What do regulations currently say about accessibility in new homes?
The 2015 edition of Approved Document M Volume 1: The Guidance 4 consolidated and updated two previous documents outlining standards for accessible homes, namely the Lifetime Homes and Wheelchair Housing Design guides.
Requirement M4 (1) describes three access standard categories:
- M4(1) Category 1: Visitable dwellings, the regulatory minimum requirements for all new dwellings (note, Buildings other than-dwellings are covered separately and these matters are not discussed here).
- M4(2) Category 2: Accessible and Adaptable, an optional requirement dependent on planning policy or developer choice.
- M4(3) Category 3: Either 1). wheelchair accessible (i.e. “ready to go”) or 2) allow adaptions for wheelchair use. Again, this is an optional requirement depending on planning and developer discretion.
According to Habinteg, planning policy differs around the UK. While Category 1 is mandatory, Category 2 provision depends on where you are building. It is a requirement in 96 English local plans but the rate of provision varies:
- The London plan requires Category 2 in 90% of new homes.
- Outside London, 14% of new homes will be Category 2, with 8% still specified as Lifetime Homes that Part M effectively replaced.
Otherwise, some local authority development arms, housing providers and private developers simply adopt a category higher than Category 1 by choice.
What does a Category 2 home look like?
Part 2 of our Adaptive Homes articles details the differences between a Category 1 and Category 2 home as laid out in Approved Document M4 Volume 1.
Here we provide an overview of considerations needed to design and build a Category 2 home, with images and illustrations supplied by the Centre for Accessible Environments (CAE).
Below are two images of a Category 2 home, designed to be more accessible and adaptable according to Approved Document M’s technical guidance. Note the level access to the front and rear doors, and the canopy over the front.
Inside, a Category 2 homes needs to fulfil a number of requirements, some of which are common features found in many new homes. On the entrance-level floor, this includes having a living area and WC at entrance level, accessible level threshold doors and kitchens with sufficient access room. (Note: Damp proof courses must be sited correctly and thresholds at accessible openings must be carefully detailed to avoid damp penetration)
On the upper (or lower) floor, bedrooms require clear access routes to reach the windows while doors and corridors need to have sufficient width to allow free movement. Likewise, the bathroom should have clear access zones giving access to all the room’s facilities. Stairs should be designed so that a stairlift can be easily fitted in future, should one be required.
Will demand for accessible housing rise, regardless of regulatory change?
According to the English Housing Survey, just 7% of homes in England provide the four basic accessibility criteria to be deemed Category 1 “visitable” homes. Yet there are 13.9 million disabled people in the UK, with the NHS estimating that within those numbers there are 1.2m wheelchair users.
With an ageing population and housing high on the Government’s agenda, it is not difficult to see why a consultation on accessibility is in the pipeline.