Two-thirds commitment to accessible housing ‘won’t scratch the surface’

New research reveals only 32% of councils plan to build to Category 2 standards.

The social housing green paper falls short on addressing real issues, with councils not engaged in adequate strategic planning to meet existing and future accessible demand, a new report says.

Habinteg has released new research into council planning for accessible housing, saying more could be achieved if councils found commonality in accepting that accessible housing is linked to affordability, viable infrastructure and sustainability.

The report found some planning departments had not updated housing strategies since before 2015 which has meant recent research including both old and new standards for accessibility.

Latest revisions to the National Planning Framework were made in July this year, government is recommending that housing providers feed accessibility standards into their planning – particularly with regard to the updated standard for wheelchair accessible homes.

Overall, the report found 65% of councils discussing the “hidden aspect” of the housing crisis, but less than half of this percentage are taking steps toward planning and implementation.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the median age in the UK is now 40 years old.

To Habinteg, planning for this pending demographic shift is not evident in most council strategies to deliver housing, with the state of local response to the hidden housing crisis falling into three identifiable categories:

  • A defined commitment to delivering accessible homes – only representative of a third of local authorities
  • Reference accessible homes but no clear commitment to build
  • Largely no commitment to the provision of category 2 or category 3 standard homes

Councils, the report says, would benefit from cohesive planning, bringing together the best elements of accessibility standards to meet housing challenges into the next decade.

But, rather than redressing the balance in inadequate housing, the report says councils are opting to build high quantities as a response to the housing crisis – with many of these properties falling short of accessible standards which could result in a further crisis in the future.

Without moving forward with planning and implementation of both category 2 (previously Lifetime Homes standard) and category 3 wheelchair accessible housing standard across all new build schemes, we are likely to face a housing gridlock, the report says.

Habinteg’s recommendation to councils is to set a target of 90% of new homes to be built to category 2 standard, an approach the report says is evident in the London Plan to deliver more improved housing stock.

The remaining 10% of dwellings should, the report says, be built to category 3 to be accessible for one or more wheelchair users.

To Habinteg, councils have the opportunity to be in a similar planning environment as Liverpool City Council, where they could benefit from mirroring the strategic focus on planning for inclusion.

In Liverpool, the council has stated its commitment to the 90/10 recommendation and has identified its plan for Liverpool to be inclusive and accessible.

Cllr Pam Thomas, Cabinet Member for Inclusive and Accessible City, said: “Not all housing developers understand the importance of accessibility. We now have some Lifetime Homes and try to emphasise the need when we receive planning applications.”

Leeds City Council is another provider identified as engaged in proactive regeneration of more economically diverse communities to implement sustainable infrastructure.

There, the report says, homes are being built to last but also within the environment there is accessible transport, health and social care and a sense of cohesion.

This, the report says, is proving to be a productive planning and delivery model with schemes such as those found in Liverpool and West Leeds being best practice examples.

The NHS has long supported the case that adequate and accessible housing relieves the strain on financial resources as well as increasing capacity on the wards.

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