“Private housebuilders have been accused of “appalling self-interest” over their lobbying against building more accessible homes for disabled residents.
The Home Builders Federation (HBF) has been objecting to councils across England that wish to fix new targets to increase the number of homes with room for wheelchair users and which could be adaptable.
It has made submissions to at least 17 authorities, from Liverpool to Sevenoaks, arguing that new local planning policies seeking more accessible housing could make it unprofitable to build new homes. The submissions also question whether predictions of an ageing population mean an increased demand for adaptable and accessible housing would be certain.
Charities including Age UK, the Centre for Ageing Better and Disability Rights UK said on Tuesday they were alarmed at its objections to planning policy proposals to make greater disability access mandatory. It said only 7% of homes were classed as accessible and that building to a higher accessibility standard would cost about £500 more.
The HBF represents highly profitable housing firms including Persimmon, which recorded gross profits of £565m in the first six months of this year, during which it built 8,000 new homes – a margin per home of about £70,000.
“Without homes that enable us to live safely and independently for as long as possible, we will see increased and unsustainable pressure on our health and social care services and much-reduced quality of life for people in older age,” the charities told the HBF in an open letter.
Unless it was enshrined in local planning policy, it remains optional under national regulations to incorporate features that make new homes suitable for people with reduced mobility and some wheelchair users. It also remains voluntary to make them fully wheelchair accessible, unless town halls make it mandatory.
In one submission to Broxbourne council in Hertfordshire, the HBF said: “The key issue we have with … policies that add financial burdens on the development industry in this local plan is that they have not been effectively tested.”
Objections have been raised by the HBF where it believes councils have not taken into account the financial impact of the proposals alongside other demands such as the provision of affordable housing, and said that if a council wanted to prioritise disabled access, it should reduce its demands for affordable homes.
An HBF spokesman said: “New homes are already more accessible than those built previously, but not all homebuyers want a home that has been adapted for accessible use.
“If government deemed that all homes should be built to higher accessibility standards it could make it a requirement. Currently levels are set by the planning system, which specifically requires local authorities to provide evidence to support their demands.”
“Their attitude is appalling self-interest,” said Cllr Pam Thomas, a wheelchair user and cabinet member for inclusive and accessible city at Liverpool city council, which has faced objections from the HBF to its plan to make 10% of new homes wheelchair accessible. “If they looked at this properly they would realise there wasn’t a problem with the cost or [extending] the footprint. They need to have a social conscience here.”