Two thirds of local authorities are failing to prioritise housing for older people in their local plans

Less than 10% of the UK’s Local Authorities have both an elderly persons’ housing planning policy and allocated development sites for such housing, according to research carried out by national law firm Irwin Mitchell. And nearly two thirds of all districts having no elderly accommodation policy or site allocation at all. This is despite the fact that there are already now more people in the UK aged 60 and above than under 18, with the number of people in the UK aged 60 or over expected to pass 20 million by 2030.

Given our ageing population, Irwin Mitchell examined the current and emerging local plans of each of the 329 local authorities in the UK over a four month period and looked for policies on retirement housing and care homes to see if the local authorities were properly prepared.  We asked:

  • Does the local authority have an elderly persons’ housing or care homes planning policy?
  • Does the local authority allocate sites for the development of elderly persons’ housing or care homes?

From the research the Local Authorities were graded A, B, C, D according to what they had in place.

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 elderly policy; and

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.”

The results of the survey were as follows. Out of 329 local authorities only 32 (9.7%) were graded A, 72 (22%) were graded B, 22 (6.7%)  were graded C and a frightening 203 (62%) were Graded D.

Carl Dyer, Head of Planning at Irwin Mitchell stated;  “Too many councils – nearly two thirds – simply are not making adequate provision in their local plans for the provision of retirement housing or for care homes.
The fact that 203 out of 329 local authorities are a category D, with no clear elderly accommodation policy or site allocation is shocking and evidence of the appalling failure of local planning authorities to plan for a demographic shift which is not only foreseeable, but which has been foreseen and commented on.

He continued, “There are now 11.6 million people in the UK aged 65 or over and the number of people aged 60 or over is expected to pass 20 million by 2030. There are over 500,000 people aged 90 or over; and 14,570 aged 100 and over. The number of people with dementia in the UK is expected to hit 1 million by 2025 and 2 million by 2051. Our  population is ageing. This is well known and well documented-a phenomenon happening slowly and over an extended time period. It is exactly the sort of change which our planning system should be able to anticipate and plan for; but that is simply not happening.”

Other interesting findings from the survey were:

  • Geographically, local authorities graded “A” were  fairly evenly spread, although a little more clustered in the South and Midlands than in the far North of England.
  • Most local authorities graded “A” were found in  urban rather than rural districts.
  • With the exceptions of Salford and Trafford, Coventry and Liverpool/ Sefton, most  local authorities  graded “A” were  in districts centred around medium sized towns – a majority of them being located a commutable distance from London.
  • The London boroughs fared poorly, with only the London Legacy Development Corporation receiving an A grading- but this is perhaps unsurprising given that London is a working city and the population of elderly residents in most boroughs is below the national average.
  • There is little correlation between the existence of an explicit elderly accommodation policy and site allocations in a local plan and the demographic urgency facing that district.  For instance, Salford, Horsham, East Staffordshire, Crawley Fareham, Guildford, Hounslow, Maidstone, LDA and Woking all scored grade As, while the proportion of residents 65+ in these districts is comfortably below the national average.

Carl Dyer continued:

“Too many councils appear to believe that if they plan for retirement housing and for care homes they will get more elderly people in their districts. This ignores that the elderly people and ageing people are already there, and that will need increasingly specialist accommodation as they get older.

“At one level the results are shocking; but sadly only in keeping with what we have discovered when promoting care home development around the country. Also worrying is the fact that there seems to be no correlation with the existence of an accommodation policy and site allocation and the demographic needs of particular districts.

“Ironically care homes and most forms of retirement housing are a considerably more land efficient means of accommodating people than traditional general market housing. When people move into retirement housing or to care homes then they invariably move out of their previous residences, which become available on the general market. Properly providing for the housing needs of the ageing and the elderly therefore represents a land efficient way for local planning authorities  to also address general housing need.”

He added:

“But they are not doing it.  An opportunity is being missed and the clock is ticking.”