It is nearly 75 years since the post war ‘baby boom’ and we now find ourselves with a shortage of specialist housing that will allow our aging population to downsize and release much needed family housing to those in need.It would be naïve and simplistic, however, to assume that all older people have the same needs and it would also be wrong to assume that creating communities specifically for older people is the answer. As is clear from the increasing political divide (crudely recognised as the Corbyn-supporting pro-European youth versus the older Conservative Brexiteers), age segregation is a factor in today’s society.
Peter Edwards, a Partner in Carter Jonas’ London office, has experience in the retirement housing sector and acknowledges that different locations will appeal to different age groups and that communities are often out of balance. A similar divide is frequently found within local authority areas, where older people tend to dominate larger houses in established, often more rural, areas with younger people tending to dominate new urban estates.’ Research by McCarthy & Stone, the provider of retirement homes, has revealed that that there are potentially 4.1 million people who could downsize and if they were to move, approximately 2 million existing bedrooms could become available.
In summary, the UK’s population is ageing fast. There are now more people over 60 than under 18 and in the next 17 years the over 65 age group is projected to rise by more than 40%; which is likely to polarise communities further. If age segregation is defining our communities today, then action must be taken to prevent it escalating further.
Earlier this year the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee assessed the current state of housing for older people. It referred to research which found that only 15% of local councils were adequately planning for retirement housing. However, a number of Councils were noted for adopting a progressive stance; Sunderland City Council for example provides for a variety of specialist housing policies in its Local Plan, whilst Central Bedfordshire publishes a Housing for Older People strategy, which addresses the area’s demographic profile and identifies market opportunities for its older residents.
‘Typically, older people tend to gravitate towards housing located close to local amenities’, says Peter. ‘Consequently, infill or brownfield sites in central locations should be ideal in meeting the specific needs of older people and at the same time reduce the problems associated with segregation.
‘However, housing types are diverse and are targeted at different sectors of society by offering a range of unit sizes, tenures, and levels of affordability; with a range of products available to help renters, sharers and house buyers onto the housing ladder. This variety is reflected in how housing is being delivered including: community-led housing, self-build housing, co-operatives, co-housing, leasehold schemes, extra care/sheltered housing, retirement housing/senior living, retirement villages, home sharing and traditional housing, all of the specialist competing with the mainstream house builders. And in this context there is significant benefit in local authorities collaborating with health and social care teams.’
But developers face obstacles in providing specialist housing. Responding to the Committee report mentioned above, the Home Builders Federation has acknowledged that retirement housing providers struggle to compete with the national house builders because their gross development costs are higher due to a need to provide specialist facilities and communal spaces, in a market place where the supply of suitable land is limited. The fact that specialist housing attracts CIL and Section 106 obligations is a particular challenge as is the price of brownfield land being driven up by the mainstream house builders competing amongst themselves for prime central sites.
‘The best way to ensure an adequate supply of specialist forms of housing would be to exempt developers from CIL payments and affordable housing contributions, allowing savings to go towards on-site community facilities and domiciliary care provision’, says Peter. ‘Specifically allocating land for retirement/ extra care living would also have the effect of making specialist accommodation more affordable to those on lower incomes and those people with limited savings.
‘Most of all, we need a holistic approach which involves specialist housing providers, developers and Government developing policies, products and services that can be used to both deliver specialist housing and incentivise aging relatives to downsize to accommodation more closely associated with their needs. We need new insurance products that allow individuals to plan for their old age; make it easier for retirees to make best use of equity release schemes; consider the relaxation or graduation of stamp duty and introduce tax relief for careers (both professional careers and family members)’.
Essentially, any development that prioritises health and social benefits, is well located and offers a variety of amenities can appeal to young and old alike; with such communities having the potential to integrate communities; meaning that neither the young or old feels isolated. The answer seems to lie in ensuring the older generation remains an integral part of the community and with this in mind we need to plan in a holistic way and create environments that are accommodating of both young and old. Again the issue is one of location, funding and high quality design with government and developers working together more closely.
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This article was first published in Planning and Development Insite, Spring 2019 click here to download the issue.