Many have said that a lack of planning policy support for the delivery of retirement housing is one of the biggest hurdles the sector faces – which seems odd, as an ageing population is one thing that can, with some certainty, be foreseen and therefore surely planned for, writes Caroline Bywater.
At a national level, the Government has acknowledged the need to plan for accommodation for the ageing population. The NPPF expressly refers to the need to consider the size, type and tenure of housing needed by older people, and planning practice guidance reminds us that “a healthy place …meets the needs of children and young people to grow and develop, as well as being adaptable to the needs of an increasingly elderly population …” Yet still a significant number of local authorities have no specific policies regarding the needs of our ageing population. So, what can planning authorities do now to respond to this issue?
Most obviously, local planning authorities should take a pro-active approach to identifying the need and aspirations for specialist housing in their area, and seek to allocate sites for development accordingly. Much will of course depend on the demographic in each case, but it is vital that the need and desire for retirement housing are considered in order to ascertain whether this matches with what is provided for in existing and emerging policies. This message is starting to come through loud and clear in appeal decisions too: an application for 133 assisted living units in an area of outstanding natural beauty has recently been allowed at appeal, with the inspector finding that exceptional circumstances to justify the development existed partly because the area had an immediate unmet need for extra care market housing, with the matter being of “substantial importance in the public interest”. Another retirement homes scheme has also recently been successful at appeal, this time for 222 new homes in a town centre, with the inspector reminding the authority of its duty “to advance equal opportunities between the elderly and younger members of society”.
Another hurdle within the planning system is the lack of clarity over which use class retirement housing falls in, and therefore whether proposed schemes have to deliver affordable housing. The issue is applied inconsistently across the country, with some authorities considering retirement housing to fall within class C2, others within C3 and some classing it as sui generis. Often, it is only C3 housing which is required to deliver affordable housing, although in each case it will depend on the terms of the relevant development plan policy.
The recent Rectory Homes High Court ruling highlighted the confusion that surrounds this issue. In that case, it was determined that as the retirement homes could be used as independent ‘dwellings’, a local plan policy requiring affordable housing to be provided was applicable, regardless of which use class they fell within, but in other cases the development plan policy may link the requirement to deliver affordable housing to C3 schemes only.
The Housing, Communities & Local Government Committee issued a report in June this year which considered the Government’s proposed reforms to the planning system (as set out in the recent White Paper). In its report, the Committee concluded that “There should also be support and encouragement for local authorities to deliver specialist housing, particularly for elderly and people with disabilities. The Government should create a C2R class for retirement communities to ensure clarity in the planning process. There should be a statutory obligation that Local Plans identify sites for specialist housing”. Could this spur on the bigger push from central Government that the sector so needs?
Caroline Bywater is principal associate at Mills & Reeve