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Older people hold the key to solving the housing crisis

The government’s ambition to deliver one million homes by 2020 is admirable.

We know it is serious about increasing housing supply to address the chronic shortage of homes in the UK but we want to be sure this new supply will deliver the right kind of properties that genuinely meets the needs of our population.

Don’t get me wrong, measures to help young people get on the property ladder and build more homes for them are vitally important but simply building increasing numbers of starter homes is not the silver bullet to the housing crisis, particularly when we have an ageing population.

“Simply building increasing numbers of starter homes is not the silver bullet to the housing crisis”

Older people can hold the key to solving the housing puzzle, by downsizing into smaller properties, and freeing up the larger family homes they no longer need. 

Crucially though, these downsizers need quality, specialist housing to move into.

As a developer who builds exclusively for the over 60s we know what works, and how providing retirement housing helps balance the mix of homes in an area, bringing under occupied family housing - typically three to four bedrooms - back into the local market and kick starting housing supply for ‘second steppers’.

Unintended consequences

The Housing and Planning Bill focuses on unlocking brownfield sites for housing development, as a measure to build more homes - so far so good.

At Churchill, 100 per cent of our developments are on brownfield land and we’ve seen too many sites locked up for too long.

We hope these changes will get disused land back into use for much needed homes.

“Plans to exempt these starter homes built on brownfield seems a similarly unbalanced measure”

However, allowing planning presumption in favour of starter homes on brownfield sites could well lead to planning authorities blindly adhering to one type of housing and unbalancing the market, which will leave inefficient housing for older people to move to.

Meanwhile, plans to exempt these starter homes built on brownfield sites from Community Infrastructure Levy and Section 106 contributions seems a similarly unbalanced measure.

By applying this to just one type of housing the market could well become distorted and specialist developers like us disincentivised to build.

There needs to be an intelligent use of planning to help build the homes the UK so desperately needs.

The Government’s bold ambition to get homes built cannot and must not exclude the elderly.

Spencer McCarthy is chairman and group managing director at Churchill Retirement Living

Readers' comments (2)

  • Older people who are living in 4/5 bedroom houses who are planning for further into their retirement years do wish to downsize. But they don't want an apartment or a smaller house with stairs, they generally want a 3/4 bedroom bungalow on it's own plot with no stairs, but can still have family and friends stay. You could free up thousands of good sized family homes if you built new bungalows (and I know they take up more land) the alternative is that the older people hang on to their larger houses and adapt them to their needs.
    "It's not rocket Science"

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  • I am due to retire in a couple of years time. Although we have a large house we have absolutely no plans to "downsize". The costs involved in solicitors and estate agents fees, stamp duty and removal costs will wipe out any perceived benefits that are put to us. As already pointed out we can simply adapt our property. Stop placing the blame on older people. We need to provide homes that our children and grandchildren can afford to buy - and the way is to somehow pull back on our overheated and vastly overpriced housing market.

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