Accessible homes are back at the forefront of the building agenda, with Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick in September 2020 launching a consultation to consider how best to raise accessibility standards for all new homes, to meet the needs of older and disabled people. The current rules for creating accessible dwellings are outlined in the Part M Building Regulations, which we’ll talk about below.
What are they?
Part M Regulations deal with the access to, and use of, buildings and state that every building should offer easy access to all parts within it, as well as the provision to move around the building easily.
Part M Regulations ensure that buildings are accessible, not only to disabled people, those with limited mobility and wheelchair users, but also to people who regularly use prams and other wheeled devices.
In 2015, Part M regulations were updated and split into two volumes: Volume 1, for dwellings; and Volume 2, for buildings other than dwellings.
Volume 1: Dwellings, is now split into three main areas. M4(1) being a compulsory requirement and M4(2) and M4(3) being optional requirements that only apply if imposed on the new development as part of the planning permission process. Very broadly, the different levels of requirement are outlined below:
- M4(1) Category 1 – Visitable dwellings (the mandatory regulatory minimum requirements for all new dwellings) – considered to be met when any new dwelling makes reasonable provision for most people, including wheelchair users, to enter the building and enter and rooms and sanitary facilities on the entrance floor.
- M4(2) Category 2 – Accessible and adaptable dwellings (optional requirement depending on planning policy / developer choice) - considered to be met when a new dwelling meets reasonable provision for most people to access it, PLUS incorporates features making it suitable for a wide range of people, including older people, individuals with reduced mobility and some wheelchair users
- M4(3) Category 3 – Wheelchair user dwelling (optional requirement depending on planning / developer discretion) - met when the dwelling makes reasonable provision for wheelchair users to live in the dwelling and make use of any parking facilities and outdoor or communal spaces
What does this mean for developers?
The recommendations of Volume 1 apply to newly erected dwellings and dwellings undergoing material alternations only.
For all new build developments, achieving Category 1 standards is mandatory, whereas, as stated above, the requirement to meet Category 2 and 3 will differ depending on the planning policies in the area you’re building in – the local planning authority will determine the standard of accessibility required as part of the planning permission.
Some local authorities and developers will simply adopt a building standard higher than Category 1 by choice, to make living standards better for occupants and to future-proof homes.
To meet guidelines outlined in Part M, designers, developers and contractors are required to consider and incorporate a number of design features. Many new build homes are already designed in ways that would meet the higher standard of Category 2, and include features such as: level thresholds for all external doors, wide corridors, downstairs sanitary facilities, wide stairs so a stair lift could be fitted in future, wider door frames and canopies over principle entrances to the home.
There are lots of considerations to take on board, so we’d recommend talking to your local authority building control team as early as possible.
For full details on complying with each individual Category of the Part M Building Regulations, please see the approved document here
How Part M differs from the Equality Act 2010
There is often confusion about if and how Part M and the Equality Act interlink and it’s a source of frequent misunderstanding. It’s important to remember that compliance with the requirements of Part M does not signify compliance with the much broader obligations and duties set out in the Equality Act.
In 2011, the Government stated that: “Part M sets out minimum requirements to ensure that a broad range of people are able to access and use facilities within buildings. The Equality Act requires reasonable adjustments to be made in relation to accessibility. In practice, this means that due regard must be given to any specific needs of likely building users that might be reasonably met. Compliance with the requirements of Part M does not therefore signify compliance with the much brooder obligations and duties set out in the Equality Act.”
How we can help
Here at Eurocell, we provide a number of products to help our customers comply with Part M Regulations, through our comprehensive range of low-level access products, including our extended door threshold ramp systems
and our PVC-U low threshold door options
. Our low thresholds are available with single and double ramps, which offer unobstructed, easy access for wheelchair users, prams, walking frames and mobility scooters.