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Housing's age timebomb is also a huge opportunity

With housing supply high on the government’s agenda and a new housing white paper expected later this month, it’s encouraging to see signs that the full range of housing demand is being taken into account.

But at Churchill Retirement Living, we still feel that policy-makers must focus more on addressing the chronic under-supply of housing for older people.

With the number of older households expanding ever more rapidly, it’s a ticking timebomb that affects everyone. So we urge housing minister Gavin Barwell to take up the challenge of planning for an ageing population.

A new report from law firm Pinsent Masons showed planning applications for retirement developments have risen 162 per cent since 2010. However, it also warned that unless the government prioritises housing for older people, this trend could be reversed. The firm called on the government to create a separate class for retirement housing to encourage more developers into the sector.

Policy must be revised

In both the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and National Planning Practice Guidance, there is a clearly defined duty for councils to consider the housing needs of older people. However, in practice this is not being considered enough and the NPPF should be revised to make this a priority.

Unfortunately, many authorities still fail to understand the many economic benefits of retirement communities. A typical development contributes significantly more to spending in the local high street than conventional housing, as residents use local shops and services on a daily basis.

An average scheme of 40 retirement apartments provides direct investment of approximately £5m into older people’s housing and the local economy. Around 50 people are also employed in constructing the development.

“Exemption from stamp duty for over-60s looking to downsize would remove a major barrier and potentially result in a net gain for the public purse”

The benefits to wider housing supply are also compelling. According to the Housing LIN, there are eight million people over 60 in seven million homes who are interested in downsizing. That’s a huge potential supply of under-occupied family homes that could be benefiting the younger generation.

Crucially, however, these downsizers need quality specialist housing to move into. Retirees today expect far more choice and greater quality, but the current system makes it hard for developers to meet that demand.

Looming shortfall

New analysis from Knight Frank shows that the stock of private retirement housing accounts for just 0.6 per cent of dwellings in the UK. If current trends continue, the International Longevity Centre UK predicts a shortage of 160,000 retirement housing units by 2030.

Policy-makers need to create more choice and better incentives to help older people move into appropriate housing. Exemption from stamp duty for over-60s looking to downsize would remove a major barrier, freeing up the ‘top of the ladder’ on many chains and potentially resulting in a net gain for the public purse.

Creating a separate class for retirement housing would also help the planning system recognise the positives of these developments in much the same way as with affordable housing. 

We’re seeing encouraging signs, and the new Neighbourhood Planning Bill represents some progress, but more needs to be done.

First, we need a national methodology for calculating housing requirements for older people in determining local authority plans. The Homes and Communities Agency should also identify public land holdings for disposal that would be suited to housing for older people.

Another crucial change would be for Health and Wellbeing Boards to take proper account of older peoples’ wishes and requirements. Local Enterprise Partnerships should also consider the role of proper housing provision for older people as part of their strategies.

Only by forcing councils to consider retirement housing separately to their general need for new homes can we ensure the right mix of homes are being built for everyone. Now more than ever, the clock is ticking…

Andrew Burgess is planning director for Churchill Retirement Living

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