Owning a pub is not without its challenges and this is especially true of those licensed premises in listed buildings. Because, while having marketable character, they are also tightly regulated when it comes to the upgrades needed to stay competitive and draw in customers.

We’ve previously looked at how the legislation provided by the Equality Act 2010 presents another layer of challenge for listed pubs. So now it’s time to look at these issues in more detail—and offer some practical solutions.

Why you need to be aware of the Act and listed building restrictions

In How the Equality Act impacts pub refurbishments in listed buildings, we looked at the importance of the Act and what it meant for owners of listed pubs when it came to disabled customers.

As well as discussing some of the legal ramifications of not providing appropriate accessibility, it was also made clear that while any justification can be given by the owner for not undertaking works under the definition of ‘what is reasonable’, there was still significant risk involved due to the grey area of what constituted ‘reasonable’. For example, the cost could not be the main justification, because courts would take into account the financial viability of the company as a whole (such as the wider chain), and could rule that comparably minor savings on one property were not reasonable after all.

All of which makes it essential that owners of listed pubs know the Act in detail to avoid potential repercussions later on.

Designing as a careful balancing act

The Morning Advertiser ran a great piece last year about Design tips for making your pub disabled friendly, looking to help people transform their pubs so they’re not only welcoming but accessible for disabled customers.

But what about listed pubs?

Thankfully, we’ve had a lot of experience in this area, working closely with our conservation and listed building expert, Stephen Griffiths. This usually takes the form of a collaboration at the start of a project to identify particularly sensitive (from a historic/listed point of view) issues before embarking on the design process. However, we also have to bear in mind that generally, the requirements of the Equality Act override the requirements of the listed status.

This means the process becomes a balancing act—a careful attempt to adhere to the Act while also ensuring the proposed changes are sympathetic to the original building. Because we know that if an appropriate compromise can’t be reached, the conservation officer overseeing the project could simply refuse the works and prevent the refurbishment from happening at all.

Three design challenges we’ve faced and how we solved them

Here are three common challenges with listed pub alterations you might face under the Equality Act and some ways of overcoming them:

Challenge #1: General access to the site

Solution: This can usually be resolved with a suitable ramp if level access is not present. However, you’ll need approval from a conservation officer and if they object to the ramp you’ll require an alternative. In the past, we’ve overcome this issue by advising the use of an appropriate removable ramp and adequate staff training being provided. To provide easier access for ambulant disabled or elderly customers, existing steps could also be re-laid to achieve correct risers and utilising grab rails sensitive to the style of the building.

Challenge #2: Lack of a disabled access WC

Solution: Listed pubs often have layout or space restrictions, which can make trying to incorporate a fully compliant and accessible disabled WC a challenge. Where this has been a problem, we’ve found that an acceptable alternative might be found in an ambulant cubicle with grab rails and outward opening door.

Challenge #3: Incorporating appropriate colour contrast between surfaces (walls, floors, frames, doorways, and different floor finishes) and lighting levels.

Solution: This is always a tricky one because pubs and restaurants often want to create an ambience in their interiors which is not in line with the Act’s guidelines for colour differences (eg: a 30 point difference is required at 200lux) or doesn’t provide the necessary contrast for partially sighted customers. The finishes spec also needs to work from both an interior design point of view, as well as being sympathetic to the character of the site.

We’ve found that focused spotlighting in ‘risk’ areas (ie: highlighting changes in levels, changes in floor finishes, etc) works well and allows the rest of the site lighting to be kept to a lower level. Colour contrast on walls, door frames, etc, could also be highlighted in the same way—helped by careful consideration of the materials and finish used. For example, the door could be painted matt while the frame is painted high gloss, so the colour of these items could be closer together (less than 30 points), while still helping partially sighted people differentiate between the separate elements.

Preparing safeguards for future challenges

In the event of legal action against a pub for lack of accessibility for its disabled customers, it’s up to the courts/employment tribunals to determine what is or isn’t reasonable in any works undertaken—which we’ve mentioned can be open to interpretation.

To counter this, one of our forward-thinking clients now safeguards themselves against potential damages by ensuring they work in-house with best practice design documentation, such as:

  • an ‘accessible design guide manual’, providing a template for adhering to disabled accessibility good practice;
  • an ‘evidence sheet’ to detail the works and weigh up the cost, practicality, listed building restrictions, etc;
  • a guide to ‘what is reasonable’, which offers an insight into the factors that determine whether or not there’s justification for undertaking particular works; and
  • a site questionnaire.

Providing you ensure your documentation understands and meets both the Equality Act and conservation requirements, this can be a good way of avoiding risk with work on your listed pub. And by using it with every alteration project, not only will you be able to meet accessibility criteria in your buildings wherever possible, you’ll also be able to demonstrate the expert thinking behind—and justification of—those times where it is not reasonable. Which will support your case in any future dispute.