The housing crisis facing our country is much discussed and many people would claim to understand it. The problem is that it’s not entirely what it seems.
In the scramble to build more homes, it can be too easy to ignore a glaring reality. Not only are we not building enough homes, but too many of those built are totally unsuitable for large numbers of us. That’s because there’s a hidden accessible homes crisis. The needs of the nearly 14 million disabled people for homes accessible to them is stark, yet not an element of the housing crisis that often hits the headlines. With an ageing population meaning that more and more of us will need an accessible home at some point in our lives, we need urgent action.
That’s why Habinteg’s #ForAccessibleHomes campaign is so important. It brings this vital issue to the fore and lays down the challenge for politicians, planners, house-builders and the housing sector to do more.
Some parts of the country fare better than others. I’m delighted that in the capital, the Mayor’s London Plan requires that all new homes must meet the Lifetime Homes standard. That means that the 42,000 new homes being built by 2021 by the G15 group of London’s largest housing associations will have a major impact. Every one of these will include accessibility features and are designed to make future adaptation quicker and easier.
Embedding Lifetime Homes requirements in planning policy in this way is vital. As major housing associations, housing one in ten Londoners, G15 members are committed to building accessible homes. But there is a simple reality – the wider doors, corridors and larger spaces designed into Lifetime Homes means they require more land. And as we all know, more land is expensive.
Without policy requirements, associations like ours will be outbid for land in a race to the bottom. Builders with no social purpose nor interest in accessibility simply plan smaller homes, offer to build more of them and can therefore put more lucrative offers on the table for landowners. That means more wasted opportunities to build homes that are sustainable in the long-term. It means that today’s postcode lottery on designing in accessibility must end.
Planning authorities across the country should make building to the Lifetime Homes standard mandatory. This would lead to an adjustment in the land market, with land prices adjusting to reflect the need for larger, accessible homes. Only then will we have a level playing field that incentivises good quality accessibility, rather seeing it as an early casualty in bidding wars.
The need is clear. As we live longer, many more of us will experience major mobility challenges as we get older. It’s been estimated that making major adaptations to a non-accessible home, to make it suitable for a wheelchair user for example, can cost more than demolishing the house and starting again. In 2018, building homes which are easier to demolish than adapt cannot be right.
I would urge planning authorities all over the country to follow London’s example. Value accessibility. Plan for accessibility. Make sure that wherever we live, new homes are homes built for our all of our needs, now and in the future.