Over a third of councils still unprepared over older people’s housing

Nicola Gooch, planning partner at Irwin Mitchell

Over a third (36%) of local authorities do not have clear policies in place to support housing for older people, according to research from Knight Frank and Irwin Mitchell.

A latest survey builds on research in 2017 and 2020, which ranked local authorities between ‘A’ and ‘D’ according to their approach to housing provision for older within their local plans.

Local authorities with an A rating have clear policies indicating details of the required number of dwellings or care home beds and how this will be achieved together with specific site allocations for such development. Those with a D rating had neither clear policies nor site allocation.

This year’s survey results found that out of 326 local authorities in England 76 (23.3%) were graded A, 96 (29.4%) B, 36 (11%) C and 118 (36.2%) were ranked D.

The percentage of grade A local authorities that have adopted specific planning policies and site allocations addressing seniors housing has been improving – 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%.

Despite the improvement, Knight Frank and Irwin Mitchell argue the rate of change is not fast enough, as there are still less than a quarter of local authorities with an A grade.

The figures also revealed 13 councils have moved backwards since 2020. Of these, six (Basildon, Castlepoint, Slough, Welwyn, Hatfield, Wealden and Horsham) have regressed because of issues with their local plans, the findings suggested.

‘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,’ said Nicola Gooch, planning partner at Irwin Mitchell.

‘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.’

Forecasts suggest one in four people will be over 65 by 2037.

The research also revealed the 15 opportunity areas ripe for development across England, with the top five in the capital.

Lauren Harwood, Knight Frank

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.’

Knight Frank and Irwin Mitchell argue councils need to be educated on retirement housing schemes; the economic and social benefits through the creation of jobs in construction and operation of settings; and how developments can help to reduce the cost of health and social services.

The report also said planning applications rejected by councils were being overturned at appeal stage.

Gooch added: ‘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.’