RESOURCE | Planning for an ageing population – what needs to be done?

Barton WillmoreThe need for new housing across the UK is well-documented. Only last week the Housing Minister confirmed that the Government is seeking to deliver 1 million new homes over the next five years, writes Steven Grimster of Barton Willmore. But much of the focus has been on providing new housing for families and the younger population struggling to get on the property ladder. However, what about the older population? The needs of our ageing population appear to have been forgotten in the wider housing debate.

Our research shows that over 106 local authorities are projected to have more than 30% of their population aged 65+ by 2037, compared with just 3 local authorities in 2012. Sharp rises in our towns and cities, and economically active areas are particularly problematic. In Manchester the ageing population is set to increase by 57% by 2037.

So are we planning adequately for this change? Do local authorities have policies in place to cope in a market that already faces a severe undersupply of both specialist and family housing stock? Our research suggests not. After reviewing the top 30 local authorities expected to have the greatest share of aged 65+ of population by 2037, just 13 (43%) have little or no policies in place for housing the ageing population.

As a result of longer life expectancy, people can afford to stay in their homes for a greater length of time, and in some cases under-occupying family accommodation. Typically these properties only become available when there is a need to move to specialist accommodation. So what has and can be done to provide the older population with a greater choice of good quality housing to encourage and enable them to move sooner?

The planning system, at a national and local level, has a key role to play in helping deliver a diverse range of housing to meet demand and dependency levels. This includes both extra care and retirement accommodation. This is now recognised by Central Government, with the Planning Practice Guidance now requiring Local Authorities to afford greater consideration to the size, location and quality of housing for the older population, and the need to provide for a mix of accommodation in Local Plans. Whilst many Local Authorities acknowledge the need for new accommodation for the ageing population, there remains a requirement to do more.

Responding to national guidance and as a starting point, Local Authorities should plan positively through the inclusion of Local Plan policies which identify need, the different types of accommodation, and suitable sites on which it supports development. This will require some market input, particularly on the type of accommodation that is needed, whilst such schemes have been known to attract greater support from local communities than, for example, a typical housing development. There are examples of such policies starting to emerge in Local Plans across the North West, which is an encouraging sign.

Other options could include revisions to the Use Classes Order, providing greater clarity between C2 and C3 accommodation to potentially help accelerate delivery. We would also suggest a need to reduce or remove CIL/S106 levys for elderly person’s accommodation.

What is clear is that the challenges posed by an ageing population will only increase. There is the opportunity to influence and meet these needs through positive and pro-active planning by Local Authorities, and we as an industry need to encourage them to do so. With an estimated 65% increase in the over 65 population by 2040, now is the time to start acting and putting in place a solution to meet an ever-increasing need.

You can download the full research report ‘An Ageing Nation – Are we planning for our future’ here.

This article was originally published through Place Resources

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