In October 2020, the British Property Federation (in association with Cushman & Wakefield) launched its report, "Housing and Care for Older People: Defining the Sector.
Why was the report needed?
Even before the current COVID pandemic made the provision of housing and care for older people headline news, there was a growing appreciation in the property industry that there is a chronic undersupply of suitable, affordable quality accommodation to house the UK's aging population. Done well, senior living developments can allow older people to live independent, productive lives but offer the comfort of available care "just in case" and potentially keep residents out of hospital. In this context, it is hard to disagree with the report's conclusion that a strategy for delivering purpose built housing for older people must be a national priority.
What did the report say?
To achieve this, the report makes three recommendations:
- a Housing for Older People Taskforce should be established by the UK Government;
- the UK Government should develop and publish a national strategy for Housing for Older People;
- priority should be given to projects that exhibit a commitment to achieving the UK's zero carbon ambition.
Interestingly, the report expressly excludes age exclusive housing without support and care homes from its scope. Whilst many new to the sector would include these areas within the overall senior living umbrella, as the sector has matured in this country, there is now an increased understanding that each of these classes of accommodation are distinct, with different requirements and investment models needed to deliver an appropriate level of care and suitable accommodation. Each sub-class of such housing is similar and can be complementary, but each faces different challenges. A report of this nature (and its well thought through conclusions) dedicated to the requirements of purpose built self-contained housing for older people which offers security of tenure is an important step in moving the issue up the political agenda and educating the wider market.
There is clearly a demand for suitable accommodation which is driving expansion by operators and encouraging new entrants to the market; Retirement Villages Group recently announced a £200 million expansion programme and Royal London recently entered the market through its tie up with Audley Group at Wycliffe Park being two such examples.
There are, however, still too many barriers to new schemes. The recent decision by Elmbridge Borough Council to refuse planning permission for a new £100 million development by Guild Living on the grounds that older people will "undermine the viability and vitality of the town centre" is hugely disappointing and misunderstands the nature of these schemes. There remains a particular lack of affordable quality accommodation. Whilst Birchgrove have pioneered the retirement rental model (with other operators also adapting their own models to mixed tenure schemes) this is still only a relatively small part of the market.
Publication of the BPF's report (and the contributions from the BPF's working group) are a welcome contribution to the debate about how we should provide housing and care for older people. It is, however, only the first step towards achieving the report's aims. Each of us in the industry has an important role to play in supporting its objectives.