Is this the time for local authorities to prepare for the move to the new baseline accessibility standard – M4(2) Category 2: accessible and adaptable dwellings – for new homes in England? CAE’s Access Adviser Natasha Davies says it is.
It was good to finally read the government’s recent confirmation that it will raise the mandatory accessibility standard for all new homes in England.
The change from M4(1) Category 1: visitable dwellings, to the currently optional M4(2) Category 2: accessible and adaptable dwellings standard will have an enormous impact.
M4(1) versus M4(2)
Let’s unpack the standards a little more. The M4(1) ‘visitable homes’ standard offers some basic accessibility features such as door widths and corridors that are a suitable size for a range of people, including some wheelchair users. However, it does not guarantee the true visitability and adaptability that many households will need over their lifetimes, for example, level access into the home is not always provided.
Meanwhile, the M4(2) accessible and adaptable homes standard offers enhanced access features and benefits that will allow homes to be easily adaptable over not only the lifetime of the household, but over the lifetime of the home itself. It’s an inclusive standard, catering for families with toddlers and buggies as well as people with reduced mobility, people dealing with a temporary impairment or visiting wheelchair users.
The government’s decision has come at a critical time. We know from Habinteg Housing Association’s last forecast for accessible homes that, in 2020, more than 50% of all local plans made no requirements for any accessible housing standard (Habinteg: Forecast for Accessible Homes 2020). The forecast also indicated that between 2020 and 2030, 31.5% of new homes in England will be required to do so.
Get ahead of implementation
Although planners will no longer need to research local needs to make a case for M4(2) development, the status of the M4(3) wheelchair-dwelling standard will not change. For now, local authorities will still have to define a policy for M4(3) homes to meet the needs of wheelchair users.
Moving the default standard for new homes from the visitable to the accessible means local authority teams, such as Planning and Building Control, will need to have a robust understanding of the standard to ensure that new developments comply. Some local authorities around the country are already experienced at this.
The Greater London Authority already requires 90% M4(2) homes with 10% to M4(3) – wheelchair dwelling standard, while Reading Borough Council has a requirement for 95% of homes to be built to M4(2) and 5% to be M4(3).
The Centre for Accessible Environments (CAE) already provides several local authorities with bespoke training on the M4(2) and M4(3) standards. We also provide housing design appraisals for planning teams and review planning applications to ensure that dwellings meet the current standards.
Any authorities about to review their local plans will need to think about how the new baseline will impact their approach. With M4(2) homes soon to be taken care of through regulations, they should consider if their teams could spend more time looking at the need for homes built to wheelchair dwelling standard.
Authorities who have more recently adopted plans should keep an eye out for any interim arrangements that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) may propose and the implementation date for the M4(2) baseline.
Accessible homes offer independence
We shouldn’t forget the end result of the new baseline. I hear regularly from disabled people how an accessible home can transform their outlook. In a recent interview, Habinteg tenant John Laville said, “I felt brand new… My new home has encouraged me to be more social again… made me feel more capable”.
Research also tells us that a disabled person living in an accessible home is four times more likely to be employed than one whose home is not accessible (Habinteg: The Hidden Housing Market).
At CAE, we want to do all we can to support the implementation of this important step forward for accessible homes. We need the regulation revised quickly, and we need as few exceptions to the new default as possible.
There will inevitably be more to discuss when DLUHC publishes the next consultation on implementation, but, for now, we urge local authorities to start preparing for the change, and hope that the outcome of the second consultation will not take as long as the first.
This article was first published in The Municipal Journal on 11 August 2022.