Majority of elderly planning applications are speculative

A new report from the ARCO (Associated Retirement Community Operators) and consultancy Carterwood has called for planning system to be reformed to reduce waste and inefficiency.

According to the research, 89 per cent of successful planning applications for older people’s housing-with-care since 2015 have not been built, resulting in huge waste and inefficiency and aggravating the UK’s already dire shortage of specialist housing options.

The report, Planning, Clarity and Certainty, highlights a huge gulf in older people’s housing delivery rates. Looking at 2015 only, specialist providers of all forms of housing for older people tended to build out the vast majority of consented sites (93 per cent). By contrast, only 28 per cent of consents by non-specialist providers were delivered. The report says this is due to the speculative nature of many applications by non-specialist developers, and the fact that many applications are made without any intention of the scheme being built.

ARCO and Carterwood point to a number of key barriers currently frustrating the development of older people’s housing, including: lack of knowledge about housing-with-care among planning authorities: planning officers are often unaware of the key differences between care homes, housing-with-care and traditional retirement housing; lack of a clear treatment and definition in the planning system: there is a lack of consistency in approach when it comes to agreeing the planning use class for housing-with-care, often having a material impact on viability and/or slowing down the process of gaining planning consent; lack of a shared understanding of need: there is no accepted figure representing the level of need for housing with care, with some sources vastly underplaying needs nd lack of resources: the lack of resources in planning departments is making the timely progression of planning applications difficult, despite planning officers’ best efforts.

Michael Voges, executive director of ARCO, said: “The low levels of development of older people’s housing highlighted by the research is very concerning at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has shown the need for far more housing and care for older people. The planning system is clearly not delivering the type of specialist housing for older people that we so desperately need. There is an urgent need to respond with clear and tougher planning rules – no one needs consents that don’t get built out. More needs to be done to recognise the distinctions between housing-with-care, retirement housing and care homes. A new planning use class for housing-with-care is an option that needs serious consideration.

“I’m very grateful to Carterwood for their expert contributions to this publication, which has underlined both the barriers to good housing for older people in this country, and some clear steps we can take to make radical improvements.”