Parliament reviews infrastructure accessibility

The women and equalities select committee in parliament is leading an inquiry on the accessibility of homes, building and public spaces.

The inquiry will include infrastructure and will encompass the various aspects of the public realm apart from transport. Public participation in this review, through submitting written or oral evidence, has exceeded initial expectations, clearly signifying the importance of the issue for further consideration.

There are a number of issues being covered by the inquiry, including the thought process and operational standards being used by those in the built environment to facilitate accessibility – both now and in the future.

Maria Miller MP, chair of the women and equalities select committee, said: "This area raises some interesting questions, and there is a great deal of scope for innovation. For example: how can building information modelling and modern methods of construction, contribute to making environments more accessible and inclusive? How can we deliver greater accessibility and inclusivity alongside more age-friendly towns and cities, including liaison with the NHS? To what extent do shared space schemes in roads and highways cause barriers for disabled people and how can these be resolved? We need to ensure that buildings and public spaces are as accessible and inclusive as possible, and that communities can fully engage with the process of decision making that shapes the accessibility of the built environment.” 

Due to an ageing population, the inquiry is largely driven by the statistical probability that most of that population will, at some point during their lifetime, have limited mobility. In all forms of infrastructure this must be accounted for, to help develop infrastructure that truly meets the needs of the future. 

When Infrastructure Intelligence asked the minister about what the role of industry should be in making the built environment more accessible, Miller said: "We are considering the role that industry has to play in making the built environment more accessible and inclusive. Industry professionals are important because, ultimately, the way in which they implement laws and regulations on the ground is what determines whether standards on paper become a reality for disabled people. We’ve had evidence from some of the key organisations - including RIBA, the Design Council, the Chartered Institute of Building, the Construction Industry Council, the Institution of Civil Engineers, and many others - and will be hearing further from professional bodies, developers and others as the inquiry progresses."

Ultimately, the inquiry is about making a difference in infrastructure accessibility for those with limited mobility. Miller said that while there have been great strides in improving access to suitable housing and local services, "too often disabled people still face unnecessary problems in everyday life - from constant minor inconveniences to major challenges".

Miller said that it was clear from the evidence they had received so far that this is an issue that affects a wide range of people across the country, including the elderly and those with experience of mental health problems. "I hope that our inquiry will identify key measures that can be taken to make buildings and public spaces more accessible and inclusive. We must make sure that disabled people are not prevented from living life to the full," said Miller.