Australia’s building ministers have instructed the Australian Building Codes Board to include accessibility as a mandatory requirement in the upcoming National Construction Code 2022. It remains to be seen which states will adopt the new requirements.
For more than 10 years there has been a consolidated campaign to convince the federal government to deliver on its 2010 commitment to make “all new homes in Australia accessible by 2020”, through the National Construction Code
A major stumbling block has been a shared understanding of what accessibility is. For the purposes of this article accessible housing is not universal design nor is it AS 1428.1 compliant. Accessible housing sets out to deliver improvement to a home’s design and construction that:
- delivers better internal movement
- accommodates occupants and visitors temporarily on crutches or walking aids
- accommodates occupants and visitors with permanent mild to moderate mobility challenges
- adapts more easily to performance requirements of the future
The journey towards NCC recognition began back in 2010 when the Gillard government agreed that by 2020 all housing in Australia should be accessible. Labour provided about $1 million in seed funding to start the process. Part of this was used to establish Liveable Housing Australia in 2013.
LHA was set up to provide a soft-landing mechanism for the housing industry to transition from existing practices to accessible homes. Offering three-levels of third-party certification, silver, gold and platinum, the objective was to provide a voluntary uptake of suitable levels of accessibility, consistent with the occupants needs.
The initial years saw a slow uptake of LHA certifications, and it was not until the National Disability Insurance Scheme made LHA Platinum a basic prerequisite for its compliant special disability accommodation homes that LHA saw a more consistent uptake.
The voluntary approach had resulted in a disappointing five per cent of new housing stock being considered appropriately accessibly by 2020. The essential ingredients for voluntary uptake to be successful were missing. The industry needed to educate itself and the market in the benefits to be gained, promote the improvements in liveability and saleability and engender a willingness to accept change.
It has long been considered essential that for a successful uptake to occur, the requirements need to be included as a mandatory path in the NCC. Before changes can be introduced into the NCC, a rigorous process must be undertaken.
This includes a regulatory impact assessment (RIA) to establish the broad market perspective on the need, suitability, and financial impact the inclusion would bring. Some responses to the RIA included an estimate of the likely economic impact on delivering an LHA Silver level home.
Over the 300 plus homes and apartments certified by the author as an LHA assessor, anecdotal costs supplied by the builder were in the region of $1000 to $1500 to upgrade a home to Silver compliance.
The RIA estimates were in some cases higher by a factor of eight. It is highly likely that much of the broad cost difference could be assigned to updating existing suites of documents. If this was the case, these costs should not be included in the estimates as they skew the results and are not representative of the actual ongoing cost of the change. They are a one-off upfront adjustment cost.
Following all responses to the RIA and various stake holder meetings, the building ministers instructed the Australian Building Codes Board in April 2021 to include accessibility as a mandatory requirement in the upcoming NCC 2022.
It remains to be seen which states will adopt the new requirements to the NCC but given the majority of state housing ministers voted to move ahead with this amendment it is hoped that it will be universally applied across Australia.
We look forward to these changes coming into to NCC. Not only will they extend the usefulness of our homes by making them suitable for all occupants irrespective of their mobility or age, but they will also provide the homes a flexibility that will give them a premium price position in the resale market and deliver a crucial but often ignored area of sustainability, Accessibility.
John Moynihan, is director, Ecolateral