Agenda item

Agenda item

Assessing disabled impacts in planning


Background Information

The Scrutiny Committee commissioned a report from the Head of Planning, Sustainable Development and Regulatory Services on how the Council fulfils its duty to assess the impacts on disabled people of new developments and changes of use, including for businesses and private and social sector housing.

Why is it on the agenda?

The Committee is asked to note and comment on the report. The Committee may also wish to agree one or more recommendations to put to the City Executive Board in October.

Who has been invited to comment?

·         Councillor Alex Hollingsworth, Board Member for Planning & Regulatory Services;

·         Patsy Dell, Head of Planning, Sustainable Development and Regulatory Services;

·         Ian Wright, Environmental Health Service Manager;





The Scrutiny Committee commissioned a report from the Head of Planning, Sustainable Development and Regulatory Services on how the Council fulfils its duty to assess the impacts on disabled people of new developments and changes of use, including for businesses and private and social sector housing.


The Environmental Health Service Manager introduced the report, noting in particular the fact that healthy life expectancy was not keeping pace with increased life expectancy which had ever increasing consequences for the buildings we use and live in. He also set out the three legislative areas that underpin this work.


OCC’s planning policies exceed national requirements and those of many other authorities.


Alex Donnely had been invited to address the committee as a witness. Alex explained that he was an Oxfordshire resident who was blind and interested in matters of public access. He said the latest data suggested that the national figure for the proportion on the population experiencing a long term health problem or disability that limited their day to day activity was now just over 20%.


He noted that there was an undisputed link between disability and poverty. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimated that 50% of people with disability live in poverty.


Inclusive design is often seen in the context of structural changes for those with particular needs. This was a false assumption; good, accessible design was of value to everyone.


Investment in good, accessible design should not just be seen as a cost but, rather, as an investment. The policy requirement that 5% of all new dwellings should be designed as wheelchair accessible seemed a low aspiration.


Alex concluded by noting that, in the case of large public buildings, as someone who was blind, having clearly identified information points was key.


Cllr Tidball had initiated the commissioning of this report when she had, previously, been a member of the committee and thanked the authors for it. She was pleased to see that Oxford was setting an example by going over and above the strict requirements but suggested that there was probably scope for further development the Committee might wish to consider.


1.    Setting up bespoke consultation sessions with disabled members of the community and organisations to feed into the Local Plan.

2.    Contacting the DCLG asking them to exhort others to follow Oxford’s example. If 18%+ of the community experience some kind of disability, the building estate should reflect that - but it does not.

3.    OCC should consider approaching businesses and estate agents encouraging them to embrace inclusive design


In discussion the following points were raised:


·         There were opportunities to influence/intervene with the private sector but no powers to require retrospective  changes

·         OCC committed considerable resource to disabled access issues. Housing associations frequently approached OCC with requests  for adaptation.

·         Home improvement grants were available to respond to those with disabilities (annual budget of £1m , typically 100+ properties adapted per annum)

·         There may be merit in working with landlords responsible for larger numbers of properties to persuade them of the merits of inclusive design.

·         There was no authoritative means of monitoring the 5% target for new buildings to be wheel chair accessible, it depended on trusting that those projects overseen by Approved Inspectors would contribute proportionately to the target.

·         Storage for mobility scooters would be taken into account as a matter of course in relation to new build but there could be no insistence on retrospective changes to accommodate them

·         It was recognised that there were issues with the adequacy of some current Council accommodation from a disability point of view. In relation to commercial buildings, the Equality Act provided some levers. While the OCC could offer advice if asked, individuals would have to pursue cases on their own behalf. 

·         The question of how best to ensure the needs of young people with disability as they move from home to independent living would be picked up with Housing Services and a response would be sent back to members.

·         The Chairman noted that he had been contacted by someone with expertise in these matters who had observed that good design was important for those with cognitive difficulties, not just those with the sorts of disabilities  described in the report.


The committee agreed to recommend


1.    Consultation with disabled users in the context of the emerging Local Plan

2.    The DCLG should be contacted as described above

3.    The 5% target should be reviewed based on the latest evidence as part of the Local Plan review and, where possible, compliance should, in future, be monitored.

4.    Representations should be made to landlords, estate agents and developers about the importance of creating an inclusive housing market.

5.    The Council should push for higher standards through HMO licencing by capturing data from inspections and making recommendations to landlords on good practice.

6.    The Council should continue to look at good practice from other authorities’ to inform further improvements to planning and regulatory services with regard  to disabled access and inclusivity.


Supporting documents: