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Architects call for compulsory space standards to aid accessibility

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Minimum space guidelines introduced last year should become legal requirements as part of a movement to promote better accessibility to the built environment, the RIBA has urged

The institute told MPs that the Nationally Described Space Standards – which set out non-mandatory minimum sizes for variously configured homes – should be adopted in the Building Regulations.

The recommendation came in a submission of evidence to the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee for its inquiry into disability and the built environment.

‘The adaptability of new-build housing is limited by lack of interior space,’ said the institute.

‘The RIBA believes that the Nationally Described Space Standards should be adopted as compulsory measures within the Building Regulations, which would help address this problem.’

The technical planning standards require that, for example, a new single-storey, two-bed home has 61m² of internal floor space and 2m² of built-in storage.

Announced by the then communities secretary Eric Pickles in March last year, the standards are optional for councils, so are currently adopted in some parts of the country and not others.

An RIBA spokesman said: ‘The bureaucratic processes involved in introducing the standards are an excessive and unnecessary burden on local authorities, limiting their introduction.

’We’re calling for minimum space standards to apply to all homes, in every location. We’re asking the government to create a fair housing offer by embedding the Nationally Described Space Standards in Building Regulations.’

Julia Park, head of housing research at Levitt Bernstein, said councils had to prove the existing space standards were needed and viable before they could adopt them.

’In many cases this is proving tricky territory,’ she added. 

’Putting the standards into building regulations would be the easiest and most effective thing to do, and would make a real difference to accessibility, which can’t work without sufficient space.

‘We should be doing all we can do incentivise “rightsizing” but it’s really hard to find two-bedroom houses that are suitable for older people. If you don’t start off with decent size rooms, the only way to gain enough space to move around is to get rid of furniture – many of the smallest new homes only take a minimal amount of furniture anyway.’

Alan Stanton, founding director of AJ100 practice Stanton Williams, said architects were ‘really up for’ the challenge of improving accessibility to the built environment.

He described hard-to-adapt old buildings as a ‘huge problem’ and dismissed the usability of public transport as ‘lamentable’.

‘Many of us understand that better access creates better spaces and facilities for everyone,’ he said. ‘We need better imposed standards and clients who are prepared to do more than pay lip service to inclusivity.’

The RIBA’s submission to the Women and Equalities Committee also called for a legal requirement on councils to maintain a register of accessible housing, citing a ‘lamentable lack of data’ on the supply of new accessible homes.

The Design Council echoed this call in its own submission, saying: ‘There is insufficient national data on the inclusivity of the built environment in the UK. This makes a robust assessment of the scale of the issue challenging.’

The body added that social, cultural and economic inequalities were ‘still being built into new places’. 

More than 150 individuals and organisations submitted evidence to the inquiry.

Committee chair Maria Miller said: ‘While we have made great strides over the past 20 years in improving access to suitable housing and local services, too often disabled people still face unnecessary problems in everyday life – from constant minor inconveniences to major challenges.

‘It is clear from the evidence we have received that this is an issue that affects a wide range of people across the country.’ 

  • 3 Comments

Readers' comments (3)

  • Chris Roche

    Improved and mandatory minimum space standards would of course improve access for people with disabilities, particularly those who are wheelchair dependent. Let's not forget qualitative issues, in particular aspect/outlook and the need to improve visibility and engagement with the world outside the home.

    Chris Roche
    Founder 11.04 Architects

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  • For Chris Roche:
    Well said, and my experiences in recent months while - for the first time in my life - pushing a wheelchair around the streets - were a salutary lesson in my own complacency.
    The Disability Discrimination Act 1995, with amendments, and Equality Act 2010, have been by now widely understood to provide for adequate access to and within buildings and public transport, but the widespread provision by local and highway authorities of dropped kerbs at road crossings seems to have been subject to very loose (to put it politely) interpretation by some authorities, with public money wasted on badly botched pavement reconstruction that still leaves kerb edges sufficiently proud of the road surface to baulk the progress of a wheelchair.
    Really quite shameful.

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  • MacKenzie Architects

    Space standards in the UK are an absolute joke, and have been since well before Parker Morris, Essex Design Guide and whatever else we had.

    Look around the world, no-one lives in such wretched hovels as we do, and I am including new-build in this as well.

    Architects have been way too lax in pushing for better space standards within the Building Regulations. The fact that most homes cannot swing a cat or a wheelchair is shameful.

    The number of projects I have seen where a little wheelchair circle is drawn, a couple of activity spaces drawn around a wardrobe or chest of drawers, the little spaces at whb and wc. and that's it. No other spare carpet anywhere.

    Shame on us. We talk of grand spaces, of light and mood, and we yet design Wormwood Scrubs little cupboards.

    Each generation grows 3 inches taller than the last. At the very least, we should have inflation on apartment sizes to match -and that is just to stand still.

    We are designing foreign blue collar apartments at 75 and 95m2 for 2-Bed in the Middle East.
    That should be the minimum for bottom end and middle.

    We are way too hostage to land-prices in this country. If you increased apartment and house sizes, land prices would go down because they are out of whack.
    The stupid financial sector induced boom from late 90's to 2008, 105% mortgages and multi-buy has gone, we have a chance to get some objectivity back into housing.

    We spend too little on our housing (but the authorities could free up a tonne more land and crash the land market being controlled by the insolvent banks).

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