Are our housing policies fit for purpose?

By Michael HardwareDirector of Planning and Property

The country has had a housing crisis for years: we have not built enough houses to meet demand for decades, which has resulted in a continually overheated market both for purchase and rent. Not only that, we are also not providing housing for all our community: there is not enough social housing, affordable housing is simply not affordable for many, and we are failing to provide adequate housing for our aging population. Many councils have been forced to build their own social housing, care homes and other specialist housing, creating their own development companies to do so. The question is why when the local plan process could and should provide housing to meet the needs of the entire community.

In particular, as our population ages, the housing market is going to have to adapt to meet their specific needs. As people reach middle age and their children have left home, what options do they have if they want to downsize?

The answer is generally not many, and most choose to remain in the family home. If there were more options, and those options were attractive, then people would move, bringing many family homes back on the market and available for new families.

This does not bode well for the future housing market as the UK has an ever-aging population. This year, for the first time, the number of older people exceeded the number of younger people. It will continue to grow and the housing market must adapt.

Currently, Local plans provide for affordable housing for market sale or shared equity, and some provision for care homes. They could provide far more housing for older people, across a broader spectrum including bungalows, retirement communities and extracare villages, not forgetting sheltered accommodation and care homes.

Housing policies could be far more sophisticated and prescriptive providing a wider range of housing to meet the needs of all the community including older people. If local plans provide for this broader range then developers will supply the housing: it currently isn’t so they don’t.

The other benefit of there being more options allowing older people to move into more appropriate accommodation would mean they stay independent for longer, are less of a burden on the NHS and go into care later costing them, and in many cases the local council, less.

Perhaps now is the time for councils to be reviewing their local plans and housing policies to better reflect the needs of their communities.