The Welsh planning system needs to be more pro-active and forward-looking to encourage the provision of new housing for older people

This week we published a report of recommendations to the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty following an expert workshop on housing options for older people and what we can learn from best practice. Today, Gary Day, Group Land & Planning Director for McCarthy and Stone, the UK’s leading retirement housebuilder, and contributor to the expert workshop offers his view. 

Building more housing for our young population grabs the headlines; Governments of all colours are full of grand initiatives to support first time buyers to move onto the housing ladder.  Policies like Help to Buy assist those starting out to get a mortgage and Local Plans are dedicated to encouraging low-cost starter homes, family housing and affordable accommodation.  All of which, of course, we welcome.

But the price of this single-minded focus is that the housing needs of older people are the forgotten part of the debate.  Yet they have the potential to benefit the whole housing chain in the way no other part can.

Demographic change means there is a pressing need to ensure our housing stock is suitable for older people.  Wales has the highest proportion of older people in the UK, and projections indicate that a quarter of the Welsh population will be 65 or over by 2030, compared to 22 per cent for the UK as a whole.  We also know that 60% of all household growth to 2033 is projected to be by older people.

So there is a pressing need to build more suitable property for older people, but just 28,000 retirement properties of all types in Wales have been built to date.  And only a small number of these are available for homeowners, although the majority of older people in Wales live in owner-occupied housing.  As a result, thousands of older people lack options when they wish to downsize in later life.  As there are limited inspirational alternatives for them to consider, many struggle on in their existing properties that quickly become unsuitable for their needs.

In terms of the impact of this on younger people, large family homes remain under-occupied and do not become available for younger people or families to move into.  By encouraging the building of good quality and well-located properties that older people choose to move to, thousands of existing properties could be released, boosting the housing market in Wales.

There would also be a significant health and social care benefit.  Better housing for older people reduces demand on public sector resources; it means older people spend fewer nights in hospital and can return home more easily.  And it also allows people to stay in their home and out of care:  the state saves on average £30,000 for every year one person delays or avoids moving into publicly-funded residential care.

In addition, the equity that is released from moving could also be put to more beneficial use – for instance, by supplementing falling pensions or paying for rising care bills.

And it is difficult to think of a form of housing that is more environmentally sustainable.  Retirement developments are very often situated on centrally-located brownfield sites, with easy access to everyday needs, including shops and public transport.

As a result, we have been delighted to be involved with the PPIW to look at ways to encourage the provision of better housing for older people, and we welcome its recommendations in its report to the Welsh Government.  In particular, we welcome the call for the Welsh planning system to be more pro-active and forward-looking at local and national levels to encourage the provision of new housing for older people across all tenures.

As a housing provider in Wales, we are keen to play our part and help provide more suitable accommodation for older people.  We hope the report  will mean that those in later life are no longer the forgotten part of the housing debate and that retirement housing can help to create a healthy housing chain that supports everyone back down to the first time buyer.


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