My Lords, I will confine my remarks to disability access, because without it housing supply simply cannot be regarded as sustainable.
As the excellent report produced in 2016 by the ad hoc Select Committee of your Lordships’ House on the Equality Act 2010 and disabled people highlighted, demographics are heading in one direction. As my noble friend Lord Borwick and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, mentioned, society is ageing and the incidence of disability is increasing. The question is, therefore, whether we have the accessible housing supply to meet the increased demand.
Sadly, the answer, as we have already heard, is that we do not. In fact, there is a crisis in accessible housing. Abode Impact, a respected organisation working in this field, has conducted the largest-ever survey of wheelchair users. It found,
“a chronic lack of wheelchair accessible homes”; four in five are currently living in a home that fails to fully meet their needs as a wheelchair user; 91% have experienced barriers to accessing the private rented sector; and 62% said this was due to a lack of accessible properties. Incredibly, wheelchair users report having to be carried downstairs to leave their property and being turned away by estate agents after arriving in a wheelchair.
So the next question is surely whether we are at least planning to make the necessary provision. Again, the answer, if we look at the National Planning Policy Framework—which was revised as recently as February of this year—is no, despite its being supposedly centred on “sustainable development”. Indeed, paragraph 61 reads:
“Within this context, the size, type and tenure of housing needed for different groups in the community should be assessed and reflected in planning policies (including, but not limited to, those who require affordable housing, families with children … people with disabilities”— the list goes on. However, that is it. The framework does not go into any further detail or communicate any sense of urgency.
Yet exactly two years ago, the Women and Equalities Select Committee in the other place recommended that,
“the Government amend the National Planning Policy Framework and the National Planning Practice Guidance to incorporate a dedicated section on access for disabled people and inclusive design for local planning authorities and decision-takers”.
This does not appear to have been done, and I would be grateful if the Minister could explain why.
Noble Lords may know that the Select Committee in the other place also recommended that, once the new guidance under the Neighbourhood Planning Bill —passed almost two years ago—is adopted, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government undertake an audit of local plans to identify those that do, or do not, meet that guidance. Where this audit reveals gaps in accessible housing policies, the Government must take action to press local authorities to amend their local plans in line with the new guidance as a matter of urgency. I ask the Minister: what is the status of that guidance? As of
Surely, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, also suggested, there is an obvious solution. Indeed, it is already being used in London, where all new homes are built to Part M category 2 standards for “accessible and adaptable dwellings”—in other words, sustainable housing. Moreover, 10% of new housing in London is category 3—that is, wheelchair accessible.
As my noble friend Lord Borwick so powerfully and clearly demonstrated, there is a market to be tapped here. Abode Impact is launching the first accessible housing fund for London, targeting financial returns and social impact. The fund will purchase one-bedroom and two-bedroom new-build flats in outer London, to be adapted for wheelchair users and located close to accessible public transport links.
In conclusion, if the Government are serious about marking next year’s 25th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act, how can they justify any further delay in publishing this essential guidance under the Neighbourhood Planning Act? Surely it should be published before the anniversary. I look forward to hearing what my noble friend has to say.