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M is for modifications

technical & practice; The new Part M of the Building Regulations will have wide effect in its application to new buildings and other changes

This autumn of 1999 will be seen as having particular significance for how the design and management of buildings meet the needs of people with disabilities. On 25 October, 1999, the Building Regulations 1991 'Access and facilities for disabled people', 1999 edition, come into force. This introduces a new 'Part M', with a new Approved Document on 'Access and Facilities for Disabled People'.* October also sees the implementation of Section 19 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which imposes the duty of ensuring rights of access for disabled people by all 'providers of goods, facilities, services and premises'.

Another change, largely unnoticed, has come with the May publication of 'Access for Disabled People to School Buildings' from the dfee's Building Bulletin No.91.

Design Note 18 Access for Disabled People to Educational Buildings is superseded by Approved Document M of the Building Regulations, subject to over-riding variations concerning escape routes, ramps and sanitary fittings as set out in the current DfEE Constructional Standards.

The 1999 edition of Approved Document M introduces a number of significant changes which will have very wide effect. The most important of these is that Part M now applies to new dwellings. The limits on application of the requirements have been changed so that requirements M1 to M3 now apply to new dwellings as well as to other buildings. The guidance on performance and on where the requirements apply has been expanded to address new dwellings, including clarifying the situation over student living accommodation.

The relationship between Part M and the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and the Disability Discrimination (Employment) Regulations 1996 has been clarified. New Sections 6 to 10 of the Approved Document set out what the Department of Environment Transport and Regions considers to be reasonable provisions in new dwellings. The references to standards and other publications have been updated, but the guidance on buildings other than dwellings remains unchanged from the 1992 edition.

Perhaps one of the more subtle but, for architects, key changes in the 1999 edition of Approved Document M (when compared with the 1992 edition) is in the preamble, 'Use of Guidance'. Formerly rather threatening statements that 'should a contravention of a requirement be alleged, then, if you have followed the guidance in the relevant Approved Documents, that [serves as] evidence tending to show that you have complied with the Regulations. If you have not followed the guidance, then that will [be] evidence tending to show that you have not complied. It will then be for you to demonstrate by other means that you have satisfied the requirement' - these chilling words have been softened a bit. Instead there remains only the statement that 'thus there is no obligation to adopt any particular solution contained in an Approved Document if you prefer to meet the requirement in some other way.'

This is of special significance in relation to Section 4.12 and Diagram 16 of the 1999 edition, which continues to reproduce the wheelchair wc compartment layout as set out in BSSB10:1979. This shows a dimension of 500mm from the centre of the wc pan to the adjoining wall on which support rails are mounted. It is now widely acknowledged that that dimension is excessive for anyone making a lateral transfer to or from a wheelchair, and that it should preferably be 400 or 375 mm. Architects should now be able to design wc compartment layouts incorporating this modification without having to seek documentary evidence to justify the change to obdurate building-control officers.

Sections 6 to 10 of the new Approved Document M are concerned specifically with guidance in relation to dwellings. While the introduction of these provisions has been fiercely resisted by the volume house-builders, they are not particularly onerous, and represent little more than basic good practice in housing design.

The most significant requirement is the provision of a wc within the entrance storey, or the principal storey of a dwelling. The Approved Document recognises however that 'it will not always be practical for the wheelchair to be fully accommodated within the wc compartment.' The implications of this are illustrated in Diagrams 24 and 25. Even at this minimal level of provision, it should be possible to ensure that new houses are at least 'visitable' by people with disabilities, even if more extensive facilities would be needed for permanent occupancy by them.

Although the requirements and guidance of the new Approved Document are hardly very demanding, it will became increasingly apparent that housing built from 1999 onwards should be better suited to serving the needs of a population of which more than 20 per cent are already above retirement age.

*The Building Regulations 1991 Approved Document M. 'Access and facilities for disabled people'. 1999 Edition. The Stationery Office. £7.95.

John Penton is an architect specialising in ageing and disabilities.

'Architects should now be able to design wc compartment layouts incorporating this modification without having to seek documentary evidence to justify the change to obdurate building-control officers.'

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