HC Deb 07 April 1976 vol 909 cc403-5
4. Mr. Hannam

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will take steps to ensure that all planning applications for public buildings are approved by social service departments so as to provide access and facilities for disabled and handicapped people.

Mr. Oakes

No, Sir. The development control system is not appropriate to secure the provision of access and facilities suitable for physically disabled persons. Local planning authorities have, however, been asked to draw the attention of developers to the provisions of Section 4 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970.

Mr. Hannam

Is it not a disgrace in this day and age that modern public buildings, such as the National Theatre, are being constructed without adequate access and facilities for disabled people? Would not a simple statutory provision for the involvement of social service directors at the planning stage show that we were not just paying lip service to the integration of the disabled?

Mr. Oakes

Planning is concerned with the purposes for which land is to be used, and not the people who use it. Indeed, the planning system does not control internal fittings.

I understand that the plans for the National Theatre were passed long before the circular was issued in 1970.

Mr. Molloy

Is my hon. Friend aware that many local authorities desire to conform to the Act and wish to make access to public offices available to the disabled, but that, despite their endeavours, they are restricted by financial considerations in the changes which have to be made? Will he look sympathetically at applications that are made and perhaps devise a priority list to assist well-meaning local authorities who wish to carry out the provisions of the Act?

Mr. Oakes

There should be no doubt in the House about the desirability of carrying out the aims of the Act. This is a matter for local authorities to decide. It is not a planning matter that requires us to issue further directives to them. However, pressure will and should arise from the authorities concerned to ensure that all public buildings are adapted for the disabled.

Mr. Marten

In addition to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam), would it not be a good thing to encourage the disabled to get on to local councils to ensure that their interests are watched there?

Mr. Oakes

It would, indeed. The social services departments of local authorities usually contain a number of people specifically nominated by the disabled groups.

Mr. Speed

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is much cheaper and more effective to provide these facilities at the planning and design stage than later? Could the Government not give clear advice and guidance to the Property Services Agency, nationalised industries and local authorities to have these facilities built in at an early stage, rather than have too many adaptations afterwards?

Mr. Oakes

A circular issued by the Conservative Government on 17th August 1970 drew to the attention of all developers the need to conform to the 1970 Act and to the high desirability of access for disabled people to all premises to be considered at that stage. It is cheaper at that stage. It is not necessary to send out another circular. The planning system, as such, should not be the means of control.