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. Closing the week is Sinéad Butters, Chair of Placeshapers.
PlaceShapers members are far more than simply landlords. We believe we make a vital contribution to communities, enhancing the lives of our tenants right across the country. Between us, PlaceShapers members house over 2 million people in over 900,000 homes, accounting for a quarter of all housing association tenancies in England. That’s a whopping potential impact that we can make to individuals, families and communities.
One area of impact that we’re particularly proud of is the positive outcome for people’s health and wellbeing that can flow from having a suitable home. That might mean a home that enables tenants to be more independent in terms of domestic and family life or personal routines, or in their connectivity to the community and the ease with which they can get out and about to get involved. All of these factors can support good physical and mental health for individual people as well as building vibrant inclusive communities.
With such a large proportion of disabled people housed by the social sector, and our rapidly ageing population, the design of the physical spaces that we build and manage is increasingly critical in supporting our tenants’ health and wellbeing. Building with the future of the home in mind – not just its initial occupants but a series of households over the lifetime of the property, is so important and sits well with the current thinking on energy efficiency and climate impacts. Accessibility and flexibility isn’t purely beneficial to the people living in the home. It can reduce the burden on NHS and care services by making things like hospital discharge easier, reducing reliance on visiting carers and making adaptations faster and less expensive when they’re needed.
As an organisation with members in every English region, we’re aware of how much policies vary from place to place. Our 15 London based members, for example, have long been accustomed to the requirements set down in the London plan for all new homes to be at least accessible and adaptable. Initially this was delivered by meeting the Lifetime Homes standard and more recently by meeting the requirements of Category M4(2) of building regulations (called the accessible and adaptable standard). In London there has also been a requirement for 10% of new homes to be designed to meet the needs of wheelchair users.
Elsewhere in the country planning policy varies a lot, and we’ve seen with interest Habinteg’s calculations on what this means for the delivery of accessible new homes over the next 20 years. In the East of England we’ll see one built for every 52 people in the population, whereas in the West Midlands the current local plans indicate just one home new accessible home for every 270.
Enlightened by this information it’s a good moment perhaps for the sector to consider whether all regions should be following London’s planning policy lead. The government is poised to consider this option - the last PM having announced a consultation on review of the national policy at CIH conference in June. PlaceShapers members are already delivering accessible and adaptable homes across the country, often helping Local Authorities deliver their plans where they’ve set positive requirements.
Our collective role in regenerating and renewing communities offers a clear opportunity for us to lead on delivering well-designed, inclusive and adaptable homes that can last not just one lifetime but for generations. So having a level policy playing field on access standards across the country could certainly simplify things for our developing members. And it would help to ensure that more tenants than ever benefit from the ease of living in homes that are flexible for a whole range of needs. We look forward to the promised consultation as an opportunity to ensure that all new homes are homes fit for the future of our vibrant and varied communities.