Access & Inclusion

A new visitor centre at Whitby Abbey with a passenger lift in the 17th-century mansion resolved the difficulty of wheelchair access to the abbey ruins
An accessible visitors’ entrance has been formed by lowering external levels and adding a base to the horseshoe stairs at the Queen’s House, Greenwich.

Easy Access to Historic Buildings (2004) is a substantial update of a document first published in 1995 to help owners and architects/surveyors find solutions to the access problems of their historic buildings, monuments and landscapes. The guidance advises primarily on proposals affecting listed buildings, but the principles and advice are applicable to all historic buildings and landscapes. It considers the challenges and constraints posed by buildings such as shops, offices and civic buildings, as well as those open to the public as historic attractions.

Key legislation, regulations and standards relevant to accessibility, disability and inclusion

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995

The DDA introduced new legislation and measures to address discrimination against disabled people and to give them rights in the areas of:

  • access to goods, facilities and services
  • buying or renting land or property
  • employment

The DDA is civil rights legislation and does not include standards for accessible building design. The main concern of the Act is the service or the employment opportunity within the building. In that respect the DDA covers people not buildings.

In October 2004 further sections of Part 3 of the DDA came fully into force, requiring any service that is being offered to be equally available to both disabled and non-disabled people. Disability can be a physical, mental, hearing or visual impairment. Access issues are not restricted only to the needs of wheelchair users.

Service providers under the DDA are all organisations that provide goods, facilities or services to the public, including services that are free.

The DDA does not override other legislation such as listed building or planning legislation, and the need to obtain appropriate approvals still applies in the case of changes made to improve access.

The Building Regulations (Part M) ’Access to and use of Buildings’

The Building Regulations 2000 were issued under the Building Act 1984 and apply to England and Wales. The regulations cover many aspects of building construction and are supported by Approved Documents that provide guidance on meeting the requirements of the Building Regulations.

Part M (2004) of the Building Regulations (2000) has been revised to incorporate the new standards established by British Standard 8300:2001.
‘Design of buildings and their approaches to meet the needs of disabled people- Code of Practice’.

Part M (2004) now applies to an existing non-domestic building which has been extended, undergone a material alteration or an existing building or part of an existing building which has undergone a material change of use to a hotel or boarding house, institution, public building or shop.

Any departure from the guidance set out in Approved Document Part M must be justified by an access statement.

Legislation introduced since the publication of Easy Access to Historic Buildings

Since Easy Access to Historic Buildings was published the scope of the Disability Discrimination Act has been extended. The Disability Discrimination Act 2005 amended the act to insert the ‘disability equality duty’, known as the ‘general duty’. The duty is aimed at ensuring public authorities build disability equality into everything they do and to produce a Disability Equality Scheme. Amendments were also made to Part 3 of the DDA affecting private clubs, public authority functions and providers of premises and transport services.

Planning legislation has been amended to include the requirement for ‘Design and Access statements’ when most types of planning application are submitted as well as listed building applications. The access component needs to explain the policy adopted to access including what alternative means of access have been considered and how policies relating to access in relevant local development documents have been taken into account. For historic buildings the statement should make clear how the approach to access has balanced the duties imposed by the DDA (where the proposal is subject to those duties) and the particular historical and architectural significance of the building.

Reconciling the interests of conservation and access

Historic buildings, landscapes and monuments, the physical survivals of our past are protected for their sake and for ours. They are irreplaceable but sometimes they need to be changed. Appropriate or sensitive alteration will have due regard for what it is that makes a particular building special or significant. In most cases access can be improved without compromising historic buildings. The key lies in the process of information gathering about the building, understanding its significance and vulnerabilities and knowledge about the needs of people with disabilities.

Determining reasonableness-establishing an access strategy

Any organisation, be it a high street retailer, a museum or a restaurant, that is required to make reasonable adjustments under the DDA needs first to establish an access strategy. This requires a strategic commitment at a high level in the organisation to making the service more inclusive either through design or management measures, or more often a combination of the two.
A timescale and budget need to be considered, and someone should assume responsibility for overseeing, evaluating and reviewing the implementation of any measures that are subsequently identified in the access planning process which needs to be well documented and transparent.
What in practice is likely to be ‘reasonable’? The Code of Practice (2002) produced by the Disability Rights Commission states:
“What is a reasonable step for a particular service provider to have to take depends on all the circumstances of the case. It will vary according to:

  • the type of service being provided
  • the nature of the service provider and its size and resources
  • the effect of the disability on the individual disabled person”

It is important that organisations and professionals do not undertake works involving access improvements without a good understanding of the needs of people with disabilities and the options available to meet those needs.

The access planning process

Preparing an access plan, and working through the issues it raises is fundamental to the process of determining the need for changes to a historic building. The process should consider the options available (including the provision of the service by other means) the priorities for implementation and the likely impact of each proposal on the building’s significance. In reconciling access and conservation, the access plan can seek to embody best practice in access design and building conservation.

The first step in planning access improvements is to undertake an access audit. This will assess and document the barriers to access which exist within a building and its surroundings. The complementary part of the process will be to review or prepare a conservation assessment that will establish the relative significance of a building or site in terms of its special architectural, historic or archaeological interest. Local authority conservation staff can provide advice on compiling these, as can your English Heritage regional office.

The access plan:
  • Should consider the requirements of wheelchair users and those with restricted mobility, sensory impairments and learning difficulties
  • Should be central to any organisation’s strategic commitment to improving access
  • Needs to be reviewed regularly so that the current provisions can be kept up to date and take account of changes in regulations and in available solutions
  • Proposals should be tested before they are incorporated into the access plan by focus groups made up of people with disabilities or drawn from a local access groups
  • The plan can also inform any access statement required under Approved Document Part M of the Building Regulations.

English Heritage believes that dignified access should be provided wherever practicable and celebrated with high-quality design that is also sensitive to the special interest of historic buildings.
Local authorities who own or manage historic buildings are encouraged to adopt access plans that are consistent with the special architectural, historic or archaeological interest of the property or landscape concerned.

What's New?

A new visitor centre at Whitby Abbey with a passenger lift in the 17th-century mansion resolved the difficulty of wheelchair access to the abbey ruins
An accessible visitors’ entrance has been formed by lowering external levels and adding a base to the horseshoe stairs at the Queen’s House, Greenwich.