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For many years Part M of the Building Regulations 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:
- Visitable dwellings
- Accessible and adaptable dwellings
- 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 Control Body 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. The new Local Plan has still not been introduced and the disconnect between Planning legislation and building regulation guidance remains, with planning officers and members of the Planning committee choosing to abide by the Planning legislation.
Since the publication over six years ago of the new categories of dwellings in the building regulations, planning permissions has been granted for many hundreds of 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 significant shortfall of suitable dwellings for disabled people to occupy.
Concerns about the issue were raised with Council officers and the Spelthorne Planning Committee on numerous developments. The matter was also raised with local MP, Mr Kwasi Kwarteng who referred it to the Minister of State for Housing and Planning. It became clear that planning legislation did, in fact, constrain Spelthorne Council due to its lack of a suitable Local Plan.
With a target of many thousands of new dwellings to be built over the next 15 years it is imperative that Spelthorne Council soon publishes its new Local Plan with policies to satisfy the NPPF. In the meantime, developments continue to be designed, approved and constructed to minimum standards of accessibility, with no apparent encouragement in the planning process to do more than this.It is disappointing that Spelthorne Council’s officers and members actively sought to interpret the Equality Act 2010 in a way that failed to consider the needs of physically disabled people.
Ken Saunders - SCAN’s Chairman