Home Housing Planning remains one of the largest barriers to growth for the Seniors Housing market

Planning remains one of the largest barriers to growth for the Seniors Housing market

by Lisa Carr

New research produced by global property consultancy Knight Frank and law firm Irwin Mitchell reveals that over a third of councils across England are still unprepared to provide suitable housing for our aging population

Over a third (36%) of local authorities do not have clear policies in place to support housing for seniors, according to new research from Knight Frank and Irwin Mitchell. The significant shortcoming in the level of planning for seniors housing is particularly worrying given the UK’s ageing population; it is forecast that one in four people will be over 65 by 2037.

The new survey builds on research carried out in 2017 and 2020, which ranked local authorities between ‘A’ and ‘D’ according to their approach to seniors housing provision within their local plans.* Local authorities with an ‘A’ rating have clear policies indicating details of the required number of dwellings / care home beds and how this will be achieved together with specific site allocations for such development, whereas those with a D rating had neither clear policies nor site allocation. 

This year’s survey results (below) found that out of 326 local authorities in England 76 (23.3%) were graded A, 96 (29.4%) were graded B, 36 (11.0%) were graded C and a 118 (36.2%) were graded D.

Over the five years in which this research has been carried out, the percentage of grade A local authorities in England that have adopted specific planning policies and site allocations addressing seniors housing has improved significantly – increasing from 9.7% in 2017 to 23.3% and the percentage of local authorities graded a D has also reduced – from 62% to 36.2%.

D  20362%16150%11836.2%

The sector is also getting much-needed support from central government, with a recently announced a cross-departmental task force on housing for older people championing the need for sector-specific legislation, clarity in the planning system, and funding for affordable housing. The National Planning Policy Framework and National Planning Policy Guidance now also acknowledge the importance of seniors housing.

However according to Knight Frank and Irwin Mitchell, while this represents an improvement, the rate of change is not fast enough, and out of step with the immediacy of the challenge that the country faces in providing enough age-appropriate accommodation. There are still less than a quarter of local authorities with an A grade who have both clear policies in place and site allocations, and the number of councils not adequately planning for an ageing population remains significant.

The figures also reveal several regressions in the data, with 13 local authorities having moved backwards since the survey was last conducted in 2020. Of these, six (Basildon, Castlepoint, Slough, Welwyn, Hatfield, Wealden, Horsham) have regressed because of issues with their local plans. 

Nicola Gooch, Planning Partner at Irwin Mitchell said : “Whilst the situation is clearly improving, it is still the case that planning policies are still putting a brake on new development in the sector. We need all local authorities to take a pro-active approach if we are to unlock the full potential of seniors housing in England. However, policy change alone will not be enough unless it is also accompanied by sufficient resourcing to enable local planning authorities to devote time and attention to understanding both the demographic changes that are coming our way, the diversity of needs within our ageing population and how best to plan for those needs”

Knight Frank and Irwin Mitchell have also updated their research to reveal the fifteen opportunity areas ripe for development of seniors housing across England. Using a matrix looking at both the planning scores and local economic/ demographic statistics** the research distinguished areas where policy and demographics suggest there is clear potential for Seniors Housing to develop, as well as those areas where local factors are creating a barrier to progress. 

The results are as follows:

Private Seniors Housing Accommodation – top 15Grade 2022Grade 2020Affordable Senior Housing Accommodation – top 15Grade 2022Grade 2020
Local authorityArea  Local AuthorityArea  
Kensington & ChelseaLondonACSouthwarkLondonAD
East HertfordshireEast of EnglandAAKensington & ChelseaLondonAC
Tunbridge WellsSouth EastADTower HamletsLondonBB
Reigate and BansteadSouth EastABCornwallSouth WestAC
DacorumEast of EnglandACLeedsYorkshire & The HumberAC
Bracknell ForestSouth EastACCentral BedfordshireEast of EnglandAA
HounslowLondonAACounty DurhamNorth EastAB
GuildfordSouth EastAACheshire West and ChesterNorth WestAC
WokingSouth EastAANorthumberlandNorth EastAB
TandridgeSouth EastAASouth GloucestershireSouth WestAA
HaveringLondonABWakefieldYorkshire and The HumberAA
BroxbourneEast of EnglandACHackneyLondonBB

Particularly of interest are the opportunities for private Seniors Housing accommodation in London and the South East and for affordable Seniors Housing accommodation in London. The top five development opportunity areas for affordable Seniors Housing accommodation are in the capital.

Lauren Harwood, Head of Seniors Housing Consultancy, at Knight Frank said,

“This year’s survey is released against a backdrop of an increasingly difficult development environment; with nutrient and water neutrality issues, insufficient local government resources and local plan failures all making it harder than ever to bring forward new seniors housing schemes. Rising operational and build costs, as well as an increasingly competitive land market have added another layer of complexity.

“As a result, there is currently still a huge supply and demand imbalance of senior housing in England, which is widening amidst a growing and ageing population. It is vital therefore that we increase the provision of seniors housing. With that in mind, it is crucial that developers understand where the opportunities are, and how they can access these to help meet the needs of our seniors.”

Other conclusions from the research

Knight Frank and Irwin Mitchell also emphasise the need to encourage councils to recognise the importance of seniors housing as a key component of the housing market and a housing product that is worth supporting.

Key arguments are:

  • Councils need to be educated on the growing breadth of housing need that can be addressed through seniors housing schemes. A more diverse tenure choice means there are now for sale and rental options, as well as the provision of affordable housing. This opens the sector up to more people at different price points addressing a broad spectrum of housing need.
  • As an increasing number of people turn to seniors housing more family homes can be released to the market- essential at a time when the number of new homes being built is decreasing.
  • The economic and social benefit of seniors housing which can create both direct and indirect jobs through the construction and operation of schemes.
  • Seniors housing schemes can help to reduce the cost of health and social services. Housing people in age-appropriate homes can hugely reduce instances of injuries within the home and by providing social interaction improve people’s mental health and wellbeing reducing the reliance on social services to deal with issues of loneliness and isolation.
  • There is an unprecedented need for this type of accommodation, and one which isn’t being acknowledged by councils. Planning applications rejected by councils are being overturned at appeal stage – leading to not insignificant costs. 

Nicola Gooch continued, “The cost of appeals at inquiry is not insignificant, and through better understanding and acceptance of need, planning for it through the local plan process, and generally taking a proactive approach to this senior housing sector; councils could reduce the size of the bill picked up by the taxpayer in fighting unnecessary and unjustified appeals.

“We should all be seeking to work proactively together to collectively understand the methodology for calculating need for senior housing and to properly plan for it. We really can delay no longer.”

A full copy of the report is available by clicking on this link Retirement Living Report – How Your Local Authority Is Supporting Housing For Seniors | Irwin Mitchell

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