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Planning classification required for retirement communities 

Words: Laura Edgar

A report has suggested that the introduction of a planning classification for retirement communities could incentivise the development of them and make it easier for councils to include them in local plans.

Such a classification would also keep people out of hospital for longer and improve wellbeing.

According to the authors of the report, the Associated Retirement Community Operators (ARCO) and the County Councils Network (CCN), retirement communities could play a “hugely important preventative role” in addressing the adult social care crisis. Reforms for adult social care have been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Planning for Retirement: How Retirement Communities Can Help Meet the Needs of Our Ageing Population sets out how local authorities and providers can work together to increase housing-with-care provision for older people if the government equips local authorities with tools to incentivise growth of them.

It points out that in the UK only 0.6 per cent of over-65s live in a retirement community, compared to New Zealand and Australia where it is nearly 6 per cent. 

The report states: "Confusion about retirement communities is also generated by the binary nature of the current planning system, given that retirement communities combine elements of both the C2 class for residential institutions and C3 class for dwelling houses."

Introducing a C2R classification would “better enable” local councils to include retirement communities in their local plans. It would also reduce complexity and confusion for councils and providers when planning for these types of specialist developments, as well as help prevent the development of substandard retirement communities that do provide the correct care and amenities.

Furthermore, local authorities should analyse current and future need for older people’s housing and care in their local plans, while the government should establish a framework for closer collaboration between council types in two tier authorities. The reports suggests that to ensure there is "clear strategic integration of housing and social care policy in two-tier areas, government should set out a duty to co-operate to help facilitate district council representation on health and wellbeing boards and county council representation on Strategic Housing Boards in all areas".

If by 2030 250,000 people live in retirement communities that offer care, 560,000 bedrooms could be available on the market, according to ARCO.

David Williams, chairman of the CCN, said: “Retirement communities are currently a fringe part of the adult social care conversation, but the benefits they can bring to people’s wellbeing, reducing unnecessary hospital admissions, and freeing up half a million bedrooms shows that they should be a prime part of the solution to many of the societal challenges we face.

“The report contains some bold yet easily implementable recommendations, not least in introducing a new planning classification to cut down on confusion, bureaucracy, and a clear specification for councils to include in their assessment of housing and care needs. These reforms could help turbocharge the development of retirement communities over the next decade.

“When looking at examples of other countries, it is clear the concept has yet to take off in England. But a small step change, aided by freedoms and tools from government, could usher in big results.”

Nick Sanderson, chair of ARCO, added: “The retirement community sector is ready to play its part in partnership with councils in delivering good housing-with-care to hundreds of thousands more older people. The coronavirus outbreak has shown just how important it is to have a strong and sustainable care system for older people, ready to take the strain off the NHS at all times.

“Policy makers should take heed of these recommendations and act now. A housing and care revolution is within reach if the government is prepared to do the right thing.”

Planning for Retirement: How Retirement Communities Can Help Meet the Needs of Our Ageing Population can be downloaded from the County Councils Network website.

Read David Williams's blog for The Planner - Why retirement communities should be classified

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