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Searching for a Needle in Loch Ness

Author: Fleur Perry : Contact:

Published: 2015-06-02 : (Rev. 2016-06-11)

Synopsis and Key Points:

Looking for a house with wheelchair access is very much like looking for a needle in Loch Ness.

Main Digest

Does the supply of housing built to higher access standards meet demand

Short answer, no.

Long answer, no, and we're all paying for it.

Looking for a house with wheelchair access is very much like looking for a needle in Loch Ness: nobody's really sure what's there and some swear it doesn't exist in the first place. Just ask any estate agent.

Ask a Planning department, and they too might give you the impression that such things are mythical beings hiding unseen. According to Leonard Cheshire Disability, when asked 84% of councils couldn't provide any information about how many homes in their area were wheelchair accessible.

While we're talking about 84%, it seems a good time to point out that 84% of front doors in England are not wheelchair friendly. This presents a serious problem for many of the 800,000 people who acquire a disability every year, a number of whom will find themselves unwittingly trapped in their own homes, or waiting needlessly in hospital while their home is adapted.

The cost of poor housing to society has been estimated as £1.5 billion, through extra visits to GPs, serious injuries including hip fractures, additional social care costs and welfare expenditure.

With the stakes so high, it's surprising that there is no legal requirement for local authorities to set a percentage of homes to be built to higher access standards, and indeed many have not. Those who have set a percentage have found it difficult to find the evidence and data they need to choose an appropriate percentage, and so unfortunately insufficient percentages and unclear definitions are sometimes used.

In 2009, Swindon Borough Council set the proportion of homes to be built "suitable for occupation by wheelchair users" at 2%. Though some local disability data had been collected, Swindon Borough Council considered it "reasonable and valid" to assume a "relatively large percentage" of "frail elderly and people with a physical disability" would need such housing. Precisely how the "relatively large percentage" was determined was not mentioned.

That the 2% still stands to this day is testament to the confusion and lack of best practice examples in this area. The Planning Inspectorate need to do more to encourage local authorities to consider the needs of their residents with disabilities, and to guide them through the process. Guidance on the implementation of the National Planning Policy Framework could be expanded to support this, and in the meantime I would encourage people to be curious and ask their local authority for more information.

I've developed an alternative method to calculate the need for accessible housing; the method has been demonstrated on Swindon but can be used on other locations (please contact the author for support with this). To see what the percentage of wheelchair accessible homes to be built in Swindon should be, and to read further reasons this change is essential, click here:

I for one would like accessible housing to become more than the stuff of legend.

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