New Research Reveals Over A Third Of English Councils 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. This
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 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%.
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.
Expert Opinion“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” Nicola Gooch - Partner
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 areas with the highest opportunity scores are as follows:
Private Seniors Housing Accommodation: Kensington & Chelsea, Camden, East Hertfordshire, Southwark, Brent, Tunbridge Wells, Reigate & Banstead, Dacorum, Bracknell Forest, Hounslow, Guildford, Woking, Tandridge, Havering, Broxbourne.
Affordable Seniors Housing Accommodation: Southwark, Camden, Kensington & Chelsea, Brent, Hounslow, Tower Hamlets, Cornwall, Leeds, Central Bedfordshire, County Durham, Cheshire West and Chester, Northumberland, South Gloucestershire, Wakefield, Hackney.
Particularly of interest are the opportunities for private Seniors Housing accommodation in London and the South East. Six London boroughs: Kensington & Chelsea, Camden, Southwark, Brent, Hounslow and Havering are in the top 15 opportunity areas for private senior housing with four of these boroughs in the top five. This compares to only two boroughs making the top 15 two years ago. Particularly significant jumps are Kensington & Chelsea which has moved from 9th to 1st place in the private opportunity area rankings and Southwark which has jumped from 128th to 4th since 2020.
Outside London, the South East also dominated the opportunity tables, particularly for private senior housing accommodation. Tunbridge Wells for example has risen from a D to an A rating. In 2020, it ranked 171st in the overall private opportunity area score but over the last two years, the borough has rocketed into the top fifteen (coming sixth overall). This comes as a result of an increased level of investment in the area, a supportive local council, and a significantly improved planning policy position in the emerging local plan.
The top six development opportunity areas for affordable Seniors Housing accommodation are also in the capital: Southwark, Camden, Kensington& Chelsea, Brent, Hounslow and Tower Hamlets.
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.
Expert Opinion“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.”
Nicola Gooch - Partner
*Methodology: Planning Rankings
We reviewed the local plans of all local planning authorities in England and graded them using the following system:
Grade A: clear policies indicating details of the required number of dwellings / care home beds, how this will be achieved AND specific site allocations given
Grade B: a clear policy as above BUT no land or site allocations
Grade C: site allocations given, BUT no clear seniors housing policy
Grade D: neither – with policy (at the most) confined to generalisations such as “we will make provision for housing all types of people including the elderly and the disabled.”
** Methodology for identifying opportunities areas
In deciding the “opportunity areas” the research has combined:
- Updated analysis of the local plans of each of the 326 local authorities in England, which have been graded according to their approach to housing for seniors.
- Data considering the wider demographic changes and economic indicators within these areas including the estimated number of individuals aged 65+ in each local authority, how this percentage will grow and recent provision of specialist seniors’ housing.