This month the Building Ministers’ Meeting will complete the section of the National Construction Code related to essential easy access features in all new residences. The decision to encompass these features, called the Silver standard, was committed to in April. But counter to the spirit of a national building code, New South Wales and South Australia are refraining from adapting the Silver standard—deeming it too expensive.
Silver standard features wider doorways, stepless entryways and showers, and reinforced bathroom walls. Yet policy-makers tend to regard these features as only suiting individuals with mobility restrictions. As we all age, accessible housing is for all of us.
And in the view of many, accessible housing does not carry with it an excessive expense.
Two years of research discovered that any extra cost is made up for in terms of its benefit to society. This is why Building Ministers agreed to the Silver standard in 2021.
Although certain expenses are necessary, the benefits to society exceed the costs. The value to residents and savings for the government in regards to residential aged care and unneeded hospital stays in hospital was evident. But the dollar values assigned to these costs vary widely.
Certain smaller builders are incorporating the Silver standard into their designs. Any additional costs will be low. Their teams can build sans errors or loss of time for adjustments. Builders, especially volume builders, not putting the standard in place must modify their plans and train their teams, facing more expense in the short term.
The standard lends builders a guide as to what is needed. When everyone is working in accordance with the same standards the costs descend because consistency and certainty are what is needed for cost efficiencies.
The Summer Foundation discovered that a few volume builders were incorporating Silver features in their home designs. This spotlights the issue with the voluntary approach – the inconsistency of built outcomes.
Unfortunately, it might be a while before everyone is working to the same standards if New South Wales and South Australia lag behind with the implementation. Minster Kevin Anderson is the NSW building minister, and he argues that NSW is doing enough. In a NSW Senate Estimates Committee meeting he stated, “The NSW government is doing significant work in relation to providing accessible housing for those that need it.”
Yet his office is not able to supply evidence of actual homes, a differing proposition to “completing significant work”. He references Landcom, which encourages 20 per cent adherence to Silver standard.
Landcom’s Housing Affordability and Diversity Policy says in the appendix that “Silver performance level presents minimal cost according to a Department of Planning study”. This leads to the issue of NSW’s housing policy, which Minister Anderson may know nothing about.
Housing 2041: NSW Housing Strategy states that “Homes in NSW are accessible and suitable for different stages of life or changing circumstances”. One action is to impel the application of universal design in the housing sector. The Silver standard embodies universal design principles and it would be simple to attain this target by adapting changes to the NCC.
In addition, The Silver standard would bring NSW in line with the National Disability Strategy and our commitments in adherence with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. NSW and South Australia could meet both requirements if they were to adapt the Silver standard with other jurisdictions.
When the Silver standard is applied, the aged, the challenged, and everyone else will feel the golden effects.
Image source: istockphoto.com