What is an Access Statement?

Access Statements - a brief guide to what they are, when you need one and what they should include.

An Access Statement sets out how a new building or environment will achieve inclusive design standards thus enabling access for disabled users.

So when did Access Statements first start to be used?

The first detailed guidance on the production of access statements was issued by the Disability Rights Commission (DRC - now amalgamated into the EHRC) in 2003 in its guidance document 'Access Statements - Achieving an Inclusive Environment', by ensuring continuity throughout the Planning, Design and Management of buildings and spaces'. With such a snappy title this was soon flying off the shelves!

Joking aside this document set out the first guidance on what a statement should include and gave welcome guidance to developers following the introduction of the concept by the ODPM publication 'Planning and Access for Disabled People: a good practice guide' 2003 (slightly snappier title). This document identified the promotion of inclusive design in planning policy and development control as a point of good practice and led to the inclusion of inclusive design and accessibility policies being introduced into local plans.

More importantly for this discussion it identified the provision of Access Statements as a point of good practice.Following this guidance the use of Access Statements was also included in the 2004 edition of the Approved Document to Part M of the Building Regulations.

When is a Statement Required?

Planning legislation now requires that all planning applications be accompanied by a Design and Access Statement for all but the smallest and simplest of applications. The Access Statement will generally form part of this document.

A Building Control Officer may also require the provision of an Access Statement as part of a Building Regulations application particularly where the designer is straying from the guidance set out in the Approved Document to Part M. In this instance the statement is used to justify why the guidance is not being followed and may offer an alternative standard or approach and or mitigating factors. In my experience the application of this requirement by officers is inconsistent and is likely to depend on the knowledge and prominence of the Local Access Officer.At this more detailed stage the services of a qualified Access Consultant may be necessary.

So is the provision of an Access Statement compulsory?

The simple answer is yes for any development which requires Planning Consent as the statement should form part of the Design and Access Statement which is now required as part of the Planning Application package for all but the smallest applications.If your works do not require Planning Consent then you may still be required to prepare an access statement for the purposes of your Building Regulations application. As I set out above this requirement is not always well policed although I do find that the metropolitan authorities tend to be far more stringent in this requirement.

If you are not planning any works there is no requirement to prepare an Access Statement for an existing building and indeed there is no guidance as to what one should include in this context. However, particularly if you are providing a service to members of the public it may present best practice to produce an access statement setting out the degree of accessibility of your service to disabled customers, but this is a separate subject altogether.

We would more commonly recommend the completion of an Access Audit of an existing building which could then be used to inform this type of access statement.

So I need an Access Statement what does it include?

The DRC document referenced earlier promotes a 4 stage approach with the Access Statement evolving as the project progresses through 4 stages; strategic; planning; detailed design and post occupancy.The first matter the statement should address is the overall inclusive design philosophy for the project which should really be driven by the client. This sets the standard for inclusive design and guides the choice of design criteria documents which is the next stage of the statement.The design criteria are chosen to guide the project designers in formulating their design. These may be relatively generic and all encompassing in nature such as BS:8300:2009 or far more specific to the project such ′BT Countryside for All′; which would be appropriate for a rural environment.The chosen documents will depend on the environment but also the intended standard of design as set out at the start of the access statement. For instance if the philosophy was to achieve the minimum standards of inclusive design and meet legislative requirements only, one might only choose the Approved Document to Part M of the Building Regulations which sets out the minimum standards to be adopted when extending or constructing a new building.

If the Access Statement aims higher then additional guidance such as BS8300:2009 and specific more detailed guidance such as ′The Sign Design Guide′; may be included.For simple projects this may be a simple process but on larger or more complex projects it may be appropriate to consult a qualified Access Consultant to advise on the appropriate criteria documents for the access statement.

It is intended that the philosophy and criteria documents are identified early in the project at the feasibility stage.The statement is then used to identify any major issues posed by the site and, particularly if one is dealing with an existing building, any significant issues posed by the building.Where it is considered impossible or impractical to meet best practice standards the access statement is then used to make the case for non-compliance or to promote an alternative approach.

As the level of design detail progresses so does the detail within the statement.Access statements may be very detailed or very simple depending on the nature of the project. For instance if one were building a new office block on a flat site well served by transport links in full compliance with best practice standards the statement could conceivably say that there are no barriers to access and the building is designed in full compliance with the criteria documents, full stop.Alternatively if one were dealing with the conversion of a listed building on a sloping site the statement may be very detailed as numerous barriers to access may exist and alternative design solutions may be necessary.

Thanks for the help but I'm still not confident I can write my own access statement where can I go for help?

If you are not happy writing your own access statement you can enlist the help of a qualified Access Consultant. To discuss your requirements, contact Ian Eggleton.