Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 21 June 2022
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government
Universal Design In Building: Discussion
We are meeting to discuss universal design and other issues around building regulations relating to accessibility. From the National Disability Authority, we are joined by Dr. Aideen Hartney, director, and Ms Ruth O'Reilly, senior design adviser. From Age Action Ireland, we have Ms Celine Clarke, head of advocacy and communications, and Ms Mary Murphy, research officer. From the Irish Wheelchair Association, we have Ms Joan Carthy, national advocacy manager, Mr. Brian Condon, national property project manager, who joins us online, and Ms Rosaleen Lally, national access programme manager. From the Disability Federation of Ireland, we have Mr. John Dolan, chief executive officer, and Ms Ríona Morris, policy and research officer.
The opening statements and briefings have been circulated to members. Some other documents and submissions were also circulated to members.
I must quickly read a note on privilege before we begin. I remind members of the constitutional requirement that they must be physically present within the confines of the place where Parliament has chosen to sit, namely, Leinster House, to participate in public meetings. Witnesses attending in the committee room are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their contribution to today's meeting. This means they have an absolute defence against any defamation action for anything they say at the meeting. Both members and witnesses are expected not to abuse the privilege they enjoy. It is my duty as Chair to ensure this privilege is not abused. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in regard to an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative they comply with any such direction. Members and witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
The delegations are very welcome. We had also invited representatives from the Department to be present but, unfortunately, they could not attend. I wanted to raise the question of Changing Places with them, and there is a working group dealing with the matter. They have provided us with an update on the good progress that has been made but, unfortunately, they cannot be here today.
We will have slots of approximately seven minutes for members to ask questions and receive answers. I ask members to be as direct as possible with the questions in order to give witnesses time to answer.
Dr. Aideen Hartney:
The National Disability Authority, NDA, thanks the Chair and members of the committee for the opportunity to present today. The NDA incorporates a centre for excellence in universal design, UD, promoting UD in the built environment, products, services and information and communications technology. The centre also informs our work to provide independent and evidence-informed advice to the Government on disability policy and practice.
UD is the design and composition of an environment in order that it can be accessed, understood and used by all, regardless of their age, size, ability or disability. A UD approach involves a diverse range of users in the design process from an early stage. Through our work to develop guidance, policy advice, continuous professional development and award schemes, we promote UD as an essential aspect of architectural quality.
The 2016 census tells us 13.5% of the population in Ireland had a disability, with one in four households containing at least one person with a disability. Most disability is acquired and the majority of people aged over 80 have a disability. The last census also tells us that one in eight households had at least one child under the age of four. UD in the built environment has benefits for families with young children as well as for disabled and older people.
Implementing UD in the built environment is an important aspect of Ireland's commitments under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD, as ratified by the State in 2018. Under Article 4(4), Ireland undertakes to promote the development of universally designed facilities, which should require the minimum possible adaptation and the least cost to meet the specific needs of a person with disabilities. The right to live in accessible communities is also articulated in Articles 9 and 19 of the convention.
The European Accessibility Act promotes accessibility and removal of barriers, preferably through a UD approach, to ensure access for disabled people on an equal basis with others. UD is also referenced in a number of national strategies, including the Project Ireland 2040: National Planning Framework, Housing for All, the National Housing Strategy for Disabled People and the Housing Options for our Ageing Population policy statement.
Part M of the building regulations sets out the minimum requirements for access and use in new buildings and extensions and material alterations to existing buildings. At present, the minimum requirement is for dwellings to be visitable, rather than liveable, for disabled people. We welcome that a number of local authorities are setting targets in their development plans for a percentage of homes in new developments to be UD homes. However, we have advised that a review of Part M should be carried out, with priority given to Part M for dwellings.
We are currently finalising work in conjunction with the Society of Chartered Surveyors of Ireland looking at the initial cost of building UD homes and informing a longer term cost-benefit analysis. A preliminary key finding from our analysis and consultation is that the allowable floor area for dwellings is critical to enable key UD features to be incorporated. At present, the target floor area for social and affordable houses is too small to allow for the achievement of the UD home or UD home+ levels.
Some houses in the private market are being delivered with a suitable floor area for UD home level design, which we believe presents an opportunity for implementation. In addition, there are opportunities to achieve the UD home level in apartments where there is a requirement for the floor area to exceed the minimum area by 10%. However, we note that build-to-rent apartments are exempted from this requirement. We have also advised that 10% of new housing stock should be designed to UD home+ or wheelchair-liveable standards. We are currently working with the Irish Green Building Council to support the incorporation of UD homes into its home performance index certification scheme.
UD also has application in projects in the public realm, including our shared civic spaces, to ensure that the design of these spaces does not disadvantage particular groups or impede their access to these amenities. We have worked with disabled people to audit the walkability of individual towns, identifying gaps to inclusion and participation in how our roads and streets are built, designed and maintained. The NDA notes that the recent pandemic has led to some significant changes in how some urban spaces are laid out and accessed. In some cases, these changes have created further barriers for those with disabilities rather than removing them. In some cases, the changes seem to have been implemented without adequate consultation or engagement with disabled people and their representative organisations and the NDA takes this opportunity to remind the committee that the principle of meaningful engagement is also enshrined in the UNCRPD.
Whether it is in the home or in the shared built environment, UD can most readily be achieved when built into planning and design processes from the outset, in particular by being enshrined in our public procurement processes. Incorporating UD at the start of a project is more cost-effective than trying to introduce it at a later stage, and UD also reduces the need for costly and wasteful retrofitting of buildings at a later stage. It is therefore an approach that supports economic, environmental and social sustainability. The NDA and the centre for excellence have produced technical guidance and codes of practice and supported the development of standards, all of which can inform the UD of our public spaces and buildings and our housing. We are happy to answer any questions the committee might have on our work or our advice to date.
Ms Mary Murphy:
Age Action is grateful for the opportunity to speak before the committee about UD in new projects and public realm planning. Age Action is Ireland's leading advocacy organisation on aging and older people.
We advocate for a society that enables all older people to participate and to live full, independent lives, based on the realisation of their rights and equality, recognising the diversity of their experience and situation.
Today I will speak briefly on taking a rights-based approach to universal design; universal design as a means of enabling ageing in place; the affordability of universal design; and the ambition of universal design policies. Age Action takes a rights-based approach to advocating for older persons. Similarly, universal design needs to be understood as a means of guaranteeing people their fundamental rights. There are approximately 48,000 people with dementia in Ireland, and this is expected to double by 2030. Just over one in five persons aged 65 or older is affected by frailty, which means that their body is less able to resist injury or illness. Of those aged 65 and over, 35.2% have a disability and others have mobility issues. The ability of these people to exercise their rights depends on their homes and communities being universally designed. Taking a rights-based approach to universal design means recognising the lived experiences of these older persons and the serious affronts to equality and non-discrimination that their unmet need represents.
When it comes to ageing in place, which is the overwhelming desire among older persons, universal design is key. Universally designed homes are as suitable to raise a young family in as they are to grow old in. Yet, ageing in place also depends on where the home is situated. We know that 40% of people aged 65 or older do not have a driving licence, and 40% of people aged 65 or older live in rural areas with limited transport options. Housing and planning policy must work in tandem with transport policy to implement universal design.
Turning to the affordability of universal design, just over half of all older people have an income in the bottom 40% of society, and half have savings of €5,800 or less. Just over a quarter of employers, managers or higher professionals aged 65 or older experience disability. In contrast, over 35% of manual workers and 42% of unskilled workers aged 65 or older do so. Age Action estimates that 10% of older households cannot afford housing adaptation works to increase accessibility. For many people, the Housing Adaptation Grants for Older People and People with a Disability are the only option available to make their homes safe and useable. A recent Private Members' motion on these grants highlighted that they are not affordable and that there are associated unacceptable delays. Age Action has heard from older people about feeling sick and wanting to give up when they go through all the effort of applying for these grants, only for nothing to come of it. More people must be entitled to these grants, with a greater proportion of their costs covered. If universal design measures were implemented in the initial construction phase, often there would be no additional cost. Limiting cost barriers to the construction of universally designed homes will in part depend on wider reform of the housing sector to achieve affordability, as well as the introduction of universal design building standards that make it the new construction industry norm.
Finally, Age Action is concerned about low ambition in implementing universal design. One of its advantages is its ability to be mainstreamed. Everyone has a right to move and interact safely and independently not only in their own homes but in the homes of others and in their communities. Universal design promotes positive ageing, but there is no positive ageing without social inclusion. One of the actions of the Housing Options for our Ageing Population policy statement is to ensue that 30% of new housing is universally designed in five years' time. That target is inadequate. Similar to the successful building energy efficiency regulations, building regulations should progressively realise a full implementation of universal design, with which all new buildings must be compliant. These new standards should be matched with mechanisms to ensure they are being met. In the interim, there needs to be education about universal design so people building or buying homes understand its importance. If universal design is not universalised, we will instead have to continuously, arduously and expensively adapt homes to meet the needs of persons whose circumstances we are capable of anticipating based on the lived experience of older people now.
Ms Rosaleen Lally:
I thank the committee for inviting us in today to discuss universal design. We are calling on the Irish Government to amend section 3 of Part M the Building Regulations 2010 on access and use to raise accessibility standards for homes, so that all wheelchair users can access and use every area of their home from the wardrobe to the cooker. The Government must raise the mandatory baseline standards of wheelchair access in all new homes to incorporate all levels of access guidance as set out by the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design, including UD, UD+ and UD++. Believe it or not, Part M of the Building Regulations 2010 requires housing to be visitable for a wheelchair user, but not liveable. There is a requirement to provide level access to a habitable room and a toilet at entry level. If one considers a typical Irish three-bed semi-detached house with a small toilet under the stairs and the bedrooms upstairs, it is not wheelchair liveable. A consequence of the current Part M regulations is the lack of availability of wheelchair liveable social housing and private housing in the community, resulting in wheelchair users being homeless, involuntarily living with family, friends or in nursing homes, not having control over their lives, and not having choices equal to others in society.
The Irish Wheelchair Association is a community of people with physical disabilities across Ireland, founded on the belief that everyone should be able to live a life of choice and equality. Our services support people with physical disabilities to live independently, and our campaigns demand equal rights and opportunities for people with physical disabilities.
Ms Joan Carthy:
The work of the Irish Wheelchair Association is underpinned by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability, UNCRPD, which was ratified by Ireland in 2018. Article19 recognises the right of disabled people to live in the community and to have the opportunity to choose their place of residence. Furthermore, Article 28 includes the right of disabled people to access public housing programmes. People who have a mobility impairment and who are, or may become, full-time wheelchair users require appropriately designed and future-proofed housing that is located within mixed tenure sustainable housing developments that are perceived to be safe, in locations of people's choosing, and situated in close proximity to services, transport, family and friends. Currently, new dwellings are merely designed to be visitable under Part M of Ireland’s Building Regulations 2010.
Article 31(2) of the UNCRPD on statistics and data collection states "The information collected in accordance with this article shall be disaggregated, as appropriate, and used to help assess the implementation of States Parties’ obligations under the present Convention and to identify and address the barriers faced by persons with disabilities in exercising their rights." Currently, many local authorities cannot readily provide the number and type of wheelchair liveable housing units required in their area. The new social housing application form was launched by the Department in April 2021 and renewed further in quarter 1 of 2022. For the first time the form contains a specific field for the requirement of wheelchair liveable housing. Going forward, this valuable information, and associated software programmes such as ihouse, will facilitate ease of access to information on the number of wheelchair liveable houses required. However, all housing applications approved before April 2021 did not have this specific field. Therefore, local authorities have to review individual application forms, together with supporting documentation and reports, to establish how many wheelchair liveable housing units are required. If a local authority does not know the number and type of wheelchair liveable houses required, it is very difficult for it to plan with housing developers and social housing providers for the future, or to report on progress. The information on housing needs should be readily available for the public to inform housing planners and housing developers in each area. The Irish Wheelchair Association has representatives on 29 of the 30 housing and disability steering groups, where many local authorities state that they do not have the resources to retrospectively review existing approved social housing applicants to establish how many wheelchair liveable houses are required. This is a once-off project that needs to be completed as a matter of urgency to support planning, design and delivery. Currently, there are no statistics on the number of permanent wheelchair users in Ireland. The question is not covered in the Irish census. The data, when cross referenced with existing data, would greatly inform planning and delivery of infrastructure and services for the future across many areas including the built environment, the great outdoors, transport, education, health, employment, and so on. It is too late for the 2022 census, but action must be taken to ensure that the question is included in future censuses.
Ms Rosaleen Lally:
The introduction of the new housing strategy for disabled people is welcome, but it does not go far enough to make a difference. The Government plans to build 33,000 new units on average per annum, up to and including 2030. This will include, on average, 10,000 social housing units, 4,000 homes for affordable purchase, 2,000 cost-rental homes and 17,000 private homes. All of these units will be built to comply with the existing Part M of the Building Regulations 2010, which does not include guidance on the design of wheelchair-liveable housing. That means people with disabilities will be left behind once again.
According to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission report, Discrimination and Inequality in Housing in Ireland, people with disabilities are more than twice as likely to report discrimination relating to housing. They are over 1.6 times more likely to live in poor conditions, such as living in damp housing, not having central heating and living in unsuitable neighbourhoods. According to the report, more than one in four homeless people have a disability. The Think Housing, Build Accessible campaign calls for the amendment of Part M of the Building Regulations 2010 to raise the baseline accessibility standards. The technical guidance documents need to be updated to include guidance for wheelchair-liveable housing, including UD+ and UD++ standards. Adequate provision of fully wheelchair-liveable homes must be included in the Government’s ambitious housing programme.
In the National Housing Strategy for Disabled People 2022-2027 emphasis is placed on providing more equal access to housing for disabled people with integrated support services. It also promotes their inclusion in the community and aims to give people appropriate choices and control over where, how and with whom they live. It all sounds great. Theme 1 of the strategy on accessible housing and communities references 50% of the new pipeline delivery being reserved for disabled people in each local authority, which means it should be wheelchair liveable, meeting the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design's UD home recommendations. However, UD homes are not necessarily wheelchair-liveable homes, whereas UD+ and UD++ are wheelchair-liveable standards. For example, a person using a powered wheelchair requires a 900 mm opening on all doors and a 2,400 mm turning circle to be able to turn around in his or her chair in every room in the house. Basic UD guidance for doors is 800 mm, thereby excluding access for a powered wheelchair. UD guidance for a turning circle is 1,500 mm, which also excludes powered wheelchair users from living in such homes. UD guidance does not provide for wheelchair-liveable housing.
In the UK, the Part M document provides detailed guidance on three categories of dwellings: visitable dwellings, as we have in Ireland; accessible and adaptable dwellings; and wheelchair user dwellings. The guidance set out in the Irish Part M document falls well short of that contained in the UK document, only catering for visitable dwellings. The aim of the new Housing for All policy is that "Everyone in the State should have access to a home to purchase or rent at an affordable price, built to a high standard and in the right place, offering a high quality of life." If all social and private houses continue to be built in accordance with the current standards of Part M of the Building Regulations 2010, there will be no provision made for wheelchair-liveable homes. Local Government will have to continue to retrofit the existing stock and will also have to increase the budget for the housing adaptation grants for people with a disability, which is a foolish and false economy. The Government must review Part M to ensure that wheelchair-liveable homes are included in the 9,500 new social houses planned annually for the next five years. Money does not appear to be an issue. Part M policy is the barrier for wheelchair users. The cost of building homes to a higher accessibility standard is lower at design stage than retrofitting at a later stage.
Mr. John Dolan:
I thank the members of the committee for the opportunity to be able to present today. We are happy to be here with representatives from the National Disability Authority, Age Action and the Irish Wheelchair Association. We routinely, and on an ongoing basis, co-operate and work on this issue and other issues related to housing. The right to a home is one of the most fundamental human rights. To break it down into very practical terms, without a secure or fixed abode, people are going nowhere. They cannot participate in society in any decent way. They are locked out of participation.
Developing sufficient universally designed and wheelchair-liveable housing is essential to realise the right of disabled people to live independently in their own homes, in line with article 19 of the UNCRPD, which is a very thoughtful and well-written article. I invite members to look at it. Without a home, people cannot access their other rights and the capacity for ordinary living. A home is a necessary retreat for people from the world around them. At the same time, it is their launching pad into the community and the opportunities it should provide, including accessible public transport, public libraries, schools, etc. It is key.
The National Housing Strategy for Disabled People 2022-2027 is an opportunity to realise disabled people’s right to a home. The strategy and the open consultation process have been praised by disability groups. However, as we all know, paper and ink are one thing, and the success of the strategy will depend on its implementation and the building of homes in the right places and spaces for people. The implementation plan must have clearly defined targets. For example, the strategy states that 50% of new pipeline delivery in each local authority will meet universal design standards. The implementation plan must break down the proportion of these houses that will meet UD++ standards, and will be wheelchair liveable. The strategy will also fail if sufficient resources are not put in place to deliver it. The implementation plan must commit to the necessary funding needed to deliver on the strategy. Budget 2023 is coming up soon. That is the next and necessary available opportunity to provide such funding. The current Government is now halfway through its programme and does not have many budgets left ahead of it. The clock is ticking in that regard.
On the need to join up housing and other supports, the right to a home must operate in tandem with the capacity to exercise other rights. Cross-departmental and cross-agency working and collaboration are absolutely essential. Without them, the housing strategy will be a dead duck. That collaboration is required; it is not an add-on. Many people with disabilities end up in the ludicrous position of being told they cannot receive personal assistance services from the HSE without a home, and they will not be offered a home by their local authority without a guarantee that they will receive services. The book is called Catch 22, but this is real life for people on a regular basis. The inability to deliver accessible, universally designed and wheelchair-liveable housing, along with supports, is the driver of the over 1,300 people under the age of 65 who are living in nursing homes. If the issue is not resolved, the number of people with disabilities leaving the community and going into congregated settings, such as nursing homes, will continue to rise.
On the Housing for All policy, accessible housing for people with disabilities cannot and should not be seen as something separate from the right to housing for the general population. These issues have to be dealt with in tandem. We should not be dealing with one after the other. The lack of housing for people with disabilities is part of the housing crisis. The issue existed well before the 2008 bust. It continues, and is now worse after Covid. If people with disabilities do not benefit from the investment in housing, Ireland will fail in its UNCRPD obligations. Housing being built under Housing for All must include the appropriate levels of universally designed and wheelchair-liveable housing to meet people's needs. Sadly, to date people with disabilities have not been sufficiently included in efforts to address the housing crisis. It is a point that has been made by others already.
The waiting times for people with disabilities on the housing waiting list have increased rather than decreased. On Part M of the building regulations, the Disability Federation of Ireland, along with our coalition partners of the Irish Wheelchair Association, have a campaign, Think Housing Build Accessible and we fully back them in the need to have reformation of Part M of the building regulations to ensure higher wheelchair accessibility standards, which is essential. Under current regulations, housing must be suitable for wheelchair users to visit but not to live, whereas the definition of a house is somewhere people live, not somewhere they visit.
To wrap up, just over 5,000 people with disabilities are now on the social housing waiting list and I am sure that is a minimum number of those who have need. There are those in intellectual disability congregated settings, 1,300 in nursing homes and others living in family homes when it is well past the best by date for adults to be doing that. Accessible homes, along with necessary social care supports, are needed as a basic thing to make real progress. We are in the fifth decade since Ireland set up a programme - the disabled person’s grant - in the 1970s to start to tackle this. Some of those on this committee, off the top of their heads, can tell me how many hundreds of thousands of homes have been built since then, some with grants from the Government and so on. We now find ourselves in an awful situation because we did not get on with making homes accessible in the past. I also ask members to think housing when they are attending their other committees because housing is the gateway to living in the community, and any other committee that members are on is a related area. I thank members for their attention.
Thank you. We now go to the members for questions. We have many expert witnesses so if members are asking questions, they might direct them to particular witnesses. Members have seven minutes for each slot and that includes the time for answers. I call Senator Fitzpatrick.
I thank all of the witnesses for attending. We appreciate their time. I also thank them for the contributions they made to help the Government produce the national housing strategy for disabled people, which was agreed earlier this year. It is very important that we have a strategy. I accept the criticisms. I have heard them and they are not news to me, but it is important to have a baseline and to at least have a strategy as something to aspire to. Mr. Dolan spoke correctly about housing being a fundamental human right. Without adequate secure housing that meets a person's personal needs, it is very hard for them to go to school, college, training or work, or to take their place in society and in their community. There is no dispute about that and no dispute at this committee on that issue. We have not only aspire to championing that ambition, but making it a reality. Housing for All goes that way and is a good step in the right direction. The national housing strategy, which emphasises equal access and has an objective of promoting inclusion of disabled people in communities, is important.
The issues raised by the witnesses on wheelchair-liveable UD and the Part M regulations are part of a technical discussion but, in practical terms, it makes a huge difference and can have huge benefit for people's quality of life and living standards. I have had the opportunity to meet with the Irish Wheelchair Association and I thank its representatives for the submissions they have provided me with. As a committee, we should be putting in our report a strong recommendation to the Department supporting the amendment. It is important that the committee not only hears the request, but endorses and supports it, and that we do what we can to progress that.
On the issues regarding local authorities, I was honoured to be elected to Dublin City Council for years. It is great that, since 2021, they are starting to capture in a field the requirement for wheelchair-accessible and wheelchair-liveable accommodations. However, I do not accept the local authorities’ suggestion that they cannot capture it on historic applications. I would like to hear about this from the experience of the witnesses and their members. Anybody who is on a housing list has been on it for a couple of years, unless they joined since 2021. They will have been on it for at least five years and every two years they are required to reconfirm their need for housing. What I do not understand is whether the local authorities are saying that when they are doing that process and sending out those letters, they are not capturing that information. I would be interested to know if that is the experience of the witnesses. Again, as a committee, we need to take this up with the City and County Management Association and local authorities because there is no excuse for that information not being captured.
That will deal with social housing. It is correct that we are committed to 10,000 new-build social homes for the next ten years but we also have affordable homes and private homes. Every local authority has committed to doing a housing needs assessment for the first time, and that is meant to capture housing need of all descriptions. I could not believe it when I heard that the census was not capturing this information. It is such a massive missed opportunity, not just for housing, where it is important, but also for many other social infrastructure and social services. Again, I suggest that a recommendation the joint committee will make in its report is that future censuses capture that information.
I am almost out of time. I ask the witnesses is for them to come back on the question around the local authorities. Is this what they are saying, namely, that when they are getting people to reconfirm their need, they are not capturing that? In terms of UD, I believe we should circulate all of the very technical information on the differences between UD and wheelchair-liveable accommodation.
Ms Joan Carthy:
Our information to date, and what we are being told at most of the steering groups, is that they do not have that information to hand and they do not have the resources. We would think that when the assessment of need comes around again, it should be in that, and maybe it will be. We met with the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, a couple of months ago and we spoke about this. He was surprised and said he would push out to the local authorities to make sure that work was done. That is where we are at the moment and that is the information we are receiving from the committees every time the question is asked.
Mr. Brian Condon:
It is our experience that many architects, never mind developers, do not understand the ethos of UD and wheelchair-liveable housing. Basic UD is not wheelchair-liveable design or wheelchair-liveable housing. A wheelchair-liveable home is a home where a wheelchair user can use every part of the home from the utility room to the kitchen to the bedrooms. This is the fundamental difference between the Part M document and a wheelchair-liveable home.
One of our wheelchair users is a disabled mother. We are currently supporting her in a house that is built in compliance with Part M. She can get into the living room and her bedroom, but she cannot cook a meal for her family or help her kids because the rooms are upstairs. There are huge inconsistencies around guidance for a wheelchair-liveable house. Basic UD guidance recommends a 1,500 mm turning circle whereas UD++ recommends a 1,800 mm turning circle.
A power wheelchair requires a minimum turning circle of 1800 mm.
I am sorry to interrupt Mr. Condon, but I want to keep things moving along because we have limited time slots. That information has been presented. To be clear on what Senator Fitzpatrick is suggesting, I think the committee would agree, with the information presented to us during this meeting and learned from questions and answers, to report to the Minister on the findings. The census comes within the Minister's remit too. The Senator suggested engaging with the County and City Management Association, CCMA, to ask it to capture those data. We will follow up on those good suggestions.
I thank everybody for the useful presentations. There is a terrible sense of déjà vufor most. The witnesses were with us many years ago to have exactly the same conversation. A number of people on our side of the discussion made the point that we were in the middle of a deep housing crisis and that the focus was on the need to increase supply. If we did not ensure that it was the right kind of supply to meet the needs of all sections of society, the problem would remain. Little has changed in that intervening period with regard to the issues the witnesses are asking us to raise with the Minister. Senator Fitzpatrick makes a good point about a concerning issue, which is that updating housing needs assessment documentation is now an annual exercise for everybody on local authority lists. Local authorities have become very sophisticated. All the Department has to do is instruct them to include a set of questions. That would fix the problem. It is about to do so with Traveller ethnicity as part of the Traveller accommodation strategy and absolutely needs to do so in this respect. Therefore, in addition to the CCMA, the Minister needs to instruct the local authorities to include this, because it would clean up the problem.
We now have a housing need and demand assessment, HNDA. This is meant to be a valuable tool where local authorities have evidence for making decisions on all types of planning applications for all housing, whether it is social, affordable or private housing. We have to start to integrate the conversation we are having about social housing and UD into the housing need and demand assessment. Therefore, as well as strongly supporting Senator Fitzpatrick's sensible suggestions, we need to raise the HNDA with the Minister and how it can be worked in. If a local authority planning department makes a decision on a private application at the moment, it is not allowed to ask if it meets the needs of existing and projected future households, including the needs of people with disability or mobility challenges. That has to be addressed.
The data issue is frustrating because if one does not have the data, one does not have enough information for the targets. Even if we have a 10% target, as Dr. Hartney said, the difficulty is that people do not have the luxury of being able to move house often, so I ask Dr. Hartney if 10% is really enough. If people have a local authority allocation, then their life circumstances change, they have an acquired disability and are in a wheelchair, then they can apply for a transfer, but they could be waiting for up to ten years for that transfer. My other question for Dr. Hartney is about the net and gross floor space. In January, the Department published its design manual for quality housing. The section on housing for people with disabilities is short and vague. Was there much engagement with the Department in advance of the publication of that manual? If Dr. Hartney amended that, what floor space would be required? It seems quite weak on that.
The committee should hear more about what liveability means. I ask them to address human beings rather than dimensions. I also ask them to talk us through the things that people cannot do, because the so called UD in Part M is not universal at all. The witnesses gave some good examples, but explaining that further would be useful. Are any UD+ or UD++ buildings being constructed as part of our new housing stock? Did I understand correctly that there are none? Are there some? Do we have any information with respect to that?
A big challenge, which Ms Carthy made a point about, is that we have to move to good quality, mixed tenure housing developments. It is virtually impossible for a local authority housing manager to combine a mixed tenure scheme that would also have homes that are liveable for wheelchair users. When designing a scheme, one does not necessarily have specific people in mind. The requirements in the Department's design manual mean that an occupational therapist's report is needed for a designated occupant of that property. That is the opposite to what we are talking about. We are saying that we want to have varied stock. If any witnesses have concerns or experience relating to the challenge of putting together a mixed tenure scheme to address general needs, be liveable for wheelchair users, and so on, that would be useful. A strong recommendation relates to the need for a mixed tenure point of contact in the Department in order that a housing manager who wants a mixed scheme that includes the kind of housing Ms Carthy was talking about would be able to do so.
Dr. Aideen Hartney:
I will make an overarching point on terminology, then I will ask my colleague to give technical answers to the questions. We have a lot about Part M versus UD and UD+. Part M is the bare minimum. It is important to be clear that it is nowhere close to UD. A house built using UD can be adapted readily, easily and in a cost-effective way if the needs of the person living in it change over time, whereas UD+ is designed from the outset to be wheelchair-accessible. It is important that we are all clear on that terminology. The potential for confusion and crossfire between technical specifications is one reason that we think it would be helpful and important if a standard could be developed in this space. That will drive delivery to the UD and UD+ levels that we require rather than the bare minimum that is currently the case. Ms O'Reilly will address the technical issues.
Ms Ruth O'Reilly:
On the issue of space, basic accessibility involves the provision of enough space for people who use different mobility devices. We see adequate space as an essential aspect of architectural quality when talking about UD. In the work we have been doing on housing, we find that the biggest barrier to delivery seems to be target floor areas that are too small. Without the provision of an occupational therapist's certificate, the Department will not fund units bigger than the target floor areas. From our point of view, this is about making UD in housing mainstream, not thinking about general needs, people with disabilities and people who are ageing, in order that UD becomes part of the way we design all our housing. The issue of target floor areas is key and funding for it needs to be addressed. In much of the consultation we have had with approved housing bodies recently, they have told us they want to build UD homes, but they cannot get funding for the additional floor area needed for homes that are liveable for wheelchair users.
Ms Ruth O'Reilly:
It is floor space that needs to be designed in the right way so that people can use all the different spaces in their home and move around it easily. It is good design compared with the additional floor area, but if one cannot get the additional floor area from the start, then one cannot achieve good design.
We will move on. There are important questions there which we will come back to. We should report on the suggestion that the Minister could instruct the CCMA to gather that information. I recently asked the Minister about the HNDA. His response was that local authorities have been instructed to gather this information. I will have to clarify the position, but that is my recollection.
I thank the witnesses for their insight. The briefings we get here are always informative. From my experience, Part M minimum standards in this country are typical of the norms which developers and designers work towards.
The norm is largely not to build outside those minimums, which is very difficult to do. As a designer, it is difficult to build outside minimums. It is virtually impossible. I have never been able to understand why our regulations are set at minimums. I know from teaching in the Dublin school of architecture in TU Dublin that many academics have tried to design an apartment to the minimums and could not do so. It is actually impossible. I truly believe academics and professionals would prefer regulations closer to universal design. However, and I say this with respect to all parties, it appears pressure comes from the construction industry. Political will falls shy of the will of the Department and the construction industry. I am happy to be corrected on that point but my experience to date is that there is resistance when trying to push for regulations that meet proper minimum standards.
Ms Lally said Part M was the barrier. Who has been implementing universal design in the Department? Why is there wheelchair resistance? Where is that coming from? Based on my experience in the academic space, this issue has passed through numerous Governments at this stage. I ask the witnesses to speak to the transition to universal design, and universal design plus, over the last 20 years. How can we assist them with that? There is a transition. I am aware of that because I have been involved in universal design as an academic and trying to put that into the education system. The minimums seem to be too minimum. There must be some resistance coming from somewhere so where is that coming from and how do we push it? I have not yet found an open consultation space that would allow us to inform the Department on how things probably should be.
Ms Rosaleen Lally:
From IWA's experience with developers and the Department, space is seen as money and therefore an extra cost. There has always been resistance there. As a disability organisation, we say it should not be about cost. This is a right. It is not about luxury. Space is not a luxury for a person with a disability. It is a necessity. This flies in the face of everything we should be doing after ratifying the UNCRPD. Universal design should be the minimum. As the Deputy said, we need to look at that again. The only way it is going to work is if the building regulations are amended. It is the only way things will improve. When we met with the Department and the Minister's advisers, they said they encourage and support developers to go further. Supporting and encouraging is never going to work, unless these requirements are put into the regulations or Part M is amended. That is the only way this will ever be solved. Otherwise, as Deputy Ó Broin said, we will be back here again in ten years when all this money has been spent and all these houses have been built and we will still be in the same place, with people with disabilities sitting in nursing homes without their own homes.
Ms Ruth O'Reilly:
In some ways, I see it as an issue of quality versus quantity. I understand there is a huge emphasis on the number of units being provided but it is also about the type of units. When talking about quantity it is about getting the greatest number of units onto a site, which pushes units smaller and smaller. Having enough space allocated to a unit so it can be designed in accordance with the universal design standards is critical.
I am showing my naivety here. I am aware that the regulations are reviewed on an ongoing basis. Are the witnesses pulled into that? Do they know when the regulations are reviewed? How many reviews have taken place in the last 20 years? There has to be somebody saying "No" to these changes. Is the review just done behind a closed door and then the regulations are what they are?
I have personally pushed certain agendas on different building standards that would be good for human beings and all of us. There definitely seems to be a resistance. That comes through the Department from the construction industry and it is about cost.
Dr. Aideen Hartney:
One of the potential barriers to uptake is the sense that universal design might only be about disability, particularly wheelchair users. The argument is that we are only benefiting a small number of people whereas the whole point of universal design is that it benefits the entire population. If we could get traction and understanding on that argument, that might be helpful.
Ms Joan Carthy:
We have not been notified. We have a meeting with the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, coming up in early July. We do not know whether we will hear anything at that stage but he is well aware of the campaign and everything that is going on at the moment, and that there is a big push for amendments to be made.
I would suggest making another recommendation that we believe a review of the regulations is overdue. The last one was in 2014 and the witnesses were not present for that, or the reviews in 2010. Do they know whether any groups advocating on behalf of universal design or improving Part M were present for any of those reviews?
I welcome all the witnesses. It is great to see Mr. Dolan back in the Houses. I fully support universal design. I was a director of Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind for many years. One thing that struck me was that there are a number of issues in terms of disabilities and there are many forms of disability. There was always an issue with colleagues having wheelchair users coming to see them and not being able to see them. There are also issues with the inappropriate design of accommodation. One client told me that his day room or living room had no window. He was told he was blind so it would not affect him. What a ridiculous thing to say. He developed eczema and other conditions because of the lack of light and ventilation. We have come a long way from that. His dog was expected to live in the same circumstances and it also developed eczema and stress-related issues because of lack of ventilation and light.
A very high percentage of people with disabilities are unemployed. That is through no fault of their own because many of them have great skills.
They cannot get work and they are spending a lot more time at home or, invariably, in libraries or anywhere they can get access to. It is still not easy to get access in many public spaces. Home is critical to us all. Mr. Dolan talked about home and our place. It is our safe space. However, when one has a disability and one is unemployed, home is particularly important. Therefore I fully support universal design.
I am currently building a house and I did not find there was any engagement or proactive approach from my planning authority about universal design. It disappointed me but, mind you, I did not find they were involved in issues such as retention of rain water or harvesting off the roof, which I myself put in. Many planning authorities are not proactive. They might have a commitment to policy but they are not proactive about it. They do not engage, and I have checked this with other people.
I suppose there are two or three issues the witnesses might share their views on. We had a meeting with our own local authority, which is Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, on Friday, with all the local Oireachtas Members. We were told about the steering groups and that these were critically important in each of the 31 authorities. Our guests might share with me their experience in how they are interfacing with that. Usually directors of housing, I would say, would chair those groups.
On the issue of how we quantify, do we know really what the quantity is? Mr. Dolan, in his submission, referred to a number a little over 5,000 people on social housing. Do we have a definitive number there that we can validate in terms of the number of individuals or family units that require housing for people with disabilities? That is something we must keep the focus on.
On Part V, the best way to make this intervention is at the planning stage where one is sitting down in preplanning and bringing in developers to set out their preplanning schemes, particularly in ground-floor apartment units. These are ideal if they are developed into the design. One maybe has more flexible balconies so that one can access the building without coming through the main building, and also access to the garden. Gardens and open spaces are critically important if one has a disability and is on-site much of the time.
There is something important I want to talk to Dr. Hartney about. In terms of the public authorities' and State agencies' responsibility and obligations under the European accessibility Act, under the Code of Practice on Accessibility of Public Services, information proved to public bodies and disability impact assessments, the State is obliged under Public Sector Duty and Our Public Service 2020. These are key issues that Dr. Hartney touched on in her submission, although not in any great detail because of time. She, or, for that matter, anybody else, might touch on that.
The issue of congregated settings is one we have talked about for years. We have many young people with disabilities - Mr. Dolan summed it up well - who are effectively in nursing homes. It is a crazy situation. How is that progressing? Much work and planning was meant to be done on emptying out congregated settings. I am familiar with some of the attempts by the Cheshire Homes with its clients. How is that going, where would they like to see that going or where would they like to see that ramped up?
Those are some issues they might touch on. Dr. Hartney might kick-off and then, maybe, Mr. Dolan and anybody else.
Dr. Aideen Hartney:
I thank the Senator. There are obligations in legislation and policies, as the Senator says, at present and I suppose the challenge is to ensure that public bodies are aware of them. Certainly, in our own work, in monitoring compliance, for example, as the Senator says, with the code of practice, there can be challenges in ensuring that public bodies are aware of them. However, they also only extend to public bodies and the private sector is not mandated by that. We would argue that is where the public leads should show leadership.
The European accessibility Act is only in the process of being transposed and then there is a three-year timeframe for implementation. It will be a while before we see any of the benefits realised from that legislation.
In terms of disability impact assessments, we would regularly advise that this is an essential part of any major project, not only in the built environment; anywhere there is expenditure and an impact on the public that should be done. However, it seems to sometimes go under the radar and unnoticed by those public authorities.
Mr. John Dolan:
I thank Senator Boyhan for his lovely welcome. I do prefer asking the questions than being at the other end answering them.
An excellent point was made by the Senator about unemployment and disability. According to the most recent census, 22% of people with disabilities were in employment whereas the corresponding figure is over 53% for the rest of the population. The home, on that basis, is the place one lives much of one's life. If one has gone past the age of working, that is even a bigger issue. Therefore, it has to be comfortable and spacious. I acknowledge the importance of a garden and or an accessible open space and other places one can be where other people are as well.
Young people in nursing homes and congregated settings is where the housing issue runs into the problems we see in other areas. We made the point earlier that the HSE will say that until one has the accessible living unit there is no point in it doing the personal assistant, PA, piece, and the local authorities are saying it is the other way around. It is that catch-22 that I referred to earlier. One should remember that the person with a disability will be somewhere. He or she will be in an accessible, comfortable home in the right location or squeezed into a house - I am not calling it a home - that he or she cannot fully operate in - that might be the kitchen, the upstairs or the different elements of it, where the person is always pulling things aside to get from A to B, and is not comfortable; in a nursing home; or, in the case of many of the people with intellectual disability, in congregated settings.
People are still in congregated settings. Young people went from the community into nursing homes. They did not spend their young years in a nursing home. That happened because of the lack of a suite of measures - an accessible comfortable home in the right location and a suite of practical instruments, including personal assistants and access to various therapies.
There are commitments, from strong to not so strong, in the programme for Government around some of these things. The capacity review, in terms of pumping extra funding into the disability services, itself can be a slow burn but an important game-changer around this issue, but one cannot get away from the square metre or square foot, whatever language, old-fashioned language or new, one wants to use. One does not live in a virtual house. One lives in a house and one has to be able to put one's elbows out. That is it. There is no other way around it.
I thank all of our guests for being here with us today. Apologies, as the Chair said, I was in the Dáil. Before I was in there, I got the opportunity to hear all of the opening statements. They were interesting and, in many ways, insightful.
I have been an active contributor on the Joint Committee on Disability Matters and, as I always say there, every time we meet witnesses and every time we hear from people with a lived experience it brings a brand new lens to the work we are doing. Therefore, I thank our guests for coming here and sharing so many different lenses with us.
I have lots of questions and lots of comments. Maybe I will start with Dr. Hartney. I liked what Dr. Hartney was talking about when it came to walkability studies and audits of streetscapes because it is a basic question to ask how do we make sure that the public realm is publicly accessible. I would like to learn a little more about them.
I was particularly struck by Dr. Hartney's phrase "meaningful engagement". That is the nub of everything. When we as Government, agencies, Departments, officials, public representatives or committees engage, we need to make sure that it is actual "meaningful engagement", that it is two-way communication, that we are hearing the feedback that we are getting and that it is not an exercise that must be undertaken. It is an exercise that should be undertaken to inform policies and to make better outcomes for people. Dr. Hartney captured that well in her opening statement.
Turning to Ms Lally and Ms Carthy, I did not realise wheelchair use was not being captured by the State. It is really interesting that there is no information on this in the census and therefore nothing in the CSO. Obviously, we know statistics and we hear them but presumably they come from DPOs working in the area. Is that something that has ever been asked? Is there resistance from the CSO to including it in the census? Is that something the IWA believes we can look at between now and the next census? We are too late for the one that has just been done but it would make total sense that we should at least be able to quantify the situation in order to ensure our policies adapt accordingly.
On the housing adaptation grants, Ms Murphy gave us some good information on that. Does she know what the most commonly drawn-down grant is used for? It will probably vary by local authority and presumably be dependent on the age of a house but it might be good information for us to know if we are to enhance those grants in any way.
Mr. Dolan has given us quite a lot of information and ideas around the national housing strategy for disabled people with respect to ensuring it is the way in which disabled people can access their right to housing. Something that has come up for me from a number of constituents is people who are working but finding it very difficult to obtain mortgages. Is that something that has ever come to his attention and has he any views on it? Those are my few questions.
Dr. Aideen Hartney:
I thank the Deputy for the question. Meaningful engagement is so important and it is so important it is planned for and the time necessary for that kind of engagement is built into any processes. In our work and advice, we have set out some guidance on that but we have found people have not planned for it adequately. I am going to make a quick point on the data even though the Deputy did not ask it of me. Then I will hand to Ms O'Reilly on the walkability. There are ways of crosscutting the data in the census to get some estimates but it is true there is not an empirical figure out there. One of the things we have been working with the CSO to request and advise on is a post-census survey called the national disability survey. One was done in 2006 and we have been approaching the office to see if one can be done after the 2026 census. It would be very useful and valuable in capturing some of that information. All the information we use on wheelchair and assistive technology usage unfortunately dates from the 2006 survey, so it is getting quite old and long in the tooth now. If the committee was able to join in the recommendations that such a survey would be useful it would be fabulous.
Ms O'Reilly worked on the walkability audit so I will hand over to her.
Ms Ruth O'Reilly:
Walkability audits are essentially user audits of roads or streets where a group of people with a wide range of abilities, disabilities and different ages select an important route in their locality. They walk it with a co-ordinator and identify things that make life difficult on a day-to-day basis, whether that is crossing the road, badly maintained footpaths or ones that are not wide enough. That is then recorded. The co-ordinator writes up a report and submits it to the local authority. In 2020, we were involved, along with Green Schools and Age-Friendly Ireland, in working with the National Transport Authority, NTA, to develop a universal design walkability audit tool that has been on its website.
Ms Joan Carthy:
We agree it needs to be put into the census. We had conversations last year with the CSO, which said it was too late at that stage for something to be put in. I think the CSO needs to be working on it nearly as soon as the previous census is finished to get in the next one. That is where we are looking for support from the committee to ensure it gets put in. A question about wheelchair users would be to try to capture the permanent use of a wheelchair as opposed to somebody only using one temporarily as that would fudge the statistics. It would give us a really good sense of the position not only in housing but also in education, transport and employment. It would give us a much better understanding across the board.
Ms Mary Murphy:
Yes, absolutely. The housing adaptation grant that is most commonly availed of is the housing aid for older people grant. If the Deputy is looking for the specific measures under the grant, like whether it is for central heating or roof repairs, it is not broken down that way, as far as I am aware-----
Ms Mary Murphy:
-----or at least I do not have that information on hand. After that, the housing adaptation grant for people with a disability would be the second most commonly availed of grant and the mobility aid grant would be the least availed of. I should say that the housing adaptation grant for people with a disability gets the largest amount of money allocated under it. There are fewer grants but a larger average size of grants.
Dr. Aideen Hartney:
It was the 2006 national disability survey. It followed the census. Anyone who had declared they had a disability on the census was then invited to follow up with a much more intensive list of questions about access to transport, education, employment, assistive technology and type of disability broken down much more than it would be in the census itself.
I thank the Chairman. I apologise for joining from my office but I am a bit Covid-paranoid at the moment.
This is just a follow-up to Deputy Higgins's question because it is a really interesting perspective on where the gaps are. There has been an awful lot of talk about local authorities and public housing in the context of universal design and where the gaps are. I am interested in the growing number of people who are in the private rental sector, particularly through the housing assistance payment, HAP, and are having their housing need met there. I ask our contributors where they see the main gaps in the provision of universal design for people who are having their need met through the private sector, whether they are in the rental sector, buying in the private sector, or on HAP. What difficulties are they having? Also, has anybody dealt with private developers on getting portions or doing best practice for any large private developer for universal design? Are there any exemplar projects we can go and have a look at?
Ms Rosaleen Lally:
I will come in with an example of where universal design can work well. The IWA is an approved housing body and we are currently working with Mayo County Council on a development that is due to start next year. The council approached us to see if we would be interested in buying a part of the site, initially, last year. It would be one corner of the site for us to build wheelchair-livable housing on. We always prefer pepperpotted developments so we did not take it. The council came back to us and asked if we would like to take another version.
To make a long story short, we all agreed that rather than us taking the site and having architects and designers in there, Mayo County Council would build on the site and work with us on the planning for the eight houses to best practice access guidelines and standards. The very novel design for us is that there is an interlinking personal assistant, PA, room which interlinks two houses. The HSE loves this because one PA can work with two tenants for overnights and things like that. It has been a very good project. The HSE was involved from the outset. We were conscious, like somebody else said, that this is a catch-22 situation. If somebody gets a house, they cannot apply for a PA until they have the house. We have a young man in Dublin at the minute in that very situation - we have a house for him but he cannot get a PA service and it may be six to eight months before he can get one. He is now fearful that he will lose the house.
The Mayo project is example of a very good cross-communication between all of the Departments. When we went to the HSE, it said that it had 28 people who needed housing, some of whom were in nursing homes. When we went back to it and asked if they were all approved on the social housing waiting list, only two of them had actually been approved. A very significant amount of work was involved in going back to get everybody onto the social housing waiting list. This is another issue. Our Think Ahead, Think Housing campaign encourages and supports people with disabilities to get onto the social housing waiting list. People do not think ahead with regard to the length of time it can sometimes take to get a house, which could be ten years. We are trying to support people. Without a doubt, we know that people with disabilities are greatly underrepresented on the social housing waiting list because it is such a bureaucratic and hard system to go through. This development in Mayo, where we almost have received approval from the Department to go well beyond the 10% floor space, is very much a trial project. If it works, hopefully it can be replicated across the country where these types of houses can be provided and the plan can be used in other local authorities. I return again to the point that until Part M is reviewed and the regulations are in place so that there is no confusion, that will be the only way it is going to work in the private sector.
A large proportion of properties within cities will be build-to-rent properties. Somebody mentioned in their opening statement earlier that there is no provision for any universal design in build-to-rent properties. If you are not on the social housing list, are a young renter, are working and want independent living; there is very little available for you in housing terms. Am I right in saying that?
Ms R?ona Morris:
Yes. People with disabilities are a great deal less likely to live in the private rental housing sector because of the shortage of any accessible housing. Where houses are built, they would need to be converted. It is difficult to find a landlord who is willing to do that because of the cost involved, and so on. There are issues with housing adaptation grants not being sufficient. The increasing use of HAP for people on the social housing waiting list is one of the drivers behind people with disabilities being on those waiting lists for longer because the private rental accommodation does not tend to be accessible. People with disabilities, therefore, remain on the waiting list.
Ms Mary Murphy:
On the universal design in the private rental sector, the expectation that there will be a growing number of older persons in the private rental sector is worth flagging. We know that in 2016 it was 2.6% and it is only going to grow as the rate of incidence of disability increases and they are acquired over the course of a person’s life. Even outside of the area of disability, mobility and frailty issues, the need for brighter light and other measures to be put in place to reduce the risk of falls will have to be addressed for older people in the private rental sector in the coming years to a greater degree than at present.
I am aware that people are swapping between the Seanad and the Dáil Chamber. I call Deputy Gould. His microphone may be on mute at the moment. I will move on. I can return to Deputy Gould if he wishes later. I call Deputy O’Donoghue to speak, please.
I thank the witnesses for coming in. I work in construction and have worked in that sector all of my life. I have seen first-hand the building of houses for people with disabilities and how the regulations and planning process have changed throughout the years.
The implementation of the planning regulations is being enforced to a greater extent in the counties than in the cities. In a county, when one is building a house, if it is a one-off house or a housing estate, the tendency is to build a bigger house in any event. These include bigger bathrooms. All of the doors have 1 m spaces for access into the house. Work is done on the stairs and the landing. The work is being done not only for people with disabilities but also for people who are getting older in life and will need help in any event.
I have seen the changes. When I go into a city, I see that every inch is being availed of. There is no inclusion for people with disabilities. I am lucky to live in Granagh, near St. Joseph’s Foundation, where people with and without disabilities are catered for. I can see what can be achieved when people with disabilities are integrated into the community. People with disabilities should not be put in a corner but should be integrated into the community because of what they can offer to us and we can offer to them.
From a building perspective, people came to me and said they wanted to build properties for people with special needs. They contacted the local authority to say they had serviced sites, with wheelchair-accessible footpaths, to build on. These sites were on bus routes and had everything within the area. The local authority told these people that it had nobody on the list for a house that was designed for people with disabilities. That shocked and surprised me. If I had not heard this information first-hand, I would not have believed it.
With the ageing community we have now, all houses should be adapted on the ground floor for disability living, regardless of whether those living in them have a disability at present. There should be a wet room downstairs and everything should be focused on disability. This involves increasing the door width from 900 mm to 1 m. That will accommodate door access into any house. If one uses a stairs but wants to use a stairlift, one has to allow a further 100 mm for the stairlift to work. If a person needs a carer, the carer could live upstairs, the person in need of care could live downstairs and they could cohabit. No forward-thinking is being done for the sake of a couple of inches in a living area for the likes of this. No family in this country knows whether tomorrow morning, someone in the family - even a child - will have an accident.
When builders are building a house in a rural area, they build a sitting room downstairs and ensure it is accessible to a bathroom in case there ever has to be a changeover, for example if someone has an accident and is confined to living downstairs, or if an elderly parent wants to live with the family. People who are building their own houses put in all of these adaptions because they can see what may be required, but our local authorities do not. The Government through its legislation does not cover this. As a building contractor, I cannot understand this. It is only a matter of widening the door by 100 mm and increasing a bathroom downstairs. If you have a 1,000 sq. ft house, it just means you are making one room slightly smaller. I am 100% behind anything that promotes adaptions to all houses. I do not think it should be 10%; I think all houses should be adapted because at least then you are adapting for the future. That means you do not have to put 10% aside because you will have 100%. Everyone should be obliged to adapt their house.
From the Chairman’s own electrical background, he will be aware that the regulations for switches in houses have changed.
They are down at a certain level. Those type of things have changed. Why can we not move small pieces that will make every house adaptable? Whether it is a one-storey or a two-storey building, it does not matter. You just make a small amendment. That might mean you do not even have to change the square footage but only to move a wall 4 in. or 5 in. or 100 mm to make the regulations easier for anyone. That does not only work for people with disabilities but also for our ageing population and for everyone. I commend everything the witnesses are doing. I will be with them 100%. If they have a list of people looking for them in Limerick, please contact me and I will work to help in any way I can. People come to me who want their house adapted for people. I want them integrated into the community because no one should be left outside, no matter what. Everyone should be integrated and work with each other. I am happy that the people I am involved with are integrated with us. It is fantastic.
Ms Rosaleen Lally:
I thank the Deputy. I live in Belmullet, County Mayo, and we have built eight houses for people with disabilities in the town. The difference that has made to those eight people is incredible. They are living fully independent lives, getting integrated and have gone back to employment or education. They are giving so much back to the community and getting involved in all the committees.
Talking about congregated settings, last year we moved a young lady who had a stroke when she was 39 and spent nine years in the local nursing home into one of our houses that became available. She lived through Covid in the Belmullet nursing home and never left her room for two years. Prior to that, the only time she left her room was to come in to our day service two days per week where she had met the tenants, seen the houses and formed her dream. We moved her out of the nursing home during Covid. She had never seen the house she was moving into. The community had got together and furnished and painted the house for her. Her life has completely changed and that is the reality of having an accessible house. She is living independently and has gone back to further education. She has a dog, which she always wanted. The most thing she says she loves is the silence at night: no bells ringing and nobody coming into the room, walking the corridors or shouting for assistance. That was so powerful.
It is not only what she has done but what the community has given her. She has also given back to the community because she has shown a life lesson to everyone in the community. Communities are key. If the witnesses have a list of people looking for houses, no matter what county, they should let us know and see what people can do in their own right to help. People talk and people have friends in different areas. They might say they know where there is a house. All that helps. It goes back to community and there are communities who will open their arms to help people because they know the value of the help they get back.
I go back to the point made earlier about data. We really missed an opportunity. Like all of us, I am not sure how we missed that opportunity to include much better and more detailed questions in the census that would have given us an opportunity to put the data together. Deputy Ó Broin made the point about local authorities and the point was made that when people fill in the housing assessment and renew it every year or two years, depending on the local authority, that information should be gathered. We are a bit late into the learning stream but it is never too late to learn or to implement this data-collecting information so we can plan. This is all about planning. Listening to the witnesses, I think what they are looking for from us is that, when it comes to universal design and making homes for people in wheelchairs, we plan for that now.
A contribution was made earlier about the Government's projected target of delivering 33,000 homes per year for the next God only knows how long. We reckon the figures should be bigger. That is an even bigger issue again. We could have had a percentage of those delivered now. Someone commented on adaptation grants. I was a councillor for years in Cork City Council. There was one adaptation grant for social housing and one for private housing. We are spending a huge amount of money adapting houses. If we had spent a fraction of that on planning and delivery when those houses were being built, it would have saved the country money. Leaving out the humanity of it and looking at it from a financial point of view, planning now for universal design and UD+ or UD++ makes economic, financial sense. More important, for the person involved in makes sense. Ms Lally gave an example of a lady in Mayo. Her life was completely changed. That example shows the huge difference it can make.
Ms Lally spoke earlier about the standards in the UK meeting the needs of disabled people Why we do not have that here? What do we need to do? Is that what we should copy?
Ms Rosaleen Lally:
Concerning the UK, Part M is in the building regulations there as well and they have three categories of accessible standards in those Part M regulations. There is the visitable standard we have here. They also have lifetime adaptable homes, the next standard, which are universal design homes ready to be converted, if need be, as we grow older. Then they have the standard for fully wheelchair-liveable housing. That empowers local authorities in the UK to look at demand in their area. As planning comes in from developers, it empowers them to say they need certain percentages of wheelchair-liveable, future-proof and visitable housing. The technical guidance is there clearly in the regulations and there is no confusion. In Ireland, we only have the basic standard of wheelchair-visitable housing. For anything above that, confusion reigns across the country. Even architects do not fully understand what universal design is. Our concern is universal design is being used as the key to solving all the problems. Universal design is in the strategy and mentioned across the board. We know universal design does not meet the needs of all wheelchair users. That is another concern. The last concern is the time this will take. We are concerned it will be pushed out and pushed out. By the time a review or amendment takes place of the regulations, all the money will be spent, this huge housing boom will be over and we will be back to square one.
Ms Lally touched on the understanding of universal design. I put my hand up and admit that I used to understand universal design was for everyone, whether an older person with limited mobility, any person with limited mobility or a person in a wheelchair. Then we found out that is not the case. There is universal design, universal design for people in wheelchairs and universal design for people with automated wheelchairs. For that to be understood in the 31 local authorities, everyone needs to implement the same standards.
Another issue I encountered in Cork during the pandemic was that many places were made available for outdoor dining. As a result, there were issues with disabled parking and accessibility. I know today we are talking about universal design but how do Age Action or any of the other witnesses feel about the fact there are standards there but they are not being implemented?
Ms Joan Carthy:
I can answer that. It is a problem we are having right across the country; it is definitely not only in County Cork. There are standards in place but they are definitely not being adhered to when it comes to our public realm and outdoor dining, which I suppose has been at the forefront. As a disability organisation, we understand that businesses have to try to recoup money that was lost through Covid-19 and if outdoor dining is the thing that helps that, we are not against it. However, it must be done in a way that still facilitates people with disabilities as pedestrians and as consumers. People think that once it is outdoor dining, it is accessible. That does not necessarily stand. It still can be inaccessible. What is actually happening is that it is driving people with disabilities back into their homes. They are not becoming part of the community. They are finding it increasingly difficult to get around their towns and cities. Our towns and cities are so old that they are very inaccessible at the best of times. If businesses are now adding to that with street furniture without the right standards and restrictions applied to them, it will constantly drive people with disabilities back into their homes.
We are on the final round of questions now. I will take this last slot unless members return from the Seanad. I mentioned the Changing Places proposals earlier. We had lobby groups and others working for years to try to encourage our local authorities to develop and put a Changing Places facility in here or there. It is quite clear to me that these things must become standard. They have to become a regulation. We must set out quite clearly the certain types of buildings, locations of buildings and levels of footfall. That is how we should do it. What is the sense of how the Changing Places initiative is going at the moment? Does anyone have any information on that?
Ms Ruth O'Reilly:
The public consultation period is finished. I understand the Department received in the region of 600 submissions, which I think we are awaiting. I am on the working group that was pulled together by the Department to make the initial proposals. We are waiting for that working group to be recalled when it has done its initial analysis of the consultation submissions. That is my understanding.
Mr. John Dolan:
I am glad the Chairman raised the Changing Places initiative. It is a sign of the development that has taken place over decades in terms of meeting the needs and expectations of people with disabilities. We have to understand, society must have that headset, that a Part M toilet, which is not a decent enough standard anyway, is the disabled toilet. Is it not great that people who have more extensive disabilities want to be out and about and their families also want them to be able to do so? We have to get it very simply into our heads and skulls that there has to be an infrastructure of these Changing Places facilities right around the country. Again, it is families and people themselves who actually got stuck into this. Inclusion Ireland, the Disability Federation of Ireland, DFI, and a number of others supported them over the years and the Chairman's former colleague in County Wicklow, Councillor Miriam Murphy, and others were deeply involved in it. It has been driven but, unfortunately, these things keep having to be driven from within the movement itself. It is important that we have an infrastructure of them right around the country, however.
-----and I was absolutely shocked. Somebody I know personally originally brought the issue of Changing Places to me back in October 2020. He told they sometimes decide not to go out as a family because there are no Changing Places facilities. That was absolutely shocking to me. He was in Bray with me and I asked him where the nearest facility was. He said there is not one. It is unbelievable. I hope we are seeing progress in that regard.
What is Mr. Dolan's sense of the progress on that? I think we need to apply the same speed to try to deal with the Part M issue. Ms Lally said this has to be in the regulations. This cannot be requesting that a certain developer or local authority go with UD+ or UD++. We need to have it set out in legislation. I think we have covered it quite well at committee today. Mr. Dolan wanted to come back in.
Mr. Brian Condon:
Yes, I would like to come in briefly to correct the record. I stated earlier that the last amendment to the Part M was in 2014. I was actually confusing that the with building control regulations, which were amended in 2014. The latest edition is the fourth edition, which was in 2010. There were other editions in the years 2000, 1997 and 1991.
I would encourage all the members of this committee to go to the Irish Wheelchair Association, IWA, website and download a version of our best practice access guidelines on designing accessible environments. There are some very good design layout drawings on houses that are wheelchair-liveable, which I think will be very informative. We here would all appreciate being part of the fifth edition of the Part M documents.
I thank Mr. Condon for the clarification. I will move on to a couple of more direct questions. The adaptability of buildings is always something at which we should be looking. We are all growing older. We will all have different needs as we go through life. It makes perfect sense that when someone is designing a building, he or she designs it with that adaptability in mind. That has been spoken about at length today. I cannot remember exactly but there is a figure of 10% or 20% for extra floor space. It is possibly 10% for UD+ and 20% for UD++.
It was also mentioned in one of the witnesses' opening statements that there are no additional costs. Can someone explain to me how an extra 10% or 20% does not mean extra cost? I think this is the crux. Deputy Duffy started to drill into this. Every developer always wants to maximise the amount of profit he or she can get back on the number of units, as is his or her nature. That is generally how development works. How does the 20% extra floor space not add up to extra cost?
Ms Joan Carthy:
Correct me if I am wrong but I think the Chairman might have misheard what Ms Lally said. It should not be about the cost. It should not be an extra cost; it is actually a right for people with disabilities. I do not think the statement was that there was not an extra cost but that it should not be part of the equation. We are talking about rights. I could be wrong, however.
I get what people are saying. It should not be just the bottom line because we have a quality of life aspect. People have rights in that regard as well. We cannot just put a figure on that. I thought I read that in one of the statements. I am sorry; was it in Ms Murphy's statement?
Mr. Brian Condon:
I referred earlier to our access guidelines. A person can build a fully wheelchair-liveable house that is only 76 sq. m. It does not need to be a massive footprint; it just needs to be workable and liveable. There are designs out there for houses that are workable where one is not looking for massive floor space.
Sure. I think everybody in the room is 100% supportive of what the witnesses are asking for. We see how sensible it is. We see clearly that the building regulations need to be changed.
If we were sitting with a different bunch of witnesses, say, from the construction industry or with construction economists, and were I to put the question to them that if they were to build a terrace of ten houses or an estate of 45 semi-detached houses, apartments or whatever it may be, and they were to build 20% of them to a standard of UD++, 40% of them to UD+ and the remainder not to that standard, would they tell us that doing so would add incredibly to the costs?
Ms Rosaleen Lally:
Recently in Dublin I had a meeting with a developer who planned to build some universally designed apartments. When we talked about the cost he said that the actual difference between a Part M apartment and a universal designed apartment is the same as installing a kitchen worth €20,000, which is what most people spend on installing a kitchen. When one considers universal design like that then it does not cost that much more and ensures one can live and age in one's home whether that is for an able-bodied person or a person with a disability, or one wants to plan for the future. I have mentioned what the developer said and he had done quite a bit of research so discovered that it costs around €20,000 for a fully wheelchair-liveable home.
On costs, the answer depends on the type of housing. If a private developer has bought private land then increasing the overall floor space will cost but that can be mitigated. For social housing, there should not be a significant extra cost in this instance. For example, in most cases social housing, where it is developed directly by a local authority, is on land that has an historic value rather than a market value. So 10% does not increase the overall development cost by 10% and is only a relatively marginal increase. Moreover, local authorities can recoup those costs in different ways.
If I understood Ms O'Reilly correctly, the problem is the minimum floor sizes within the social housing standards of the Department clearly need to change. Whether there is an extra cost for that is a secondary issue and I suspect that the cost would not be that significant but that depends on the project.
Earlier I asked Ms Lally and Ms Carthy to talk us through these things a little more. Please do not assume that we know anything about any of these things and give us an idiot's guide to liveability. I ask for that because it is important that we put on the record what we exclude people from doing by having the restrictive Part M. In everyday terms, if the witnesses do not mind, please talk us through some of those things.
Earlier Dr. Hartney made a good point and I ask both Ms Lally and Dr. Hartney to clarify the following. Universal design is a little like affordable housing. I mean everybody thinks that they know what it means yet everybody talks about something else. At the end of this meeting ,it would be useful if witnesses clarified what is meant by the various phrases that we have talked about. For example, Part M, which is the minimum standards, and the universal design, UD+ and UD++ standards. Please assume that we are idiots and explain what these terms mean because it is important that we understand.
Ms Lally mentioned Britain. How do Part M, UD, UD+ and UD++ standards relate to what happens in Britain? She said that the UK's equivalent to Part M has three categories: visitable dwellings; properties that are easier to adapt; and liveable dwellings. I presume that if the Minister were to announce a review of Part M, what the witnesses really want is a Part M with multiple parts. I mean that there would be a minimum standard for certain types of properties and higher standards for other types of properties. I ask the witnesses to tell us what they would like to see at the end of the review, and not just get a review.
I think that in addition to a review of Part M we want an addition made to the design manual for quality housing that includes a chapter setting out a bunch of designs. I say that because I understand that the Housing Agency has some research funding at the minute and it is working with some Traveller organisations to consider standardised designs for culturally appropriate Traveller-specific accommodation to be developed for local authorities. I presume that one of the things we want to come out of the review is not just a revision of Part M, we want every local authority manager to have a manual that lists five, ten, 12 or 15 types of UD, UD+ and UD++ standards and acts as a design tool. I invite the witnesses to tell us what recommendations they would like us to put in our report. I suggest that Ms Carthy, Ms Lally and Dr. Hartney treat me like an idiot but do so for the benefit of the committee and explain and outline.
Ms Joan Carthy:
I will start by describing the reality of what liveable housing means for a wheelchair user. It basically means that a person has access to all areas of the house so that you can raise a family, work, live and play. It is about having access to the bedrooms. As Ms Lally said, it is about being able to read your children a bedtime story or give them a bath. It is about being able to look after your son, daughter, mother or father, which are responsibilities that we all encounter over a lifetime.
Ms Joan Carthy:
Part M allows for none of that. It allows a person to get in the front door and sit in a sitting room or a kitchen. It does not even really allow a person to go to the toilet. To be blunt, that is where we are at. Consequently, you cannot raise a family, or cook a meal for yourself, a friend or whoever else you have in your house. People take for granted the myriad of things that they can do in their own home. Under Part M of the regulations, wheelchair users cannot do the same things. You can simply exist and sit in a room, and enter and leave the house but that is all that you can do.
Ms Ruth O'Reilly:
Overall universal design is a philosophy. Deputy Gould is right that universal design is about designing environments that work well for everyone regardless of age, size, ability or disability. Our universal design guidelines for homes in Ireland have different levels of universal design. A universal design home is the base level. It includes a 1,500 mm typical turning space, which is generally deemed sufficient for a manual wheelchair user and serves someone who uses a rollator or walking aid. UD+ moves up to the 1,800 mm turning circle, which is deemed sufficient for most powered wheelchairs. UD++ is a higher level of design that, typically, has a 2.4 m turning circle, which is for people with a higher level of need. There are different grades for housing. Obviously in the built environment in public spaces, a 1,800 mm turning circle is the typical standard that must be met.
So that everyone listening to this debate is clear, or people who will listen to this debate or read the transcript, who recommended those standards because they are not in Part M of the building regulations?
If the Minister were to conduct a review, what do the witnesses want from such a review? How do those standards relate to what seems to me to be a sensible breakdown in the operation of Part M across the water in terms of the three categories of dwellings? Do those two sets of things relate or are they two different sets of standards?
Ms Ruth O'Reilly:
Technically, there are different dimensions etc. between our guidelines and the UK-approved document M. Consultations have taken place in the UK to replace the "visible standard" as the minimum and that the UK's base level lifetime adaptable homes would be the new minimum standard for all new homes. We advocate that all new homes are built to the universal design home base level standard.
I have a further question, with the indulgence of the Chair.
Do design manuals exist? Are they available? Is there good practice? The Department always tells us it is very busy and has lots of things to do. As approved housing bodies, organisations for persons with disabilities are doing some of this. How difficult would it be to put these design standards into the manual as part of the review? If a review of Part M was published at the same time as revision of the design manual for quality homes it would be helpful.
Something we have not spoken about, but it has been mentioned twice, is exemptions for build-to-rent housing. A large proportion, approximately 40%, of new apartments that have received planning permission in Dublin are built to rent. What standard must they comply with if they do not have to comply with the minimum standard?
Ms Ruth O'Reilly:
They have to comply with Part M, but in the design standards for new apartments there is a section that states in developments with ten or more apartments at least half should have a floor area of the minimum plus 10%. This is where the design manual for quality housing states there is an opportunity for UD homes. Build-to-rent apartments are exempt from this minimum plus 10% requirement in the design standards for new apartments. This is critical in light of the proportion of new apartments that are build to rent.
This means they all have to be compatible with Part M but those apartments built to rent do not have the option of the additional 10%. I presume not all planning applications that use the build-to-buy design standards from the manual avail of the extra 10%. Do we know whether this is the case? We probably do not.
Does a percentage have to be put to one side so people have the ability to access them? Anyone who wants to do so can buy a bigger apartment and those who need the space might not be able to access it. There is no ring-fencing of the properties. Is this correct?
There was a discussion on the exemption for build-to-rent apartments. This is a shocking exemption. A proportion should be set aside. This has been mentioned in the witnesses' submissions.
Something that has been raised often with me in recent years is the cost of adapting houses. The maximum that can be obtained is €30,000. No one can adapt a house for €30,000. Even for people trying to put in a bathroom, shower or wet room, the amount of money available is a fraction of the cost involved. Some people do not have the finances for the additional work. It is a barrier to adapting the property. Is this something witnesses have come across?
Ms R?ona Morris:
The maximum amount of €30,000 for the housing adaptation grant is very problematic. It has not kept up remotely with increases in building costs. It is often inadequate for the work being done. Another big issue is means testing. People are often excluded from it, particularly when we know that the cost of disability report showed the amount of extra costs people with disabilities have. Means testing is particularly problematic in this context. The report also showed that housing was one of the highest unaffordable extra costs people with disabilities face. This year the Department is doing a review of the housing adaptation grant. It is very important that the issues of the maximum grant amount as well as the means testing are resolved.
My next question is for Age Action. Recently, the Minister announced a reduction from 80% to 40% in the rental income people on the fair deal scheme would have to pay the HSE. Age Action advocated that it be reduced to zero. This would have allowed more properties to come back onto the rental market. What is the opinion of the witnesses on the Minister's move to reduce it to 40%? Has he missed an opportunity?
Ms Mary Murphy:
We believe it should have reduced to zero rental income. We do not think it would have meant a loss of revenue for the HSE. As it stands, people in nursing homes do not rent out their homes. It is not like the HSE stands to lose money by reducing it. We came before the committee recently to speak about this. It is a missed opportunity in terms of giving older persons the opportunity, choice and control in their own lives to put their houses on the market if it works for them. There might not necessarily be a large number of homes made available under it when we take into consideration the quality of the homes and other family commitments. From our perspective on the rights of older persons to make their own decisions and have the most options available to them we see it as a missed opportunity.
I want to return to the Deputy's earlier question on housing adaptation grants. I agree with everything Ms Morris said. Even outside of the means testing and the maximum grant size there can be hidden costs such as getting in an architect for a consultation. It can turn many older persons off. There are other barriers. Older persons may wait a long time to get reports from occupational therapists or to see occupational therapists in order that they can show the local authority that they have a need. The situation for older persons in their homes is that they must juggle many competing needs, often with limited resources, energy and ability in terms of vital repairs, energy efficiency, mobility aids and adaptation grants.
What Ms Murphy has described is what I hear from constituents who come to me looking for health and support. Ms Murphy mentioned the review of the adaptation grants. We will all make strong submissions on that. Ms Lally discussed the eight houses the Irish Wheelchair Association built in Belmullet. Should it be a benchmark for all local authorities to develop similar housing programmes? It would depend on the size of the local authority and the number of people looking for this type of housing. Listening to Ms Lally describe it, the model seems to be very successful. Is it the model that should be rolled out? Were there additional costs to building the houses? If so, how much more of a percentage did it cost compared with building eight standard houses, for want of a description?
Ms Rosaleen Lally:
It is difficult to say because at the time we built the houses in Belmullet we owned the land. We also got some funding locally to build them and put in additional environmental controls. The project we are working on with Mayo County Council at present could be the flagship project. Once it is completed, it could definitely be replicated throughout the country. Again, the issue is that unless the guidelines and technical guidance are in the regulations and Part M is reviewed there will be inconsistencies.
We see this across the board. I recently had a meeting with representatives of a large approved housing body that had built eight houses to UD standard. When it moved the eight tenants into the houses, it discovered the houses were not wheelchair liveable for them, so it had to retrofit them and spend an awful lot more money. It could not understand because it had assumed that UD would be wheelchair liveable, and that is happening throughout the country. There is so much inconsistency and the problem is that the requirements are not built into the regulations. The only way the issue will be resolved - we can talk about projects until the cows come home - is by good examples of where it works. If we want it to be resolved throughout the country, the regulations need to be amended. That is the bottom line.
There was a suggestion we should revisit the costs. Obviously, building costs are increasing all the time, so that limit is significant. Revisiting the costs would be a recommendation of the committee as well.
Ms Murphy referred to the fair deal scheme. Will she clarify what she was saying about it?
Ms Mary Murphy:
Currently, if someone on the fair deal scheme is renting out a home, 80% of the rental income goes to the HSE. It was announced this would be reduced to 40%, but Age Action has been asking that it be reduced to 0%, given that 40% still presents a significant disincentive to older persons to rent out their homes. Doing so would not represent a significant loss of revenue for the HSE.
I do not know whether the latest suggestion, whereby 40% would go towards the HSE's costs, has been introduced. The committee had a meeting about the fair deal scheme but I was not here that day. Age Action's suggestion is that 0% go to the HSE and 100% be retained by the homeowner.
On Age Action's point, which makes complete sense, 40% of nothing is nothing. The more older people who make the decision to rent out their properties, the fewer people there will be who are affected by the housing crisis. Moreover, it would provide older people living in nursing homes under the fair deal scheme with an income. The point has been made that everyone would do it, but for those who would, it would provide an income for them and a home for a family.
Ms Celine Clarke:
I might add to Deputy Gould's point that safeguarding legislation, and amendments to the coercive control Act, have to be introduced to protect older people from potential elder abuse, which happens and is well documented and researched, albeit under-reported. It is important those safeguarding measures be in place before anything comes on stream in the form of amendments to the fair deal scheme.
Mr. John Dolan:
To return to the issue of costing, the Chairman used the word "standardisation". There are insiders and outsiders when it comes to costing things. The presumption of the builder or developer is that they can build a given number of standard houses for able-bodied, to use that term, people, but we need costings to be carried out on the basis of whatever the cost is of building a mix of houses for a community in which there will be people who have mobility and other needs. In the airport, there are signs for the persons with restricted mobility service. It is not a free service, but the person who uses it does not pay extra for it. It is a service to allow people who need it to get through the airport. We have to get to a point where people with disabilities are not on the outside, whether that relates to accessible transport, education or anything else. The idea that doing so would cost others extra reflects a society putting the burden on the person who is in trouble in the first instance. As is the case in insurance and other areas, there is community rating, with tailoring done within that. That is the magic, the science or the equation that has to be used here.
I agree. Too often when we talk about houses, we talk about units and price costs and forget they are homes. That is what they should be, for everybody.
To return to something we touched on earlier, Mr. Dolan described the ability to enjoy the amenity of your home without having to move stuff around, whereby it has been designed with purpose, but people do not spend all their time in their homes. We need to look also at the public realm and outdoor space. When we on the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications were discussing the Road Traffic and Roads Bill 2021, which is before the Houses, we spoke about how we need to allocate more road space for pedestrians and cyclists to promote mobility and accessibility for everybody. During the past two years of Covid, a great deal of outdoor space has been repurposed for outdoor dining, accessibility and mobility, and someone mentioned earlier the differences that may have created. Is that difficulty to do with the creep of tables, chairs and other things that are put outside or is it the way we have gone about doing that? At the moment, the licensing for outdoor tables and chairs is a lot more fluid and easy than it used to be. What is our guests' sense of that? Is there something we need to address? We would all like to see better accessibility, more outdoor spaces and perhaps even the removal of car dominance in some areas to allow for freer movement.
Ms Joan Carthy:
It is a bit of both. There is that issue of creep, as the Chairman called it. When restaurants and pubs are allowed to put out tables and chairs, they do so within that minimum space they are given, which is wrong to start with. We have to take into account the space that will be needed for someone to sit at a table once all the chairs are pulled out and so on. That is the space that should be defined in the standards, not just how much space a table and chairs take up with nobody sitting there. A bit of both is going on. As I said earlier, in many cases, our streets are just too small, so the authorities are looking at pedestrianising some spaces, which is a great idea in theory but it has to be done right, with, as we said previously, meaningful consultation with people with disabilities. The areas being designated for outdoor dining have to be accessible for a person not only as a pedestrian but also as a consumer, and that is not happening. Just because we say there is outdoor dining, people assume it is going to be accessible but it is absolutely not in many cases. As many chairs as possible are put into small spaces, which means a wheelchair user or somebody with a mobility aid cannot make his or her way around them, or somebody with a visual impairment will fall over them in the street.
I have seen some photographs on Twitter where all the tables and chairs are out and there is a tiny space for pedestrians to pass through.
In addition, there is quite an issue of the privatisation of what was once public space. We have to get that balance right. That is something from this session that we might recommend as well because we recently extended those licensing and planning regulations. Two years into this, or another summer through, it is time to review it and see how it is working for everybody. That might be another recommendation to make.
Mr. Dolan indicated as well.
Mr. John Dolan:
“The creep” was a lovely expression. Let us go back and look at it. This happened in an emergency situation and it was an emergency response. On the one hand, there were people wanting to get out and about in safe way, with outside being that safe way, and there were retailers that needed to be operating again and turning a few bob. The Chair put his finger on it – that is the public realm. Outside one’s business is not the private realm.
A number of us have been involved in the Make Way Day over the years. Before the pandemic, there were enough issues with rubbish on footpaths, people parking on footpaths, all sorts of advertising obstacles, sandwich boards and all sorts of things. Even apart from those, there will often be issues with the standard of the surfaces and footpaths and whatever. That problem was there before Covid. It is now there in spades with what we are describing here.
On the other hand, who wants to be a killjoy? It is great to see people out. However, we have to sort of move it back a bit now and start to redesign it. That is basically in a word what Ms Carthy said. It is necessary and we need more public realm. It is great to see accessible and inclusive playgrounds, green spaces and all of these things. While that is happening on the one hand, the shop floor is moving out into the street. That is just not on. It has to be calmed down and there has to be the possibility for people with disabilities to move around and have parking bays. People who have vision impairments or other issues also need to be taken into account.
We see adaptation in the cycling network as well being rolled out. I saw from Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown a sort of adaptable cycling thing. A girl in an automated wheelchair was able to use it and her dad was able to adapt it. Simple things such as that are important.
Dr. Hartney wishes to come in.
Dr. Aideen Hartney:
I just reiterate the power of universal design in all of these things. What happens sometimes in these challenges over the shared spaces and the Covid adjustments is that one group in society is being pitted against another. We see that very much in the transport realm where it is, for example, cyclists versus pedestrians or bus users against car users, whereas we are aiming for having spaces that are designed for everybody. Again, it is back to that thing where it is not just people with disabilities who are impacted by these changes. It is older people, people trying to push a buggy or somebody trying to wheel a suitcase through Dublin city centre. Absolutely everybody can be impacted by this.
Even if something needs to be fast-tracked through, that should not negate consultation and meaningful engagement with people. It is not good enough for people to say they did not receive any submissions, if the entire consultation process was not accessible enough. Again, universal design and taking a universal design approach will help address those issues.
Road Safety Authority representatives were in with us and transport committee as well, and they brought up the issue of parking on kerbs and footpaths. There is often this belief motorists have that they need to keep the carriageway free for other cars, so they park on the footpath. I say block the other cars and then it is car against car.
I wish to raise one other issue. This committee recently produced a report on dereliction and vacancy. We had an extensive range of meetings with many practitioners, researchers and academics. We want to bring the second and third floors of buildings back into habitable use again. It was raised that there are practicalities about how to make that space fully accessible, or is that a requirement of it? I would like to get a sense from our guests of how they feel about that.
Mr. John Dolan:
Something strikes me from when I was working in the Irish Wheelchair Association back in the 1980s and 1990s. There was a lot of stuff about taxis. It was not necessary for every taxi to be accessible to have an accessible taxi service. The same approach should be looked at here, although I cannot say definitively it can be used. We do not want to stop something sensible and useful being there as a public good for people because it has to be all bells and whistles and inclusive. It is all right once appropriate similar products are available in a neighbourhood or place. Those are just the thoughts off the top of my head. The other thing is, looking at the capacity of technology now compared with ten or 15 years ago, we can challenge the designers a bit to be able to come up with different solutions.
Yes. I cannot remember exactly the discussion, but the situation is different if, say, someone is to refurbish second and third storeys. If it is an infill site – a complete clearance of a site – then it is a new build and it has to meet that universal design standard or universal plus or whatever it might be. However, for example, the refurbishment might be a former commercial building that is now going to be residential over three floors, including the ground floor. The ground floor is obviously much more accessible, so you get that balance right. Would that be a general view our guests would have on that?
Ms Joan Carthy:
Yes, we would agree. I think Mr. Dolan hit the nail on the head. It is that idea of once there is opportunity and choice for people with disabilities in relation to housing, that is fine. We would have no expectation or reason to feel that every single development, especially when one is looking at building on top of shops and whatever else, would have to become wheelchair accessible. We have to work with what can be realised and what can happen. What is important is that there is choice - options and opportunity for people to either buy, rent or through social housing.
We discussed the public realm and spoke about it earlier. After the first lockdown was lifted, I put a question to Cork City Council on the pedestrianisation of streets. It was brilliant and fabulous for some of the streets. It got businesses open again and people out. I think people started to forget where we were in the lockdowns and how tough it was for people. However, there were a number of disabled parking spaces moved. It was like an ordinary parking space was painted and the symbol was applied. There was one activist, namely, Eddie Hennessy, who is a friend of mine and who had a stroke and has limited mobility. He made a point that those parking spaces, like many others, are not really disabled parking spaces. They are just parking spaces that have been painted.
That, obviously, is not a Cork city issue. Disabled parking spaces and meeting the proper criteria must be an issue nationally. I get the train up to Dublin most days. In Kent Station there is a disabled parking spot with a rim around out so a person can open the door to get out his or her wheelchair. How big a problem is disabled parking for people with wheelchairs? Mr. Dolan made the point that he felt it got worse during the pandemic. Is it the same in relation to the public realm with disabled parking accessibility? Does Ms Carthy wish to answer?
Ms Joan Carthy:
Yes, it is a huge problem around the country. We are hearing from our members all of the time about parking spaces that have been moved to accommodate outside dining and have been put in places that either are inappropriate or just do not have the space that is needed.
In Dublin, there is a very good example.
There are now five wheelchair-accessible parking spaces on Fishamble Street. As those familiar with the street will be aware, it is on a slope. The location is not really accessible in terms of going anywhere other than the offices of Dublin City Council on Wood Quay. The parking spaces are too far up Fishamble Street for a wheelchair user or anyone else to get up the street. It is a big hill. If you go in the other direction, the street brings you down to the quays but it is too far from the centre of the city to travel there by wheelchair. The council has moved the spaces and put five parking spaces onto Fishamble Street but they are inappropriate and do not work for anybody. That is being reflected throughout the country. There is no thought being put into where parking spaces are being located.
Ms Joan Carthy:
There are standards in the by-laws, but it does not seem to happen in reality. There are wheelchair-accessible spaces that look entirely different not only from those in other counties but also from those in other parts of the same county. The standards are not being adhered to across the board.
This will be my last question. My apologies for keeping our guests so late, but it is brilliant to have them in here and to be able to ask them questions in person. When I was a councillor on Cork City Council, I tabled a motion seeking a disability officer for the local authority. All planning and other decisions relating to disabled parking, footpaths or building, for example, would have to go through that person before moving to the next stage. My motion was turned down for financial reasons but also on the ground that the council had an accessibility officer and team. There are buildings, roads and paths in Cork that are not accessible to people in wheelchairs, those with limited mobility or older people. Is an accessibility officer or team enough? What do we need to do to ensure best practice in planning and the provision of facilities?
Mr. John Dolan:
In the context of that area, I referred to Miriam Murphy. She is a wheelchair user and a councillor in her third term. With a lot of encouragement from Ms Murphy, which was picked up on by colleagues, a committee was established in the council. It involves councillors, members of the council management and various civil groups and whatever. That is about implementing the CRPD. That is the scope of it. It is not just about physical access. Michael Nicholson, the director of services, is the senior person on the management team of the county council. That model has been considered by others. I am sure that if it were to be adopted in Cork, there would have to be a Cork flavour put on it. It is a model that is worth considering. It is working in Wicklow. It is bringing all the interests together through the role of Mr. Nicholson as director of services, so everything is being watched coming through. Having access officers is an idea dating from the 1990s. It was a case of people putting up their hands and becoming an access officer as well as whatever else they were doing. The model being pursued in Wicklow is a far more sustainable and positive way of doing it. It may be something the committee wishes to consider, if I may be so bold as to suggest that.
We will be producing a list of recommendations. We will be preparing a report on this issue. As regards the work done by Wicklow County Council, with the provision of a Changing Places facility at the new public library in Wicklow, and in Avondale House as well, which has been developed, we are slowly starting to see it. I go back to the point made by Ms Lally, however. It should not be a favour or gift from the developer or something for which one needs to lobby. It needs to be a condition that if something is being developed, a Changing Places facility or universal design plus and so on needs to be provided. That is the route we need to take. Ms Lally is correct in that regard.
Dr. Aideen Hartney:
As drivers for that type of behavioural change, there are the disability impact assessments to which we referred. They are mandatory for large-scale projects that require a memorandum to the Government. In addition, the Disability Act sets out the access officer provisions. We have been talking a lot about data and not having information but the NDA monitors where public bodies are in compliance with some of those provisions. Later this year, we hope to be in a position to publish the number of public bodies that have publicised clearly on their website that they have an access officer, such that people can find this information and know to whom they should go. That will be a way in which we can drive improved performance across the public sector. It will help to provide some of the data we have been hard-pressed to find.
Ms Rosaleen Lally:
On that point, I know from my experience of working with authorities that access officers have been appointed in many places but, as Mr. Dolan stated, it is an add-on responsibility that a person has taken on or been given. They do not have the expertise, interest or time to follow it through. There needs to be designated ring-fenced funding for access officers with the necessary qualifications in each local authority who can take on these issues, such as parking spaces, access, footpaths and outdoor dining. There are so many issues. The problem is there is no policing of these things. Outdoor dining is fine if it is done properly, policed and watched. We know it is fine. When a business knows somebody is coming around to inspect it, everything will be in place but, the next day, sandwich boards and everything else will be out again. Ring-fenced funding needs to be put in place to ensure there are people to police this and make sure things are done correctly. The problem is people are being given the job of access officer on top of their existing responsibilities. It is ticking a box. The report will show it is happening but it is not being productive on the ground.
The point was made that communities and groups are being pitted against each other, whether it is businesses, cyclists or people with disabilities. There is a need to have standards in place that everybody buys into. If standards are set, whether in the delivery of housing or accessibility, it is important everyone lives with them. I am aware of issues relating to cycling groups that do brilliant work but there is a conflict between motorists, cycling groups and people with disabilities. We all need to use our cities, towns, roads and homes. If we set the standards, everyone will know what they need to do and will buy into it. I am aware there is sometimes frustration. In a nutshell, people with disabilities are being discriminated against, whether it is older people or younger people. All they are looking for is equality.
This has been a very helpful meeting. The committee will produce a report with recommendations to send to the Minister. I have noted the points made but we will go back through the transcript of the meeting and compile a list that can be agreed by the committee. We will send our guests a copy of our recommendations arising from the meeting.
There are a couple of issues on which I want to pick up. Ms O'Reilly referred to the three categories in the UK. I did not quite catch what she said in that regard. Was her point that we should be aiming to replicate those three categories? I ask her to reiterate that.
It is probably quite a difficult question to answer but looking at UD+ in terms of percentages, if we were to say that 100% of everything new should be UD, how much should be UD+ and UD++? Is there any rough guide on that, or is it different in the different areas and demographics?
Ms Joan Carthy:
As we said, the lack of statistics is a huge problem in relation to figuring out the number that is needed. I suppose it is to look at what would be seen as rolling stock as well. Much of the talk is in relation to social housing and social housing need, but obviously we need it to cover the private sector as well-----
Ms Rosaleen Lally:
Yes, adaptable housing. Every house would be build to UD design and then there would be 7% to 12%, depending on local authorities. If the data were there and if they knew the numbers, the local authorities could set their own percentages or targets but they do not know. Having UD as the minimum would cater for the ageing population as well.
Ms Celine Clarke:
I want to reinforce that point that if we had UD, it would cater for the ageing population. Given the current trend, about two thirds of the people over the age of 90 will acquire a disability. More of us will reach 90 and beyond. In order to be age-friendly and to future-proof, and to help us to realise our rights and live with quality, then UD is a basic minimum and what has been discussed already will be required.