Housing association attacks home plans for West Midlands

Local housing policies still failing disabled and older people.

In the next ten years, just over 95% of all new homes in the West Midlands will not have to meet any accessible housing standard, new research by accessible housing leader Habinteg Housing Association shows.

Analysis of English ‘local plans’ shows that while in the West Midlands 186,720 homes are planned between 2020 and 2030, less than 5% of them (4.8%) are planned to any accessible housing standard. This is much lower than the national average, which shows 31.6% of homes to be built in the next decade are required to meet an accessible standard.

Habinteg’s new research briefing, Forecast for Accessible Homes 2020, analyses 324 English local plans, which set policies for the types of homes to be built over the next ten years. There are 14.1 million disabled people in the UK, and the population is ageing rapidly, yet just 9% of English homes currently provide even the most basic accessibility features.

The new Forecast for Accessible Homes 2020, which follows on from Habinteg’s first such exercise conducted in 2019, focuses on the proportion of homes required by each plan to meet either Building Regulations’ 2015 Optional Standards for accessible and adaptable homes (M4 Category 2) or wheelchair user dwellings (M4 Category 3).

The briefing also takes into account references to the older Lifetime Homes and Wheelchair Housing Design standards.
The analysis shows that no homes in West Midlands are specified to meet the Building Regulations Optional Standards and the proportion specified under the older Lifetime Homes standard has fallen since 2019 from 9.5%, to 4.8%.

The West Midlands is the only region in the UK without any homes planned to meet either of the 2015 optional access standards and there are no homes planned to be built by 2030 that will be suitable for wheelchair users.

In 2020, there is forecast to be just one new accessible home built in the next ten years for every 656 people in the West Midlands’ population. This is a sharp decrease since 2019, when the proportion was one for every 270 people.

The new data reveals that 52.5% of local authorities are still failing to set requirements for accessible housing standards for new homes. This is despite Government’s National Planning Policy Framework and Guidance, which requires local planning authorities to set out such policies using the Building Regulations Optional Standards.

In the West Midlands it also shows that, of the 27 local plans, 25 set no requirement for any home to meet accessible housing standards.

The accessible and adaptable standard provides ordinary homes with features that make them more flexible and easy to live in for everyone, for example slightly wider door widths and circulation space and stronger bathroom walls capable of easily accommodating a grab-rail.

The wheelchair user dwellings standard is designed to meet the needs of a full-time wheelchair user, including greater circulation space throughout.

Habinteg is calling on the Government to establish the M4(2) accessible and adaptable standard – as the new regulatory baseline following the recent consultation on raising accessibility standards for new homes, with the additional requirement to supply a proportion of homes meeting wheelchair user dwelling standard.

The housing association also calls for local authorities to specifically name M4(2) and M4(3) standards in their plans with clear percentages of new homes required to meet each. They also want to see a register of people awaiting wheelchair accessible housing and tracking information held on the number of new accessible homes built in each area.

Naima Ali-Khan, a parent of two disabled children from Coventry, said: “The statistics for the West Midlands are shocking. This year, COVID-19 has highlighted how poor and ill-suited housing is for the most vulnerable in our society.

“Living in accessible homes not only improves the lives and health outcomes for disabled people, it also reduces long term health and social care costs. This has been proven by innovative councils who have managed to work collaboratively across health, social care and housing departments. There needs to be a robust strategy in the West Midlands to tackle the long standing accessible homes crisis.”

Habinteg’s Director of Strategy and External Affairs, Nicholas Bungay, said: “This forecast clearly shows that the system we have right now isn’t going to provide the number of accessible homes that our communities desperately need. We urge the Government to establish the accessible and adaptable standard as the baseline for all new homes and set clear expectations for a proportion of new homes across the country to be wheelchair accessible.

“Disabled and older people should not have to ‘make do’ at the expense of their independence and wellbeing. If we fail to get this right now we’ll be storing up a whole new kind of housing crisis for the future.”

Habinteg’s briefing, Forecast for Accessible Homes 2020, can be downloaded in full here.