The government has said it could scrap the legal duty for builders to provide written access statements, sparking concerns among leading access experts.
Access statements lay out how developers and designers have addressed access issues when working on new or refurbished buildings.
But the government has announced that it wants to “reduce the regulatory burden on builders” and make it easier and cheaper to comply with building regulations, the national rules that ensure buildings achieve “baseline standards”.
Andrew Stunell, the Liberal Democrat communities and local government minister, said the government wanted to “explore the potential for deregulation and streamlining” of the building regulations.
He said the government believed there was “scope to look at the rationalisation” of part M of the regulations – which concern access – and added: “As part of this we intend to review existing guidance that promotes the use of access statements in order to consider whether they remain necessary while maintaining the standards of accessibility we are seeking to achieve.”
In a document accompanying the announcement, the government said it wanted to examine whether access statements “have achieved their objectives in driving up compliance, and how they have functioned in practice alongside other legal requirements already in place”.
The Centre for Accessible Environments (CAE) said there were problems with how access statements operate, but that it was “essential to strengthen rather than remove the requirement for evidence that access has been considered”.
A spokeswoman for the charity added: “We would strongly oppose the removal of this requirement, and will be scrutinising the forthcoming consultation on proposed changes to the building regulations for any suggestions that this might happen.”
Ian Streets, an access consultant and director of About Access, said he believed there needed to be reform of part M, but that scrapping access statements risked “going backwards in terms of access for all”.
Ian Carter, a director of Equo, which publishes the Good Access Guide website, said: “It would be great if access statements weren’t needed. But the only way that would happen is if we could guarantee a minimum level of accessibility in all buildings. And that’s not about to happen.”
A Communities and Local Government spokeswoman said that “any proposals to change the provisions for access statements will be subject to a full public consultation”, but she was unable to comment further.
Stunell also said the government wanted to examine how the building regulations might be used to ensure that more fully accessible toilet and changing facilities – so-called Changing Places facilities – were available for disabled people with the highest support needs.
21 December 2010