My Lords, I shall follow the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, down the route of talking about homes for disabled people. The Minister knows exactly what I am going to say, and I believe I am right in thinking that he is sympathetic to my message, which is simple: we desperately need far more new accessible and adaptable homes built in a sustainable way now as the population ages, and disabled people live longer.
For that to be a reality, we need Part M category 2 of the Building Regulations to be mandatory all over the country, as it is in London, as soon as possible. Housing and planning authorities also ought to provide an adequate number of category 3 wheelchair-accessible properties in their areas; otherwise, working-age wheelchair users will not be able to live and work there or many older-age wheelchair users will not be able to transfer or downsize to a more suitable property. This must be considered as part of the sustainability agenda, particularly as many disabled people need a warmer home than others.
Just the other day, I was speaking to a man at a social event who was taking a break from caring for his mother in Manchester. He said that she was virtually bedridden and did not go out at all because she lived on the fourth floor of a block of flats and could not climb stairs any more. This story is repeated throughout the country. Elderly people, perhaps with chronic arthritis, are becoming less mobile as the years pass, ending up as prisoners in their own homes. Or they may have had a serious fall—perhaps a broken hip—and are too fearful to move about very much. I also recently met Sam Renke, a young wheelchair-using actress, who has only just moved into an accessible home. She has said:
“Having others do almost everything for you may sound idyllic to some, but actually I felt like I was in my own version of a prison at times, having to wait for others to help me do basic … tasks”.
As for MMC, I gather that both category 2 and category 3 homes can be built this way, so I assume that this means that they are adaptable—for example, having strong enough bathroom walls to allow grab rails to be installed. But it would be quite unacceptable for a developer to refuse to install enough accessible and adaptable homes because they do not fit with MMC. Yes, we need a lot more homes but surely not at the cost of accessibility. Will the Minister ensure that accessibility requirements are included as part of any future rollout of MMC?
However, it is not just developers who want to use every inch of space for homes which are not accessible or easily adaptable. Not enough local authorities have targets in place for accessible homes. Last year, the housing association Habinteg analysed the accessible housing policies detailed in 263 of the 365 local plans across England. It found that, although 65% of the local planning authorities reviewed made reference to the lifetime homes standard or category 2, only 32% made a firm commitment to deliver a specific proportion of new homes to that standard, with just 18% committed to the category 3 standard.
We know that a review of the Building Regulations is being carried out. Will the Minister tell us about the timescale? We need category 2 of Part M made mandatory as soon as possible. Do we really need a long consultation about it? Of course, some property developers—not the noble Lord, Lord Borwick—will say that there is not much need for accessible and adaptable homes, but we know that there is a huge unmet need, so I urge the Government not to delay for another minute.