The government has finally published a long-promised consultation on whether it should introduce higher accessibility standards for new housing in England, although it fails to say what kind of reforms ministers want to see.
The consultation paper, Raising Accessibility Standards for New Homes, came more than 14 months after Theresa May promised a consultation on introducing compulsory higher standards, in one of her last acts before resigning as prime minister.
But although the title mentions “raising accessibility standards”, the consultation paper does not suggest which of five possible options for reform ministers support.
Despite coming 14 months after it was announced, the consultation paper is just 21 pages long.
Successive Tory ministers have been repeatedly warned of the dire shortage of suitable accessible housing.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick (pictured) says in the introduction to the paper that the consultation addresses the issue of inaccessible housing “head on”.
But rather than confirming that the government wants to raise minimum standards, he merely says that the paper “considers bold options” to ensure more homes are built to higher accessibility standards.
He says the consultation forms part of the government’s work on its delayed new national disability strategy, which is not expected to be published until next spring.
The paper’s first option – likely to appeal to the home-building industry – is to simply “wait to see” the impact of new “optional” national technical standards, introduced in 2015.
The paper later describes this as the “do nothing” option.
Three other options would see the minimum accessibility standard improved for nearly all new homes, so that they would have to be built to the basic M4(2)* accessible housing standard.
One of these three options would also see the government setting a minimum proportion of new homes in all areas of England that would have to be built to be fully wheelchair-accessible, according to the M4(3) standard*.
The fifth option suggests a new stricter level of accessibility for the existing M4(1) minimum standard, which “could be pitched between the existing requirements of M4(1) and M4(2)” and is again likely to appeal to the home-building industry.
The consultation paper suggests that introducing a minimum M4(2) standard of accessibility for all new housing in England would cost just £311 million a year, or about £1,400 per new home that would not already have met M4(2).
The consultation closes on 1 December.
Only last month, the government was accused of “showing contempt” for disabled people after publishing an “utterly shameful” 84-page white paper on the future of the planning system, without including a single mention of disabled people, disability or accessible housing.
Last year, Jenrick was warned that he faced the threat of legal action over the government’s failure to take action to solve the crisis in accessible housing.
And two years ago, Disability News Service revealed that representatives of the home-building industry were engaged in a countrywide campaign to defeat attempts by councils to ensure more accessible homes were built in their areas.
*Homes built to the M4(2) standard have 16 accessible or adaptable features, similar to the Lifetime Homes standard developed in the early 1990s to make homes more easily adaptable for lifetime use, while M4(3) homes are those that are supposed to be fully wheelchair-accessible
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