Planning for later life … where does retirement housing fit in strategic planning?

Rural_Urban Landscape_iStock_000004526499MediumHow does the planning system recognise and reflect the needs of different social groups for housing and amenities? And how should planning respond to current demographic trends? You would assume that these questions would be central concerns of strategic planning and local plan creation, given the long-term view that these processes require. Arguably however, statutory land-use planning has actually been relatively indifferent to the specific needs of age.

Planning around the ‘nuclear family’ norm

The regulation of land use and development is informed by broad strategic assumptions regarding economic, demographic and social changes.  And in addressing the provision of housing, the tendency has been to meet the needs of the ‘nuclear’ family. Other groups, such as the young, the unemployed, the socially excluded and those in ‘later life’, tend to be accommodated at the margins or by default. This is often satisfied through the planned provision of social and educational facilities, rather than being driven by the aspiration for a fully integrated society.

Planning and housing policy interconnect in the UK in a complex and confused way. Housing shortages, the lack of affordable housing, an aggressive geographical divide, widespread social exclusion, the rise of ‘generation rent’ and dysfunctional housebuilding practices all coexist as problems which planning policy is expected to solve.

Meanwhile the realities of 21st century life – such as the fragmentation of extended families due to employment opportunities and longer life expectancy – is creating a market for appropriate housing for older people. Planning for retirement housing has been described as the UK’s next housing crisis.

Planning for retirement housing

Research has pointed to demand for retirement housing increasing as older people (especially those with income, wealth, social networks and health) seek more appropriate accommodation for their later lives. And left to market forces, those in later life compete with first-time buyers for smaller properties.

Failure to downsize can exacerbate wider housing market pressures and create very real psychological and health costs for individuals. Planning has a role here – as shown by a recent Demos study demonstrating how better design of retirement accommodation can help to address the blight of loneliness in later life.

A recent report by Anchor – a not-for-profit provider of housing and care for older people – highlights the issues created by the absence of appropriate retirement housing provision. They argue for a National Task Force on retirement housing; exemption from stamp duty for retirement homes; and reform of the planning system (in England) to remove current disincentives to constructing appropriate numbers of retirement houses.

In terms of changes to planning, they suggest that local planning targets for retirement housing be introduced in local plans; that retirement homes projects be exempt from planning obligation provisions and that eligibility for the Community Infrastructure Levy be reviewed; and that retirement housing should be given the same priority status as affordable housing in development plans.

Similarly, a new All Party Parliamentary Group report on housing and care for older people, published in June this year, calls for a significant change in the focus of Government policy away from concentrating simply on support for first time buyers.

Planning as a symptom or the cause

We’ve written before on this blog about the need for planning to address the need for lifetime homes and age-friendly neighbourhoods. There’s also a lot of research going on into how housing and communities can be planned and designed to assist people with dementia.

Not everyone enjoys later life in the same way and there are considerable discrepancies and inequalities evident – often reflecting earlier life chances. While the planning system has a role to play in addressing these issues, we must recognise that it is a symptom of a wider failure to confront the needs of older life within society. There is a need for a respectful national conversation about how we address the public (social) and private realities of the modern economy.


This blog draws on an article by Professor Greg Lloyd (Ulster University & Wageningen University) published in Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Journal: Greg Lloyd (2016) Planning for later life. SPEL 175, pp50-51

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One thought on “Planning for later life … where does retirement housing fit in strategic planning?

  1. Pingback: Helping people with dementia to live well through good urban design | The Knowledge Exchange Blog

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