PAN 78: Planning and Building Standards Advice Note: Inclusive Design

Advice on improving the design of places so that they can be used by everyone, regardless of age, gender or disability.

Who has a role in implementing inclusive design?

Parliament Access Focus Group
Parliament Access Focus Group

The creation of an inclusive environment involves contributions from a range of practitioners including planning officers, architects, urban designers, engineers, building standards officers, access consultants, facilities managers, the occupier and end users. They all have a part to play in ensuring that developments are designed, built and operated in line with inclusive principles. The simplest way to achieve these principles is to ask the questions:

"Will the way in which this is designed, constructed or managed create an inconvenience, barrier to use, or hazard, to any portion of the population? If so, how can I reasonably amend proposals to eliminate this?"

Roles and Responsibilities

The roles of those involved in the development process in ensuring inclusive design are set out below in more detail.

Planning authority

Local authorities should be committed to securing high quality design in the built environment. They can do this through development planning and development management.

Development planning

Development Plans can support better access and more inclusive environments through general policy statements on achieving good quality design. Specific requirements for particular uses or sites can be set out in supporting guidance documents. The preparation of design manuals can help to improve consistency in designing inclusive environments, both in shaping proposals from individuals and businesses, and to influence the management of councils' land and property portfolios, which include large areas of public space.

Development management

Local authorities perform a wide variety of statutory functions encompassing transport, planning, development management and listed building consents, road construction consent and building warrants. These related issues are often considered independently, or sequentially. As a result, the potential for a joined-up approach to inclusive design by different local authority departments can sometimes
be missed.

Also, accessibility has traditionally been seen as a building standards matter, to be addressed once planning permission has been granted, and is often not considered at the planning application stage. It is good practice to encourage discussion at the earliest opportunity between all parties involved in development management - planning, building standards and roads. Officials and councillors should be encouraged to work together more closely to deliver a consistent approach to inclusive design.

Local authorities should aim to train officers on how to deliver inclusive environments and seek effective communication between the various functions throughout the development process. The relationship between planning and building standards departments will be particularly important.

Owner or developer

Successful design must start with the person initiating a project being aware of the responsibilities for, and benefits of, this issue. The aim should be to consider an inclusive design strategy at the earliest possible opportunity to avoid leaving such issues to be picked up during the building standards process, or even later than that.

The following provides a number of principles to help guide developers in delivering inclusive schemes:

  • Understand the fundamentals of inclusive design and be aware of the social and commercial benefits. These will not be limited to the design of the development and will include, for example, the location of the building on the plot, gradient, topography, relationship to adjoining buildings and the local transport infrastructure.
  • Adopt a policy that requires inclusive design to be part of the brief to the designer or architect.
  • Consider appointing an access specialist if your designer lacks the necessary knowledge or experience.
  • Liaise with the relevant statutory authorities as early as possible and be prepared to amend designs, as required, to address issues raised. This role could also be undertaken by the designer.
  • Ensure the application of inclusive design principles throughout the construction phases.
  • Think about how the completed environment will be used and managed. Many barriers can be overcome by identifying operational issues at an early stage in the design.


Designers are responsible for creating environments for people to use and enjoy. It is therefore important that a designer understands and communicates the benefits of inclusive design, and works with the client to establish a brief that allows for the eventual design to be inclusive.

If in doubt, designers should consider seeking advice from an access expert, from local access panels and from talking to potential users.

Designers should consider using an access statement to identify how their proposal will address inclusive design issues. This would go wider than the access statements proposed in planning legislation that consider access issues for disabled people to certain types of public buildings.

An access statement should evolve throughout the design and construction process, beginning as an access strategy where aspirational, but achievable, aims are set for the project. This would develop into a final document which is handed over to the owner of the building or public space. This access statement can act as an agenda for an ongoing dialogue between all stakeholders. It can help to ensure that inclusive design issues are given due consideration along with all other demands made on a development, providing an audit trail of issues, assessments and actions. The exact form of an access statement will depend on the size, nature and complexity of the development.

Information from an access statement could contribute to any planning application. Similarly, within the building warrant process, relevant information extracted from an access statement could be provided to support solutions that do not follow published guidance on compliance with building standards.

Information on the ethos behind access statements and advice on their production and use is available on the Disability Rights Commission ( DRC) website and is noted in the Annex.

Access consultant

Access consultants must have a detailed technical knowledge and understanding of the diverse and sometimes conflicting needs of disabled people within environments - from people with sensory and cognitive impairments to people with mobility impairments, including wheelchair users. To give balanced recommendations an access consultant must also have an appreciation of other user needs including children and older people. An understanding of construction and design is also important in order to understand the other demands on the design of a development.

Ideally, a person with this role should be involved from the beginning of the design process but even a review prior to the commencement of detailed design can help to enhance the development. No matter what the scale of the project, someone involved with the design of the project should champion inclusive design

Parliament Access Focus Group

issues, reviewing the proposal at key stages to ensure that aims are being met.

Access officer

Access officers exist within most of the 32 Scottish local authorities. In the majority of cases, the appointed officer's primary role is one of Building Standards Inspector.

The duties of an access officer may vary between authorities. In some cases, the access officer may only be concerned with the accessibility of the council's own buildings. However, the officer will be normally involved with building warrant applications, or the review of larger planning applications, as well as being in a position to give general advice to the public on such matters.

Those authorities which do not have an access officer should be encouraged to create such a post within the planning or building standards teams as a 'champion' for access issues within the authority.

It is important to note that the role of access officer differs from that of a building standards officer who can only verify a design against set criteria given by the building regulations.

Access panel

Voluntary Access Panels offer their knowledge and experience to improve access to the built environment. Most panels see their primary role as being a point of contact between council officers with responsibility for development management and disabled people with expertise, acquired through day-to-day experience, of confronting barriers. Access Panels are a useful source to consult on a design, as they are able to give advice based on personal experience and local knowledge.

Access Panels work in different ways and have different levels of experience and technical expertise. In all cases the membership of volunteers includes people with mobility impairments. Most panels include people with hearing or visual impairments. However, only a small minority of panels have members with learning difficulties or who use mental health services.

The Scottish Disability Equality Forum ( SDEF) also provides an umbrella body for Access Panels. It is working to establish new Panels with local authorities and local disabled people where currently no panel exists. It is possible to identify the panels in your area from the SDEF online directory at

Occupier or operator

Through legislation such as the DDA, occupiers and building operators have been made increasingly aware of new duties imposed upon them but not necessarily
of the need for inclusive environments. Tenants and property buyers are now becoming more aware of their legal obligations, both as employers and service providers, to consider physical alteration of a building as one element in making reasonable adjustments to prevent discrimination against disabled people.

During the acquisition or rental of a building, accessibility should be a key consideration when making a decision on the appropriateness of premises. The existing levels of access and the potential cost of improving access are amongst factors that should be carefully considered.

In meeting their DDA obligations, how well an occupier manages their buildings and the public spaces within their control can be just as important as how the physical environment was designed.



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