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Proposed Access Exemption A Nightmare

Proposed Access Exemption A Nightmare

One of New Zealand’s leading providers of disability services, CCS Disability Action, warned today that the proposed access exemption in the new earthquake strengthening law is a mistake that will cause headaches for building owners, councils and people with disabilities.

David Matthews, chief executive of CCS Disability Action, said that from every angle the proposed access exemption was flawed.

“Access issues affect all of us, but people with physical and/or sensory impairments are more affected than others. 383,500 people had a physical impairment and 239,000 people had a sensory impairment in 2006. Any law change will potentially have a serious effect on a population equivalent to the size of Christchurch.”

Mr Matthews was clear that the idea that access is only about disabled people is a myth.

“When you design and build for people with impairments, you create a safer and more convenient environment for everyone. The proposed access exemption will undermine decades of progress in ensuring all New Zealanders can access buildings. Yet at the same time, it will not address the concerns of building owners and will create a bureaucratic nightmare for councils.”

“A key problem of the current access sections of the Building Act is that they are poorly understood by building owners and councils. The Government’s proposed solution is to make these sections even more complicated and this defies common sense.”

Mr Matthews said that it was clear from the submissions to the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission that many building owners and councils struggled to understand the access sections of the Act, particularly the existing reasonability test. Building owners only have to upgrade access as far as is reasonably and practically possible.

“Properly used, the reasonability test would address building owners’ cost concerns, while ensuring buildings are made as accessible as is reasonably possible. Councils have struggled to apply this test, however, without guidance. The solution is clear. Central government needs to provide guidance on the existing law. This would create fairness and certainty for everyone.”

Mr Matthews added that this guidance should be developed in consultation with disabled person’s organisations, access groups, building groups, local government and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

“There is no need for a law change and it will just make the situation worse for everyone. We need to clear up the existing law. Access is not about one group versus another. It is about finding a workable solution to ensure everyone can access their community.”

~ENDS~

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