Written Answers. - Services for People with Disabilities.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

440 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the extent to which the building regulations are being applied to provide easy access to all buildings, public and private throughout the country; the extent to which he has encouraged local authorities to apply these regulations in a manner helpful to people with disabilities; the number of instances wherein it has been determined that due regard was not given to the need to implement these regulations with particular reference to the recommendations set out in the commission on people with disabilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8078/01]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

441 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the extent to which the recommendations of the commission on people with disabilities have been or are being implemented with particular reference to the application of the building regulations regarding access to buildings or centres, public or private; the full extent of the recommendations in this regard; the extent to which there has been successful implementation; if there are discrepancies between the public and the private sector; if he has received any requests for greater adherence in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8079/01]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 440 and 441 together.

Part M of the building regulations, which has been in effect since 1 June 1992, places a duty on persons constructing or extending public buildings, whether publicly or privately owned, to provide access for people with disabilities.

The provision of access facilities to other existing buildings is a matter for the owners and occupiers of the buildings concerned. Departments and local authorities have been requested by my Department on a number of occasions to ensure that appropriate provision is made for access facilities for people with disabilities to all buildings under their control.

I amended part M of the regulations in June 2000 following a public consultation process. The amended part M which came into effect on 1 January 2001 requires all new dwellings to be visitable by people with disabilities. It also places a more stringent legal requirement for the suitability of disabled access to new non-residential buildings, including places of employment and leisure, hotels and cinemas. Such access will now have to be "adequate", not just "reasonable".

Compliance with the regulations is primarily a matter for the owners, designers and builders of the buildings involved. I have issued a revised Technical Guidance Document M, 2000 edition, on how to comply with the requirements of the amended part M.

Local building control authorities are responsible for monitoring and enforcement of compliance with the regulations. Since my appointment as Minister in 1997 I have urged local authorities to more actively enforce all parts of the building regulations, including part M. In particular, my Department's circular letter BC 7/99 of 17 June 1999 specifically called for stricter enforcement of part M. I have sanctioned the appointment of building control officers and increased building control fees to fund stricter local enforcement. At present, 85% of authorities are carrying out inspections. About two-thirds of authorities have achieved the target level of inspection, 12%-15% of developments, and I have told the remaining authorities that they must do so by 30 June 2001.
My Department does not have statistics on the number of instances where it has been determined, by the local building control authority or the courts, that part M has not been complied with in the case of privately or publicly owned buildings.
The recommendations of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities relating to access to buildings are set out in the Commission's report, A Strategy for Equality, 1996. The progress in implementing all individual recommendations, including those relating to building control, is set out in the progress report Towards Equal Citizenship, December 1999, a copy of which has been placed in the Oireachtas Library.
The various measures I have taken to extend and strengthen part M, and to promote stricter enforcement by local building control authorities, are consistent with the broad thrust of the commission's recommendations. A core recommendation of the commission was the introduction of a disabled access certificate, along the lines of the existing fire safety certificate. This certificate would be issued by the local building control authority confirming that a planned building, if constructed in accordance with drawings lodged with the authority, would comply with the requirements of part M. I am considering the feasibility of implementing this recommendation in the context of the drafting of proposals for legislation to strengthen the enforcement powers of local building control authorities.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

442 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government if he has satisfied himself that all roads and footpaths, realignments or improvements, are readily accessible to wheelchairs; if this principle is applied equally throughout the country in all local authority areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8080/01]

My Department's memorandum on grants for non-national roads urges local authorities, when planning and executing road works and particularly the planning and designing of pedestrian facilities to pay particular attention to the needs of the mobility impaired. The memorandum also advises local authorities to take care to avoid steep or irregular gradients or sharp changes in the alignment of footpaths, where possible to provide kerbs which should be dished and with wheelchair ramps at pedestrian crossing points and to consult local representatives of persons with impairments in relation to these issues where appropriate.

The types of works referred to may be undertaken by local authorities using discretionary improvement grants or in the case of urban authorities their block grants. In this context I introduced a special block grant in 1999 for urban authorities for carriageway and footpath restoration. Funding of £4.2 million, £6.25 million and £8.95 million has been provided for this restoration in 1999, 2000 and 2001 respectively.
Responsibility for the maintenance and improvement of the national road network rests with the the National Roads Authority.