Blog: Government should seize the chance to provide new older people’s housing

Jonathan Fair
Jonathan Fair

McCarthy & Stone managing director, Jonathan Fair, reflects on the Scottish and UK government planning consultations and the growing need for older people’s housing.

The Scottish Government has a golden opportunity to address housing provision for our ageing population in the form of its planning White paper.

Political understanding of this issue has grown over the last decade and McCarthy & Stone were pleased to see recognition of older people’s housing as a distinct need in the revised 2014 Scottish Planning Policy.

But put simply there is not enough suitable housing to keep up with demographic change and planning policy remains restrictive.

The population aged 65 or over is estimated to increase from 0.93 million to 1.47 million by 2037, or 1 in 4 people, and those Scots aged 75 or over will almost double to 800,000 by 2039. Yet there are very few sheltered and very sheltered homes. Just 37,000 units have ever been built, and only 10% are provided for homeowners.

Demand steadily grows but supply is the real issue. At the last census, 60% of households headed by someone over 65 owned their property outright, suggesting there is a substantial downsizing market. Research conducted for McCarthy & Stone by YouGov has indicated that over a third (34%) of people aged 65 or over in Scotland is considering a move from their current property in the future if suitable properties become available.

At present the planning system hinders more than it helps delivery of this form of accommodation. As a briefing note produced by Savills in June last year noted, in Scotland “the planning system could do more to promote and develop the range of homes both necessary for and desired by the growing older population” and “there is a need to establish specific retirement living policy” to address this.

Fortunately, this is exactly what the independent review suggested when it stated, regarding housing, “future proofing is needed to ensure the needs of Scotland’s ageing population are met”. It called, firstly, for “a proactive approach to expanding homes for the elderly” to be treated as a priority as part of a programme of innovative housing delivery; and secondly, suggested homes for older people “could be incentivised” by differentiating their planning obligations.

Private sector retirement housing is of course only part of the solution. Provision needs to be across all types and tenures, with a mix of houses to buy and to rent for people of different income levels. But the obstacles to delivery are real across these types and need to be addressed.

The design specifications of retirement housing make it distinct in several ways, yet it is treated the same as mainstream homes when it comes to planning obligations. And sites need to be centrally located with good transport links which forces providers into competition with commercial developers who are not subject to the same costs.

one of McCarthy’s Lyle Court development in Barnton
One of McCarthy’s Lyle Court development in Barnton

There are several policy ideas that we believe could accelerate provision. Setting clear targets for the delivery of older people’s housing across tenures at a national level, in a similar way to affordable housing, would help ensure that “future proofing” is in place.

Local Development Plans should be required to identify suitable sites specifically for older people’s housing to guarantee future provision.

And existing planning barriers could be amended, as recommended by the independent review, to incentivise greater provision and ensure viable retirement development can come forward. Greater clarity on affordable housing contributions, for instance, would reduce the financial burden on older people’s housing developers.

Enacting some of these measures would stimulate more retirement housing and bring substantial benefits, from freeing up homes for those trying to get on the ladder to promoting health, wellbeing, and independence in old age.

It was hoped the Scottish Government’s Planning White paper would include a range of proposals on how to tackle the aging populations housing crisis. Yet, it was disappointing when elderly housing was only referred to once and this was under the banner of ‘specialist provision.’

It’s clear that the independent planning review recommendations haven’t been fully translated into the planning proposals. There could be a forgotten older generation in Scotland’s planning system if the Government doesn’t listen during this consultation.

Meanwhile, the UK Government has just published their own White Paper, which commits to helping older people downsize while stimulating the housing market for families and first time buyers.

All things considered there is a clear opening for Scotland to demonstrate leadership on this issue, to build on the progress that has been made so far, and ensure our older citizens have quality housing options.

That really would be planning for the future.

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