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We are failing to meet the housing needs of older people

Older people's housing

New planning practice guidance on housing the elderly and disabled is welcome, but does not go nearly far enough, argues Jennifer Heron

While we are all aware the UK population is ageing rapidly, the country is still not building enough of the right types of homes for older people.

In late June the government stepped in to this arena once more, announcing a series of reforms designed to ensure we tackle this looming crisis.

This new planning practice guidance (PPG) on housing for older people and disabled people is a positive step.

It recognises that providing housing for older people is critical and that it needs to be considered from the early stages of plan-making through to decision taking.

But this desire to improve planning authorities’ focus on this issue has just not gone far enough. The new guidance remains loose on critical issues, leaving it open for local planning authorities to decide:

  • whether or not to allocate sites for specialist housing for older people in their Development Plans
  • the Use Class a particular development may fall into
  • and whether to monitor delivery through the annual monitoring review process.

Earlier Lichfields research Solutions to an age old problem (pdf) found just 7 per cent of all local plans in England, Scotland and Wales included any land allocations for older people’s accommodation.

Whilst the PPG states that local planning authorities do not have to allocate sites for housing for older people, it does say that councils should provide clear policies to address the housing needs of older people.

"Use class often proved critical to the outcome of the appeal – for example, whether or not an affordable housing contribution should be provided"

Lichfields' Carepacity Toolkit helps demonstrate the need for housing for older people and sets out how the planning system can help facilitate its delivery.

In relation to use classes, the PPG acknowledges there are many types of housing for older people. But it does not include a definitive list ­– and this is causing uncertainty and has financial implications for developers.

Earlier this year, we reviewed 23 appeal decisions for older people’s accommodation. This demonstrated that there are many factors that help determine what use class a scheme falls into.

It also showed that use class often proved critical to the outcome of the appeal – for example, whether or not an affordable housing contribution should be provided.

Turning to monitoring, only 16 per cent of local planning authorities in England and Wales monitor delivery of housing for older people. Many more monitor delivery in Scotland.

Given the critical need to ensure that enough good quality housing for older people is provided to meet the ageing population’s need, it is vital that, as an industry, we monitor delivery to ascertain whether the need is being met. The planning practice guidance refers to this but, again, does not make it a requirement.

Whilst the new PPG is a positive step in the right direction, acknowledging the clear role that the planning system has in the delivery of housing to meet the needs of our growing ageing population, it does not go far enough.

It should be made abundantly clear to local planning authorities that it is a requirement rather than an expectation that local plans identify and allocate sufficient land to meet the housing needs of older people.

Jennifer Heron is associate director of Lichfields in Newcastle

Photo | iStock


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