The Lyons Housing Review sets out plans to increase the number of new homes that the UK needs. However, as it lacks any mention of or commitment to accessible housing, it will fail to meet the real housing needs of our current and future population.
The housing debate can’t focus solely on numbers. To meet the housing needs of real people, we need to build homes to tried and tested access and design standards. Specialist housing, such as that recommended for older people in the review, while important, is niche housing: it will only ever meet the needs of a fraction of people who need and want accessible homes so as to live independently.
That is why Habinteg wants to see all new housing built to the Lifetime Homes Standard. Lifetime Homes are ones built to accommodate the greatest range of need: things like unnecessary steps are avoided, toilets are available on the entry level, walls are strong enough to take the weight of grab rails or dimensions allow for the future installation of through-floor lifts. These are simple, value for money standards which ensure housing is flexible and adaptable. Without incorporating a commitment to improved access standards for all housing we risk repeating past mistakes – building homes that need expensive retrofitting later down the line.
We had higher hopes from the Labour Party given their 2008 cross-departmental independent living strategy, written when in office. Based on an understanding of disabling barriers, the strategy made a strong commitment to build all homes to the Lifetime Homes Standard by 2013. Despite submissions to the review by Habinteg and others, the Lyons report lacks any mention of access.
The Labour team promoted the idea of integrated health, care and housing policy at their recent party conference. Building homes to accessible, easily adapted standards is a common sense component of health service delivery, supporting independence, helping to reduce the numbers of falls, supporting efficient hospital discharge and making homes suitable for social care at home when needed. The proposals in the Lyons Review do not touch on how future housing can make integration and inclusion easier. This is a missed opportunity to join up policy and spell out how this can be done.
We’re interested in the role ‘Olympic Park-style’ new homes corporations will play in local authorities and city regions. Effective housing standards will be vital. We particularly welcome comparisons with the Olympic Park housing developments, built as they are to the Lifetime Homes Standard with 10% build to higher wheelchair accessible standards. The success of the Olympic Park is built on quality, legacy and longevity of the homes built there. The default in London generally is that all new homes are built to a Lifetime Homes Standard and we wish to see this replicated across the country. Under Labour and Conservative Mayors, a commitment to Lifetime Homes has stood the test of time in the London Plan.
We also welcome the review’s commitment to construction of new towns and garden cities. These new conurbations must build homes, town centres, workplaces, shops and leisure facilities to the highest access standards. New communities should surely be inclusive?
Let’s not turn the clock back. Let’s hear a clear commitment from the Lyons Review and the Labour Party to accessible housing and an accessible public realm. This isn’t just a nice to have – it is an essential component of the far sighted joined up policy that the country needs.