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Planning Conference 2018
Housing an aging population

Planning Conference 2018
Housing an aging population

Published: 26th June 2018
Area: Real Estate & Planning
Author: Simon Stanion

The UK’s housing crisis extends much further than a lot of people realise and it’s not just first time buyers who are struggling to get their feet on the property ladder, older generations too are finding themselves faced with housing-related issues.

Tackling the issue of housing our aging population was the theme of this year’s planning conferences as we delved into the topic from a planning, construction and a legal perspective, hearing from a range of experts involved in the later living space.

Later living in the UK – the wider picture

An aging population has wide-ranging impacts across the country, not least in terms of housing provision and healthcare needs. Particularly as far as older people are concerned, the quality of housing has a direct correlation to health and wellbeing, with cold and poorly-designed homes contributing to increased risk of falls and illness, and unsuitable locations, far from amenities and public transport links, causing high levels of loneliness and isolation.

It’s clear that something needs to change. In many cases, older people don’t stay in their larger family homes out choice, they do it due to a lack of other viable options in the area. Alternative later living accommodation is available but in many cases, the costs associated are simply too prohibitive and individuals do not qualify for affordable later living schemes.

Getting this right could benefit the whole country and it is estimated that building more later living accommodation – which people actually want to live in – has the potential to release around £365 billion worth of property into the wider market, benefiting numerous people further down the chain.

Ultimately, a lack of choice is at the heart of the issue and moving into later living accommodation doesn’t and shouldn’t mean that older people have to make compromises on location and design. There are great examples out there of schemes which meet all of the necessary criteria – for example accessible bathrooms, space for wheelchairs, toilets at entrance level – but the UK as a whole needs to recognise the needs of older people and start making real steps to address the later living housing shortfall.

Offsite construction – not just flat-pack

If a lack of suitable housing stock is one of the key barriers to later living in the UK, then offsite construction could offer the answer. However, as with later living accommodation itself, offsite construction does hold some negative stereotypes, with images conjured up of soulless, uniform buildings, or ‘pre-fabs’.

However, this isn’t the case at all and offsite construction could bring many benefits which could help drive forward the building of retirement housing. From a planning perspective, offsite construction offers lower environmental impact and 50 percent faster build times, along with reduced traffic, noise, dust and on-site activity, combined with a large range of styles and finishes which can be customised to suit the type of accommodation.

Trust in this type of construction method is growing and by winning over not only public opinion, but also local authorities and planners, offsite construction could offer a viable and economic antidote to the current lack of suitable retirement living accommodation.

Barriers to later living delivery

If there isn’t suitable later living accommodation, then older people are far less likely to want to downsize and move to more appropriate accommodation. From this, it’s clear to see that availability and suitability are central to solving the later living problem.

Whilst in many ways the planning system has moved on from the typical image of ‘old people’s homes’ and there is accommodation available which provides suitable communal facilities and onsite care, however the cost is often prohibitively high for many.

Building suitable retirement housing stock is high cost and this may be off-putting for some Local Authorities and Housing Associations, however the reality is that the initial spend pays off in the long run. For a Housing Association, if tenants are in suitable accommodation which meets their needs, they are less likely to fall into rent arrears as they don’t want to move and potentially upset the Housing Association. This can only be beneficial in the long-run.

Encouraging people to move into this type of accommodation – be it affordable or private housing stock– requires a push from Government. Perhaps there is scope for a policy change which imposes stricter criteria for retirement housing – for example a percentage must be wheelchair-accessible or dedicated affordable housing?

The solution to the problem is unlikely to consider affordable or private later living accommodation on their own. The current situation we find ourselves in is that most developments are either affordable or private; there are few developers currently who provide a suitable mix. Legislating to dictate that every later living scheme must contain an element of affordable housing would go a long way in helping to provide the choice that the market so desperately needs.

A revised NPPF draft – is it there yet?

Changes are certainly afoot in the planning sector, but it seems that there are still some areas to be ironed out over the coming months, particularly where later living is concerned.

The revised draft of the NPPF has highlighted a change to the definition of affordable housing, with a move towards housing for sale, rather than for rent. Yet, the Government’s focus on starter homes largely ignores the significant need for a greater number of housing options for our aging population.

The new housing delivery test and updated guidance on viability testing do take steps towards improving strategic planning and the delivery of housing. However, with only two specific references to later living and housing an aging population being found throughout the NPPF, it remains to be seen whether the forthcoming revision is enough to encourage the provision of housing for older people.

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