Access for all from Local Authority Building Control

Legislative background of The Equality Act 2010

From 10 August 2006 most planning applications were required to be accompanied by a ‘Design and Access statement’. This included applications for Listed Building Consent (Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004).

Section 42 of the 2004 Act substituted a new section 62 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and amended section 10 of the Listed Buildings Act 1990 to provide that a statement, covering design concepts and access issues, should accompany applications. Section 42 also inserted a new section 327A into the 1990 Act prohibiting, among other things, a local planning authority from entertaining an application unless it was accompanied by a ‘Design and Access Statement’.

The most recent advice on the validation of planning applications is contained in the Communities and Local Government ‘Guidance on information requirements and validation’ published in March 2010 and in the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2010 which came into force on 1 October 2010.

The submission of a ‘Design and Access Statement’ is a national requirement but the government does stress that the information required should always be proportionate to the scale and complexity of the application.

All ‘Design and Access Statements’ shall have reference to relevant government guidance, policies and legislation. Of particular relevance to the access component of the statement is the government’s requirement to ensure access for all to goods, facilities and services including buildings.

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995 brought in measures to prevent discrimination against disabled people whilst an amendment in 2005 introduced further measures imposing a duty on public authorities (including councils) to promote disability equality. Most recently the Equality Act 2010 came into force on 1 October 2010. Although primarily harmonising existing equalities legislation it does have the effect of making it unlawful to discriminate against people who are disabled or associated with a disabled person.

This obviously has ramifications for the contents of any ‘Design and Access Statement’ submitted in support of a planning application and notably the considerations to be addressed with regards to access for all.

The access component

Inclusive design should be incorporated at every stage of the design process from a project’s inception through to completion and future management: it should certainly be evident in the ‘Design and Access Statement’.

Good design can only be achieved if the environment created meets everyone’s needs. Everyone at some point will experience some form of limited mobility – as a tourist laden with bulky luggage, a parent with young children, an older person or an individual with injuries. Inclusive design recognises and accommodates differences in the way that people use their environments and aims to remove the barriers that create undue effort and separation. It enables everyone to participate equally, confidently and independently in everyday activities. Inclusive design is about equality for all and not about dealing with the needs of one individual as opposed to another. Inclusive design encourages equality to be built in from the outset and not something to be added on afterwards when problems arise.

Inclusive design builds in recognition not only of disabled people’s needs but those of women, children and older people. In terms of disability it is necessary to understand the barriers experienced by people with learning difficulties, mental health conditions, visual and hearing impairments as well as those with mobility impairments.

Although by no means exhaustive or mutually exclusive the following are some examples of problems experienced by disabled people and should inform design consideration.

Wheelchair users

  • Changes in level, problems created by high kerbs, stairs or steps, gradients which are too steep, loose gravel and cobbles on approaches to premises, doorways and corridors that are too narrow, doors that are hard to open, the absence of toilets designed for people with disabilities. These are among some of the barriers created to wheelchair users. This group particularly benefits from automatic entrance doors.

People who are blind or partially sighted

  • People with a visual impairment are restricted by poor illumination or lighting which is uneven. Poor or no signage and poor design and layout considerations cause locational problems. The use of colour contrasts on steps, the clearance of hazards on routes to and around buildings and the use of etching or other markings in glass, can all be of benefit.

People with hearing impairment

  • Problems with obtaining information are worsened by too many hard surfaces leading to a noisy and confusing environment. Poor acoustics, the absence of induction loops, minicom phones or type talk facilities cause additional problems.

People with an ambulant disability or reduced manual dexterity

  • Inadequate clearance for sticks and walking aids, too steep gradients, slippery and uneven ground, and long distances without resting places create additional problems for these users of premises. Many people may also benefit from handrails that are not cold to grip, such as wood or plastic, and from easy to operate door handles able to be operated by a person with a closed fist, or automatic doors.

People with learning disabilities, literacy problems and who do not speak English as a first language

  • These groups benefit from clear, simple and logical signage that may include pictograms and information in other languages and voice information to assist in way finding and information difficulties.

Parents/carers with young children including those with disabilities

  • For safety reasons this group benefit from lower handrails on steps and ramps. Problems with wide buggies (0.9m wide) entering buildings, the absence of changing and feeding facilities, parent and child parking spaces are experienced. Automatic doors and automatic hold open facilities on doors particularly benefit this group.

Whilst access must be considered at all stages of the design process the access component of the ‘Design and Access Statement’ should include and address the following issues:

  • Relevant national, regional and local development documents which have been taken into account and have informed the policy approach taken to access.
  • Any consultation undertaken with regard to access to the development and how the responses have been taken into consideration in the access arrangements for the development.
  • Ease of movement across the site for people with disabilities, parents with prams, the elderly and the infirm.
  • An explanation of how people will travel to the development, including information on public transport, pedestrian access and provision for cyclists.
  • Ease of access to parking provision for disabled people, people with restricted mobility and parents with push chairs.
  • An explanation of how access will be maintained through the lifetime of the development.

Whilst it is acknowledged that the requirement for the access component of the statement relates only to ‘access to the development’ and not to internal aspects of buildings it is good practice to explain briefly how the buildings meet the requirements of Part M (access to and use of buildings) of the Building Regulations 2000.

Such practice and the assessment of requirements such as: accessible lifts, toilets, corridor widths and accessible space for other functions may affect the overall size, layout and design of the building. This in turn may have ramifications for external appearance which is easier to accommodate at the time of a planning application.

Finally, evidence of inclusive design and an assessment of the needs of various groups will be helpful in withstanding any challenge to the provision of accessible services under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 or the Equality Act 2010.

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