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Access to buildings

Disabled badgeOver 9 million people in the United Kingdom have a disability which affects, in some way, how they live their lives. Nearly 5 million of these people have significant hearing or visual impairment, and there are many that have more than one disability.

People using wheelchairs are becoming a more common sight with the improvement in motorised wheelchairs, but there are also disabilities that are not visible, and these can include; cancer, HIV, diabetes, and mental health issues. All these people are protected by discrimination legislation, and in certain cases, carers of disabled people are protected against discrimination as well. The Building Regulations focus on accessibility to buildings, but include provision for those with hearing and visual disabilities.

Building Regulations

Since 1991 the Building Regulations have required that new buildings are provided with suitable access to and into the building, and that there are suitable facilities within the building. The Building Regulations promote the principle of Access for All.

In this way, buildings can be designed to be suitable for:

  • Disabled customers and visitors;
  • Friends and families accompanying disabled people
  • Parents with pushchairs or carrying heavy luggage or shopping
  • Parents with young children

Some older people who do not consider themselves to be disabled, but for whom easier access makes getting about less of a problem.

The Regulations apply to new buildings, where building work is being carried out, where a building is being extended, or where certain changes of use take place.


New dwellings

These are not required to be designed for disabled people to live in as their primary residence. Specially designed accommodation catering for the specific needs of disabled people has to be provided. New dwellings do need to be designed to allow disabled visitors to the house to get to and into it. There are 5 key elements to consider:

  • Getting to the dwelling - a level or ramped approach from the edge of the property to the front door, or, from where the car is parked on the property to the front door. On steeply sloping sites shallow pitched steps can be acceptable.
  • Getting into the dwelling - a suitable width door with a level threshold.
  • Getting around the dwelling - minimum door and corridor widths.
  • Toilets - a toilet must be provided on the ground (or main entrance) floor. The room needs to be slightly wider and longer than usual.
  • Access to switches and sockets - need to be within an easy access zone.

Guidance on how buildings can be designed to provide good access and suitable facilities is provided in the Approved Document to Part M. British Standard BS 8300:2009 can be used as alternative to the Approved Document.

Alterations and extensions to existing dwellings

Part M applies to work carried out to existing dwellings where:

  • it makes the situation any worse than it was previously, eg the removal of a ground floor wc, or,
  • the existing building is built after 1991, in which case the work must comply, eg switches and sockets to be in the access zone.

Guidance on how buildings can be designed to provide good access and suitable facilities is provided in the Approved Document to Part M. British Standard BS 8300:2009 can be used as alternative to the Approved Document.

Buildings other than dwellings

New buildings

These must be designed and built in accordance with either the Approved Document or the British Standard. There are many elements to consider:

  • Car parking
  • Access to the building - a stepped or ramped approach
  • Access into the building - door widths; automatic doors
  • Getting about the building - corridor widths; door widths; stairs; lifts;
  • Sanitary accommodation - sufficient numbers; size; layout; availability; showers and changing facilities
  • Other facilities - kitchens; spectator facilities; hotel rooms;
  • Hearing and visual aids to communication - lighting levels; tactile signage; position of signage; hearing loops.

Where there are deviations from the guidance, it would normally be needed to be justified within an Access Statement. The Statement will need to give an explanation as to why the a lesser standard is being provided.

Existing buildings

Part M applies to existing buildings that are being altered, extended or subject to certain changes of use. Where certain large extension are being constructed, it will need its own independent compliant access, or, an accessible route provided through the existing building.

This means that the guidance in the Approved Document or the British Standard must be followed for the work, which covers the areas identified above.

Historic Buildings

As the Building Regulations apply to all buildings, there is usually conflict between the desire to preserve the nation's heritage, and the need to provide access so that everyone can enjoy them.

When trying to acheive reasonable standards of access into the building, the principle that will be applied will be to improve accessibility where and to the extent to which it is practically possible, always providing that the work does not prejudice the character of the historic building or increase the long term deterioration of the building fabric or fittings.

Advice and Guidance

For general information regarding the application of the Building Regulations please contact the Building Control Office on 01732 876305.

For general advice about making a building more accessible, or questions about accessibility please contact the Council's Access Officer on 01732 876245 or by email on access@tmbc.gov.uk.

Further information

Below are links to additional pages which provide access to guidance notes and Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council's online guide to properties within the borough.

Equality Act 2010

Last Updated: 28th May 2012