I was saddened to read of the passing of Professor Mike Oliver earlier this month, a man who helped found and promote the ‘Social Model’ of disability within the UK and beyond. The model pulled together a growing sphere of work on disability and society and helped frame a discourse that developed into a study area of its own. It certainly influenced me, through my degree in geography, where it formed the basis of my dissertation and led me into my first job (pre-planning consultant days) as an access consultant.
The Social Model’s core message is a simple one. It asks us to focus less on individual impairment and more on the barriers presented by society. As Tom Shakespeare (a noted social scientist who offered a review of the model in 2013) notes:
“Impairment is distinguished from disability. The former is individual and private, the latter is structural and public. While doctors and professions allied to medicine seek to remedy impairment, the real priority is to accept impairment and to remove disability.” (Shakespeare, 2013, 216)
In this sense, the barriers are many and varied – they can be social, economic, educational or attitudinal among many other forms. However, in the built environment, it is the barriers to physical access that are the most prevalent yet also are some of the easiest to eradicate, whether it’s in new developments, refurbishments or wider regeneration projects.
To remove barriers from the built environment, inclusive design should be at the forefront of development schemes and equality of access a principle mantra. In some cases the design solutions should be clear and straight forward to apply, such as step free access at a threshold or the correct tactile paving at a crossing (I say ‘should be’ as I’ve seen some shocking examples/attempts at both!). But it can be and indeed is far more nuanced than that.
For example, colour contrast and delineation can be vital for many visually impaired people to help them navigate spaces safely and independently and the acoustics of a building can have a dramatic effect on how someone with a hearing impairment uses and interacts with a space. It is also important to consider how the design treats its users equally, avoiding, where possible, separate and different access points or creating segregation in how people move within and use a building. In all instances, how the building environment is designed and built can and will be key to how an individual feels able to use it and ultimately whether they will use it.
The building regulations (Part M) set a standard, which seeks to improve the accessibility of new and refurbished buildings – as far as standards go it seems to me to be fairly effective. However, as with most building regulations, it should be viewed as the absolute minimum and development should seek to go above and beyond – this is an in-principle message that supports the intent of the Equalities Act (2010) (and the Disability Discrimination Act before it). Take sustainability and energy as an example, the building regulations set targets – but in a planning policy context the local area seeks to improve on building regulation requirements. Perhaps the same could be achieved in matters of inclusive design?
There is no one size fits all; impairment can be physical, auditory, cognitive, psychological among many other forms and what reduces a barrier for one individual may increase it for another. In this sense there is no perfect solution. However, there is a duty on practitioners in the built environment to ensure they keep the principles of inclusive design at the heart of design and decision making. Whether it be architects, planners or engineers, employing a best practice approach to eliminating barriers in the built environment that can reduce a person’s opportunities to access and enjoy space should be a shared and common goal. The outcome will be better designed spaces and places for everyone.
 Shakespeare, T – writing within Davis, LJ (2013), ‘The Disability Studies Reader’, Routledge, 214-221.
This week, the City of London Corporation opened a consultation on a proposed non-immediate Article 4 Direction to remove the Class O permitted development right (change of use from office to residential) across the entire City. If approved, it will come into force on 31 May 2019, the day following the expiry of the City’s current exemption from the permitted development right by virtue of its status as Article 2(5) land – an ‘exempt’ status granted to only 17 local planning authorities.
If approved by the City’s members and assuming the Direction avoids a Secretary of State veto, it will mean a smooth transition from exemption to removal of the right. The Article 4 Direction and its timing are no real surprise. Since the amendments to the 2015 General Permitted Development Order in April 2016 made the permitted development right permanent and signalled an end to the exemptions under Article 2(5) after 30 May 2019, it seemed obvious that local authorities would seek to replace the exemptions with Article 4 directions (see previous blog post for more details).
Indeed the Mayor makes it clear that he supports Article 4 Directions in London ‘exempt areas’, noting:
To ensure that London’s key business locations are safeguarded, the relevant boroughs are developing a co-ordinated approach to introducing Article 4 Directions. The Mayor is providing strategic support to help the boroughs achieve this.”
In fact this is one matter on which the current and previous administration share common ground - Boris Johnson having assisted the Boroughs in achieving exempt status previously.
Of the 17 local authorities with an exemption for part of their jurisdiction (with the exception of the City and RB Kensington and Chelsea, which both received full coverage exemptions), 11 were in London. And the City is not the first to make a proposed Article 4 Direction to replace the exemption. As the table below shows, based on a review of the relevant authorities’ websites, a further six local authorities have pending Article 4s.
Of the above, with the exception of East Hampshire, the pending Article 4 Directions appear to cover, at a minimum, the same areas covered by the current exemptions. In East Hampshire’s case, probably the most peculiar of all of the areas granted the original exemptions having been given exemption for 10 parishes (including significant amounts of residential land), they have slimmed down the Article 4 Direction area to include key employment locations only.
And based on the local authorities that have started the necessary consultation process, and on the dates of the Directions coming into force, it’s not clear that there has been any obvious ‘co-ordinated approach’ between the London Boroughs, as suggested by the Mayor.
Of the local authority areas yet to formally begin the process, there is still plenty of time, with over 12 months left until the exemptions expire. This allows sufficient time to make a non-immediate Article 4 Direction and it still seems likely that the remaining 10 local authorities will shortly begin their own consultations (something my colleagues have written a useful guide about here). However, for landowners with B1(a) office space in those areas, it may be worth monitoring the local authorities’ activities now, if the potential of a change of use to C3 residential is of interest.
If you have any questions in respect of the above, or require any advice or guidance on permitted development rights or Article 4 Directions, please do contact us.
 https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/planning/who-we-work/working-government/permitted-development-rights-changes-use Westminster City Council are yet to begin their consultation but propose to introduce the Article 4 Direction http://westminster.moderngov.co.uk/mgIssueHistoryHome.aspx?IId=13158&Opt=0