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Modernisation plans must extend to management strategy

Modernisation plans must extend to management strategy
2nd August 2019 Ian Streets

The growing trend towards urban living is bringing a variety of old buildings back into use as developers embark on innovative refurbishment programmes – but are they accessible?
Most town and city centres will have many examples of former churches, office blocks, pubs and more being converted into living accommodation. There have also been cases of decaying public buildings being given a new lease of life as café bars and restaurants, but it’s important to remember that improving old, empty properties for modern day use brings a responsibility to abide by the latest regulations and guidance.
On our travels we’ve seen two old fire stations reinvented – one as a popular fish and chip restaurant and another as a trendy bar and restaurant. There’s a former office building which once housed solicitors and other professionals as well as a Coroner’s Court now earning its keep as swanky apartments
Nearby you’ll find offices once occupied by the probation service getting the same treatment, along with a former police station which will provide accommodation much improved on what used to be offered to “guests” staying overnight!
One which we found particularly interesting was the addition of new, luxury apartments, to a former church. The building was consecrated in 1855 but closed in 1977, with a large part of the property being demolished.
But the tower and the spire were listed, and they became the dominant and attractive features of a new development in 1983 which resulted in them being connected to a stylish block of apartments.
We were asked to carry out an access audit to improve accessibility in the communal areas. We were conscious that any guidance which might have existed back in 1855 would have been out of date by the time the apartments were built in 1983 and that modern regulations will again have moved on.
But the issues we found had little to do with the structure of the building and any physical obstacles and were more about the way in which the building is managed. They were capable of being resolved in an affordable way with a little flexibility in the day-to-day running of the building.
One of the issues concerned the garden. To access it, residents and their guests must go from the entrance hall up three steps, across a landing and then down three more steps.
The route presents a clear difficulty for anyone who can’t negotiate steps. There is an alternative of using a gate which opens from the garden onto the street, but residents are not given keys.
The other issue concerns accessibility of the refuse areas. The area around the waste bins is accessible but the bins are too high for some of the residents to open the lid. Also, the doors leading to the area are narrow and they have a pinch-twist handle which some users with poor manual dexterity might find difficult to use. A push bar handle would be better.
Provision can easily be made to allow disabled residents and non-disabled residents and their guests to access the garden if they can’t negotiate the steps. Just give them a key so they can unlock the gate. With the bins, the easy option is to ask the concierge to provide assistance. There are not many flats in the building and requests for help are unlikely to be frequent or numerous.
There are structural issues with two staircases on the ground floor which only have a handrail on one side, and which are narrower than guidance suggests.
It is clearly not possible to widen the steps, and to provide a second handrail would narrow them even further, creating problems if the need arose for an emergency evacuation. Advice should be sought from Building Control on how to remedy the situation.
The age of the buildings being redeveloped varies from one project to the next, with insurance offices from the 1960s being converted into apartments in much the same way as a brewery dating back more than 100 years.
The aim is to provide high-end, urban living with all mod cons and complementary retail and leisure developments on the doorstep. Everything we’ve seen indicates that the apartments and commercial units are designed with accessibility in mind, but the advantages of that can be undone of the peripherals are not also perfect, and the commitment to inclusivity doesn’t quite stretch to the management strategy.


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