Housing minister Kit Malthouse has been grilled by a select committee over the government’s ‘disappointing’ response to its inquiry on disability and the built environment
Malthouse gave evidence before the Women and Equalities committee on Wednesday morning (10 October), where he was asked why he had not taken forward recommendations in its 2017 report Building for Equality: Disability and the Built Environment.
The report had argued that in recent years there had been a loss of expertise on inclusive design and access at a local level and urged the government to ‘lead the charge’ in improving accessibility.
It called for a number of measures, including creating a dedicated section in the National Planning Policy Framework on access for disabled people and inclusive design.
It also requested Building Regulations to be amended as the minimum standards were ‘too low’ to meet the needs of the population and asked for the removal of the requirement on local authorities to ‘prove a need’ for accessible housing.
But the government’s response was branded ‘deeply disappointing’ by committee chair and Conservative MP Maria Miller, who said the inclusive design was being treated as a ‘nice-to-do’ and not a statutory requirement.
In the session, Labour MP Tulip Siddiq questioned Malthouse over how he would ensure that access and inclusion were not lost in the review of Building Regulations planned in response to the post-Grenfell Hackitt Review.
Malthouse argued it would be a mistake to think ‘we should rely entirely on regulation’ and argued that local plans should be more specific so that councils can be clear on their requirements for accessibility ‘before architects even put pen to paper’.
He said: ‘With Building Regulations] you’re addressing some of the grit in the oyster – the inconveniences – but you’re not looking at some of the major hindrances that might be caused by bigger issues like the disposition of the building, the type of building, where it sits in the site and how you access it from the road.
‘All of those things will not be covered by regulation unless we standardise the way we build buildings, which would be inflexible. What we’re trying to do, as well as review regulation, is shift the consideration of these issues up front at the design stage.’
Speaking after the session, Siddiq said: ‘The minister’s comments do not change my view, as reflected in the select committee report, that both the NPPF and the Building Regulations should be updated to ensure they adequately address access for disabled people today, adopting an inclusive design and pan-impairment approach.
‘Though I acknowledge the wider timing issues, with the Hackitt Review promising wider changes to regulations, the government mustn’t allow accessibility to drop off the radar.’