Planning measures can supercharge retirement living development

Out-Law Analysis | 28 Nov 2022 | 9:54 am | 3 min. read

An accelerated programme of construction of housing for older people is required to tackle an impending UK housing and social care crisis set to manifest itself through an ageing population.

That was the clear message from the recently published Mayhew Review which highlighted that the  number of people aged over 65 in the UK is set to exceed 17 million by 2040, up from 11.2m today.

Among the report’s recommendations were a series of planning-related measures aimed at bolstering the supply of older persons’ housing. The recommendations include:

  • delivery of 50,000 new units of older person’s housing per year;
  • a significant expansion in the number of integrated retirement communities (IRCs) built each year;
  • and planning departments putting retirement housing on a level playing field with other developments.

These aims can’t be achieved in short order, but there are other relatively easy and, hopefully, quick steps that could be taken to get things going on the right path.

National Planning Policy Framework changes

First, the UK government could make some relatively modest but transformative policy changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Section 5 of the NPPF on delivering a sufficient supply of homes should be more prescriptive about what is required for specialist groups. It should be updated to state that local planning authorities should ensure they plan for a sufficient amount of IRCs to meet their identified need and to ensure that they can demonstrate a five year supply of the same.

The glossary should also be updated to include a definition of “Integrated Retirement Community” and the Association of Retirement Community Operators and other key stakeholders should be closely involved in the formulation of this definition so that it accurately reflects the key elements that comprise an IRC.

Also, in section 3 of the NPPF text, a new requirement for Local Plans to include specific policies that relate to housing for older persons should be added, perhaps as part of wider changes that also recognise other specialist housing needs. This would address housing for older persons’ distinguishing features from general build-for-sale housing.

A more granular assessment of older persons housing need

Secondly, and notwithstanding changes that should be made to the NPPF, local planning authorities should assess on a more granular basis their need for different types of older persons housing. This should happen as part of their Local Plan making and review processes.

For example, there is a need for greater understanding of, and distinguishment between, nursing home need and IRC need.

The plan making authority’s strategic housing market assessment should assess the need for IRC development and sites should be allocated to meet that need. The authority’s call for sites should specifically request that landowners and promoters put forward for allocation sites they consider to be suitable for IRC development.

Local planning authorities should not ignore the benefits that can be gained from releasing under-occupied conventional ‘C3’ housing to younger generations – this will only happen if older people who are under-occupying are given choice of supply in terms of bespoke older persons housing in the form of IRCs.

Consider IRCs differently

Thirdly, local planning authorities should move away from viewing IRCs through the lens of Use Class C2/C3 distinction and instead view and consider them for what they are, which is a particular type of older persons’ housing. This change in perspective is particularly important given the judgment in the case of Rectory Homes Ltd v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government in 2020 because in that case it was held that it is the wording of the affordable housing polices that matters in terms of whether or not they apply to older persons housing developments and not purely whether those developments are deemed to be in Use Class C2 or C3.

Local Plan policies should be drafted to respond to the particular needs of IRC development and be clear to distinguish them from ‘conventional’ C3 housing in terms of key areas such as affordable housing provision and viability.

Actions for developers

Lastly, the call to action shouldn’t just be on central government and local authority planners. IRC developers should do their bit and get fully involved with the local plan making and review process if they have sites they wish to promote in a particular area.

Where they have the resources to do so, developers should commission their own needs assessment work to show the demonstrable need for site allocations for IRC development, and they should be clear in their calls for bespoke Local Plan policy that responds to their needs in relation to such areas such as affordable housing and viability. 

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