Proposed changes to the Part M building regulations will make level access manadatory in all new homes. We should embrace the change and go further still, writes Simone de Gale

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Source: Simone de Gale Architects

Simone de Gale

The government has announced its proposed changes to the Part M Building Regulations to provide step-free access to all new homes. It is a wonderfully refreshing piece of legislation.

Ever since the introduction of the Part M Building Regulations, I have noticed a gradual increase in the number of disabled and less abled people populating the streets, and out and about in cafes and restaurants. This means that the legislation is working.

This is because with compliant homes and commercial premises, people who have disabilities can comfortably leave their homes, and enjoy more of the activities from which they were previously excluded. It was never that disabled people did not exist, buildings were simply inaccessible.

Yet, it is not only the increase in confidence and visibility of disabled people in public spaces which is encouraging. Other members of society, such as elderly and frail people, children and babies in push chairs, and anyone with heavy bags, is also benefitting from current Part M legislation. For instance, at the train station, if someone has luggage, they will use the accessible entrance. At times, someone will use a lift instead of a staircase.

Legislation addressing accessibility is not just for people with long-term physical disabilities. It is for everyone, because at some point in our lives, we all sometimes need more help than we are accustomed to. The sooner we recognize this as architects, the better we can design our buildings, and the faster we can remove stigmatisation from disabled people.

We can then make better design choices that make everyone feel good when using our spaces

Thinking carefully about access and equipment specification in public spaces translates to restructuring our society so that those who may previously have struggled to engage in some social activities begin to feel included. As architects we can be mindful of the power of design to facilitate an enjoyment of life and all it’s wonderful facets.

We need to shift our thinking when approaching building design. The priority is not only a minimum standard, or a type of red brick. The focus of design is centered on the human being and their use of space. We are mandated to design the quality of this space. Cost implications, come what may, are not explicitly within the remit of the architect - our role is to provide a best possible solution within the project brief and to ensure its compliance with planning legislation and building regulations.

The government’s proposed changes to introduce step-free access is an additional move forward in creating real accessibility for all homes, and enhancement of living standards. It means there could soon be an emphasis towards lateral properties, where step-free access to the entrance then extends to the whole space. We find that many of our clients prefer lateral properties simply for this reason.

I encourage architects to think laterally with their approach towards this new legislation, and observe the impact of such legislation within our communities and society. We can then make better design choices that make everyone feel good when using our spaces, rather than a nuisance or an afterthought.

In five more years’ time, we can again reflect on the ways people move through and inhabit our environments, further demonstrating our humanity, tolerance, and compassion for others.