.

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