SCAN’s Chair, Ken Saunders (A Building Surveyor) continues to review planning applications and raises awareness of inadequacy of disabled access and facilities in new housing developments.

The current legislation is flawed and unfavourable to the housing needs of disabled people. He has written the following because he feels strongly that there appears to be little concern and merely acknowledgment that a review needs to be completed:

For many years Part M of the Building Regulations has required that, when dwellings are built, they provided access and facilities for disabled people, with minimum standards being described within an ‘Approved Document’ (AD)

On 1st October 2015 new standards were introduced which extended the requirements with the introduction of three categories:
1. Visitable dwellings
2. Accessible and adaptable dwellings
3. Wheelchair user dwellings

The associated Approved Document (AD) gives guidance on how to satisfy these standards but what seemed to have been a great step forward in the provision of housing for disabled people is not currently the case.

Within the AD categories, 2 and 3 are described as ‘optional’, with the requirements linked to the process for granting planning permission.

Unless the planning permission includes a condition requiring dwellings to be category 2 or 3, the Building Regulations can require no more than category 1, effectively a redrafted version of the previous limited guidance.

Further investigation has revealed that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) effectively limits the application of Part M for many Local Authorities, including Spelthorne Council.

In order to be able to impose a condition in the planning permission on the level of provision of dwellings for disabled people, a Local Authority is required to have a policy within its’ Local Plan to accept the enhanced requirements.

Along with many other Local Authorities, Spelthorne Council does not have such a policy. Although a new Local Plan is being prepared, this is a long process. In the meantime, the disconnect between Planning legislation and building regulation guidance will remain, with planning officers and members of the Planning committee having to abide by the Planning legislation.

Since the publication over two years ago of the new categories of dwellings in the building regulations, planning permissions has been granted for around a thousand new dwellings in Spelthorne. Very few of these were more than visitable - category 1. With planning permissions remaining valid for three years this is very likely to result in a shortfall of suitable dwellings for disabled people to occupy.

Concerns about the issue have been raised with Council officers and the Spelthorne Planning Committee on numerous developments. The matter has also been raised with local MP, Mr Kwasi Kwarteng who has referred it to the Minister of State for Housing and Planning.

The recent response emphasises the need for Spelthorne Council to produce a new Local Plan with policies to satisfy a strengthened NPPF. But that could take months, if not years.

In the meantime, developments continue to be designed and constructed to minimum standards, with no apparent encouragement in the planning process to do more than this.

It is disappointing and worrying that this short-sighted approach is missing opportunities to use the ‘optional’ categories. Even scope for dwellings to be ‘accessible and adaptable’ is being missed.

Ken Saunders - SCAN Chairman