Experts fear ‘red tape’ review is threat to accessible housing


Experts fear vital accessibility standards could be under threat because of a government assault on housing red tape.

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat communities minister, commissioned the review of building regulations and housing standards two months ago, and pledged that “essential safety and accessibility protections” would “remain untouched”.

But the Access Association has since written to Foster to express alarm that the accessibility and inclusive design industry was not represented among the 16 organisations chosen to offer advice on the review, part of the government’s controversial “Red Tape Challenge”.

And it has also grown concerned at the “level of hostility” around the review towards access standards and how they are supposedly “hindering house-building”.

The association pointed to comments by one of the four leading industry figures appointed to oversee the review, who was reported to have said that Lifetime Homes standards – key features that should be included in the design of accessible and adaptable housing – were “hindering housing construction”.

Sarah Rennie, president of the Access Association, said: “We are disappointed not to be formally involved in the review because it would have allowed us the opportunity to ensure that proper consideration – rather than ‘lip service’ – is being paid to vital access issues.”

She said the review “must firmly value inclusive design and social inclusion, rather than frame it as a perceived barrier to profit”.

She said: “We have not seen any evidence that access standards are hindering house-building and are concerned about the level of hostility apparent from the way in which they are being presented as the debate moves forward.”

Rennie said the Access Association would “not support any measures which have been motivated solely by a desire to cut perceived ‘red tape’”.

Foster said at the launch of the review in late October: “I want to see a simpler set of housing standards that people can easily understand and that free up developers and councils to get on with the job of building the high-quality new homes we so badly need to get more first-time buyers and families onto the housing ladder.”

Although the Access Association has not been asked to join the review, Rennie said it would be meeting in February with a civil servant from Foster’s Communities and Local Government department to “share the value of our combined expertise in this area”.

The department has so far failed to comment on the concerns raised by the Access Association.

20 December 2012