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Disability Act 'could cost businesses £5 billion'

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Implementing the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) could cost uk businesses up to £5 billion, estimates quantity surveyor and project manager Bucknall Austin. Tim Castle, the firm's regional assistant director, said that, although the Act has a ten-year implementation period, 'the growing awareness of disability issues within our society means it will only be a short time before buildings will have to be disabled friendly'.

The importance of this act is that, unlike its predecessors, it covers existing buildings as well as new build. Only a very small number of sectors are exempt - such as charities and companies with fewer than 15 employees. Since the act requires companies to make provision which is 'reasonable', it is difficult to determine exactly the scale of work required. But Bucknall Austin estimates that it could vary from £10,000 to provide disabled wc facilities in a two-storey 1960s office block, to £200,000 for a large four-storey Victorian office, where the work would include provision of entrance ramps, lifts to all floors, widening of doors, tactile paths, the provision of disabled wc facilities and external re-grading.

The cost for a typical high-street bank will, estimates Bucknall Austin, be £25,000, to install power-assisted doors, hearing loops at cashier points, improved lighting and clearer signs.

Avanti Architects' £3.3 million Peckwater Centre in Kentish Town, North London, was branded 'outstanding', 'high-quality', 'low-key and cool' and 'user-friendly' in last week's Environmental Design Awards from Camden Council. The 3060m2 brownfield scheme, which was finished last year, is built around three landscaped courtyards and provides primary care including a mental-health resource centre, a practice of eight gps, and a wheelchair and special seating service. Clients are Camden & Islington Community Health nhs Trust, the local health authority, and Caversham Group Practice.

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