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ACCESSIBILITY A generational challenge


Paul Smith of F.H. Brundle explains how the Government’s changes to Part M of the Building Regulations could meet the challenge posed by Britain’s ageing population


etween September and December 2020, the Government held a consultation on how they could improve accessibility standards across the UK. The fact such an exercise went ahead despite the huge disruptions caused by the pandemic was telling – ageing is a huge issue for the UK, and Ministers know it. In 2019, there were nearly 12 million people aged over 65 in the UK, 1.6 million over 85, and more than 14,000 aged 100 or above. In terms of the built environment, people who are more likely to need public and private buildings to be accessible are already a significant part of the population. But thanks to massive advances in modern medicine, people are living longer than ever – and in the decades ahead, Britain’s elderly population is set to substantially increase. By 2030, we expect one in five people to be 65 or over. The 85 and above bracket is the fastest growing demographic of all – on course to double in size by mid-2041, and triple by 2066. What’s more, 45 per cent of people over 65 are disabled, compared to just 15 per cent of the younger population. Over the next 50 years, that means that public spaces and private homes will need to be comprehensively adapted if they’re going to remain accessible to millions of people around the country.


B


Improving accessibility standards As it stands at the moment, Part M of the Building Regulations sets minimum access standards for all new buildings. Category 1 sets out basic standards for accessibility for all new homes. Category 2 is more stringent – laying out higher standards that planning authorities can decide need to be followed in certain circumstances. And Category 3 specifically deals with adjustments that have to be made to buildings and outdoor spaces to make them accessible for wheelchair users. Again, it comes into force at the discretion of the local government, who may decide that a certain proportion of homes in the area have to meet the heightened standards.


ADF MAY 2021


65


In its recent consultation, the Government sought to gain opinions on five different options for strengthening accessibility standards in the UK. The first was simply ‘wait and see’ – in


2019, the Government implemented a number of changes in its revised National Planning Policy Framework, and one potential course of action is to wait to see what impact that has on the delivery of accessible buildings.


The second would take the increased accessibility standards that are already part of Category 2 of Part M – but currently optional – and make them the new minimum for all new builds, except where it’s impractical.


Option 3 would go further, removing Part M Category 1 altogether, and requiring all new builds to at least have the accessible and adaptable features of a Category 2 property.


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Public spaces and private homes will need to be comprehensively adapted if they’re going to remain accessible to millions of people around the country


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