Above Average

Are you male, fit and aged between 18 and 40,

not very tall nor very short?

Do you have good sight, good hearing

and are you right handed?

If you are, then you are part of the 18%

of the population for whom British houses are

designed. The rest of the 82% of the population

tolerate what is forced upon them by the ‘average’

buyer.” – Andrew Rowe MP – HHF Conference 1989

I've written previously about the disconnection between the National Building Regulations and the Local Authorities. Our legislation is fairly undemanding. Many people in the building industry complain about how useless the Regulations are. I don’t know if they mean too strict or too soft or too unenforced.

I’ve spoken and written at length about the fact that it has become customary not to make buildings accessible, unless it is multi-storied, really bulky, or a modest sized public facility.

In the Regulations before the amendments of 1 October 2008, it was implied that only if a lift was provided did one have to make the building accessible at higher levels than ground level. I never understood that myself, but the amended Regulations now spell out that ‘all facilities in buildings not exempted should be accessible.’The critical element though is “how do the Local Authorities see it?’

In Durban I’ve had feedback that they definitely see it the way I do.It’s not that I think only small projects in disadvantaged areas should now pull their socks up. There are office developments, in really good localities, who want to take advantage of decentralisation, where owners feel they should be able to develop without making buildings accessible at upper levels. This smacks of greediness. Obviously the development will beable to get higher rentals from accessible accommodation at upper levels; and it will be sustainable. The same income should be derived from upper and lower levels.

And with the support of the local authorities this is all going to be possible. Applicants feel that, if their developments were approved last year, why not this year?

Well, one has to look at the advantages. Like with environmental issues, where it is only now sinking in that buildings requiring less energy are likely to have lower Life Cycle Costs, and thus serve the owner well. I don’t think the statistics have changed much in this regard since 1989.

It also reinforces the universal design approach to the largest part of the building industry work. It is amazing that sunken lounges, double doors with one leaf not wide enough for one person, and so forth, still see the light of day.

In an ordinary house, on a single site, the general mainstream population don’t have to think about accessibility as far as legal imperatives are concerned.

Investing in a house is an important part of most peoples’ assets. If it is resellable to a broader range of people, how much better is that?In the United Kingdom, where most homes are at least double storied, there is a social housing initiative calledLifetime Homes and they have 16 key points (I wont spell them all out here).One of the ones that I am really keen on, and think it short sighted not to, is that there should be a bedroom and a bathroom on the ground floor. The bathroom can double up as a guest toilet. The bedroom can be used by granny if she stays a month or so, or a student child, as he gets closer to leaving home, or dad when he get’s home from hospital after breaking a leg. It also means that it can be used as a study with a day bed, for a home business. It’s easier having toddlers on one level instead of having to go upstairs to the bathroom during the day. And, of course, the house is probably accessible for a person with a disability; or for parents to use as their main bedroom when the children have left home. That’s why it’s called Lifetime Homes: you don’t have to move house at the different stages of your life because you’ve outgrown it, only because, maybe, you’ve got a neighbour you don’t like! Or the traffic is getting you down.

Other items which make a home you will never want to leave, is a level parking place; the ability to drive out forwards onto the street and to open your car door 90° when getting in or out.

Having a paved sidewalk is also a great plus, although the ordinary ratepayer does not have much say over that!

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