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.
21 Feb 2019
Since the Government published the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) last year there have been a trickle of appeal decisions which have grappled with the intricacies of interpreting the NPPF and PPG in respect of the implications of the standard methodology for calculating a local authority’s housing requirement.
The Government’s intention was that the standard methodology should be applied in respect of assessing 5 year housing land supply immediately and local housing needs assessments based on the standard method should be applied in respect of strategic policy making as of the 24th of January this year.
There are a few notable post revised NPPF appeal decisions regarding 5 year housing land supply including; Bamber Bridge in Preston (August 2018) and Deerlands Road, Wingerworth in North East Derbyshire (November 2018). However, the messages were ultimately confusing; the Inspector at Bamber Bridge suggested the standard method was subject still to a level of uncertainty, stating at paragraph 44 ‘Government guidance indicates the new methodology for assessing housing needs is incomplete and so it would be premature to make and rely upon such an assessment’ and the Inspector at Deerlands firmly stood behind the standard method in assessing 5 year housing land supply and noted the ‘clarity and consistency’ that the standard method provides. An all too common position of uncertainty has emerged in respect of the standard method which was ultimately introduced to simplify and expedite the process.
However, on the 5th of February Hallam Land Management learned that their appeal regarding the Land East of Mere Lane, Edenthorpe, Doncaster had been allowed by the Secretary of State (SoS), who accepted his Inspector’s recommendation. When determining the call-in application, the Secretary of State (SoS) has concluded that the standard method is the approach which must be applied in respect of assessing 5-year housing land supply.
Ironically, the appeal (which started in September 2017 and concluded in January 2018) closed its September 2017 sitting on the day the Government published its consultation on the standard method, within ‘Planning for the Right Homes in the Right Places’. There was a lot of evidence and examination of housing need in Doncaster at the Inquiry when it resumed in January 2018. Despite the Inspector’s report (1st November 2018) containing a detailed discussion of the debate, the SoS concluded in respect of the 5-year housing land supply position at paragraph 14 of his decision:
“While he notes that the applicant has used an alternative approach to calculate the figure, the Secretary of State considers that the standard methodology should be used, in line with the Framework. Using this, the Secretary of State considers that Doncaster Council’s annual requirement is circa 600 homes per year, and that based on forecast levels of supply, they can currently demonstrate over 10 years supply of housing land”
This decision clearly follows the transitional arrangements identified in the NPPF in respect of assessing 5-year housing land supply against the standard methodology and is clear how the Framework should be applied, in the current circumstances.
Despite the 5-year housing land supply argument being superseded by the Government’s new approach in respect of assessing local housing need during the Inquiry, the appeal for Hallam Land Management in Doncaster was allowed. This is because the Inspector and the SoS determining that key policies of the Unitary Development Plan are out of date and that the tilted balance in respect of sustainable development stated in paragraph 11 of the Framework applies; an extremely long-winded wait for a great result.
 https://www.gov.uk/guidance/housing-and-economic-development-needs-assessment APP/F2360/W/18/3198822 APP/R1038/W/17/3192255 APP/F4410/W/17/3169288