Inclusive design principles are central to quality
Sheron Carter is CEO of Habinteg, a national, mainstream housing association that provides and promotes homes which welcome and include everyone.
In this blog she highlights the need to plan for more accessible new homes and argues that beauty isn’t purely in the eye of the beholder when it comes to homes fit for the future.
Habinteg was founded on a mission to build places where disabled and non-disabled people could live side by side as neighbours. As well as building our own homes to inclusive design principles, we push for policy to normalise this approach. We played a part in innovating the Lifetime Homes standard and have championed its use along with carefully researched wheelchair housing design standards.
Despite almost 50 years in the field there is clearly much more work to do. Arguably the most significant policy development, which came into force in 2015, empowered local planning authorities to specify the number of accessible homes that should be built in their area. Yet our recent Insight report revealed that less than half of local plans make use of this option, resulting in a forecast that sees just 23% of new homes outside London set to meet any kind of accessibility standard.
The recent RIBA/Centre for Towns report, A Home for the Ages, showed among other things that older people are more likely to live in small towns and villages than they are in major cities. So although a positive accessible homes policy in a major city would benefit a large number of people due to density, the very demographic that would, on average, stand to gain the most from the availability of accessible, adaptable homes are proportionally less present in those cities.
So we’re delighted that the RIBA have, like us, called for the accessible and adaptable standard set out in Category M4(2) of building regulations to be required of all new homes. This would undoubtedly make housing options more appropriate for older and disabled people wherever they live, while bringing the benefits of well-designed, inclusive homes to households of all shapes, sizes and life stages. Such homes support neighbourliness for all, combat isolation and support health and wellbeing. We can’t leave this to a planning policy postcode lottery.
We often hear from disabled people that the external environment is just as important in enabling them to get out and participate in daily activities as the accessibility of their individual home. The architect's role is crucial. Understanding the potential for environments to enable rather than disable people is critical. Whether that be about the proximity of suitable public transport or the use of gravel in a public space, every design innovation and specification can affect accessibility, usability, and inclusivity. We know from our technical consultancy department, Centre for Accessible Environments, that many architects seek support in applying inclusive design principles. It’s great to know that clients are specifying and practices themselves are beginning to consider access at the start of each project, no matter how challenging.
With this in mind, we’re keen to hear the recommendations of the government's Building Better, Building Beautiful commission. We very much hope that the quality impacts of inclusive design are highlighted. For Habinteg, the beauty of a development lies not only in the way it fits into the landscape, sits alongside existing buildings or inspires the visitor. It lies in the detailed consideration of inclusive principles that ensure it can be used and enjoyed by all. If our new homes and communities bear this in mind, supported by clear national regulations, then our beautiful new places will be capable of greatness for all our people and communities.