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A wasted opportunity: majority of older people’s planning applications are speculative

16 July, 2020

  • Only a tenth of housing-with-care planning consents get delivered
  • Calls for planning system to be reformed to reduce waste and inefficiency
  • Sharp distinction in build out rates between specialist providers and speculative applications

Research published by ARCO (Associated Retirement Community Operators) and care property consultancy Carterwood shows that 89% 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 shortage of specialist housing options.

The findings, revealed in the Planning, Clarity and Certainty publication, highlight 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%). By contrast, only 28% 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.

This has prompted sector leaders to call for clearer and tougher planning rules for different types of older people’s housing, doing more to reduce wasteful speculative applications and ensure that successful applications are built, and providing greater clarity on the different types of older people’s housing – for instance through a new planning use class for housing-with-care to differentiate it from traditional retirement housing and care homes.

The ‘Planning, Clarity and Certainty’ document points to a number of key barriers currently frustrating the development of older people’s housing, including housing-with-care. These are:

  • 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 need.
  • Lack of resources: the lack of resources in planning departments is making the timely progression of planning applications difficult, despite planning officers’ best efforts.

In the document, ARCO and Carterwood say greater clarity is needed in the planning system, whether through the creation of a new planning use class for housing-with-care or clarifying how it should be developed through existing use classes. They also argue that a shared understanding of need should be built, so the number of required units can be predicted at the local level.

‘Planning, Clarity and Certainty’ has been published following a roundtable hosted by Carterwood in February 2020, to discuss barriers and solutions to planning in the housing-with-care sector, and builds on in-depth data collection and analysis by Carterwood.

ARCO executive director Michael Voges said the low levels of development of older people’s housing highlighted by the research were very concerning at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic had 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,” said Mr Voges.

“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.”

Carterwood director Tom Hartley said the last three months had brought unprecedented challenges to the health, social care and housing sectors, but also some fantastic stories of housing-with-care settings keeping their residents safe and continuing to promote their wellbeing.

“Our data shines a light on a significant structural problem in the planning system,” said Mr Hartley.

“It is essential we address this if we’re going to unlock the future supply of much needed housing-with-care accommodation, so that hundreds of thousands more older people can benefit from the care and support it provides.”

The full report can be accessed  here

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