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Easy Access to Historic Buildings

A review of English Heritage's updated guide to access and the historic environment

English Heritage has recently published a revised version of its guide Easy Access to Historic Buildings, written by John Adams and Lisa Foster.  The new edition updates English Heritage’s 1995 document Easy Access to Historic Properties.

The guide is intended for owners, managers and occupants of historic buildings in England who find they have responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.  It is also intended for those professionally involved planning alterations to historic buildings. With the October 2004 provisions of the DDA now in force, more owners and custodians of historic buildings will be facing up to what is admittedly the difficult question of resolving rights of access with conservation.   The new guidance document will be helpful in this respect.

The authors emphasise the primary importance of protecting and conserving historic buildings.   However, as they rightly say: “There are only rare occasions when nothing can be done to improve or facilitate access “.  Indeed, good quality access solutions can add a new layer of history and interest to old buildings. There is a useful overview of the DDA in relation the system of planning and listed building control.  The authors then deal with the process of carrying out an access audit and a conservation assessment, and reconciling the two in order to formulate an access plan.

The authors discuss the need to consider access proposals in relation to the existing architecture in terms of scale, proportion, symmetry etc.   In this way for example ,  the new entrance ramp at Huddersfield Station is insignificant in relation to the heroic scale of the classical façade. The guide shows that there are even ways around the seemingly intractable problem of access to Georgian and Victorian terrace houses, as the example of a new platform lift at King’s Bench Walk in London demonstrates.  

The meaning of “reasonable adjustments” in the context of the historic environment is also explored.   Although removal or alteration of physical features require more consideration with listed buildings, the issues of access and service provision are not dissimilar to more standard building types. The document is well illustrated with examples of solutions to the range of access issues that present themselves.   It is encouraging that there are now more good access solutions to be seen at historic buildings around the country.    It is a pity that the various architects don’t get a mention in the captions!  

The final part gives practical advice and detailed examples: doors, handrails, lifts etc.    These illustrate the two contrasting approaches currently taken to detailed design: either “in keeping” with the existing architecture, on as modern additions in accordance with contemporary design standards.   There is also advice on emergency egress, lighting & singage and landscape issues; and a comprehensive list of legislation, official guidance, references and sources of information.

Easy Access to Historic Buildings is available free from English Heritage’s Customer Services Department.   Telephone 0870 333 1181.   Product code 50702

October 2004

Cover of Easy Access to Historic Buildings

Published in Issue 101 of Access by Design, Journal of the Centre for Accessible Environments

 

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