Pre-election inertia stymies English senior housing sector

England’s planning regime is currently one of the major challenges for the country’s seniors housing market according to research from consultant Knight Frank and law firm Irwin Mitchell. Nearly a third of local authorities remain unprepared to provide suitable housing for the ageing population.

The report, Unlocking Potential for Seniors Housing Development, concludes that this “significant shortcoming in the level of planning for seniors housing” is particularly worrying given the UK’s demographic profile. Forecasts indicate that the number of people aged over 65 will increase to over 15 million by 2043 – or one in four of the population.

Similar research carried out in 2017, 2020 and 2022 ranked local authorities between A and D according to the provisions in their local plans towards seniors housing. Authorities with an A rating had clear policies indicating details of the required number of dwellings and care home beds and how to achieve that, together with specific site allocations for development. D-rated authorities had neither a clear policy nor site allocation. 

Oliver Knight.

This year only 75 local authorities out of 326 local authorities (23 %) were graded A, while 100 (33.7%) were graded B, 47 (14.4%) were graded C and 104 (31.9%) were graded D.

“While previous research has shown significant progress, our latest analysis suggests that over the last two years, the pace of change has stalled,” Knight Frank partner and head of residential research Oliver Knight said.

“Some 34 [local authorities] have moved backwards over the last two years. The appetite from investors and developers to deliver more age-appropriate housing is clear and growing. A more consistent and supportive policy environment will unlock more supply, more propositions, and more choice for seniors.”

Irwin Mitchell Planning partner Nicola Gooch stated that this policy inertia is disappointing, but not surprising. “We have seen a decline in the number of new local plans as several local authorities have either delayed or withdrawn their local plans as they try to get to grips with ever moving and changing government policy.”

Nicola Gooch.

Gooch said: “This year’s survey is released in the run up to a general election and at the end of a period of unprecedented political turmoil. Since the last report was published there have been two changes of Prime Minister, three Secretaries of State at DLUHC and six Housing Ministers. We have seen the Levelling-Up & Regeneration Act 2023 enter the statute books, major amendments made to the NPPF, and the publication of more than a dozen consultations on a wide variety of proposed reforms to the planning system.”

Despite the inertia a sense of urgency seems to be taking hold: The Older Person’s Housing Taskforce is due to report later this year; the Government’s support for senior housing has been recognised in the National Planning Policy Framework and also in the Levelling-Up & Regeneration Act 2024.

The introduction of National Development Management Policies – which sit alongside and, in some cases, override a Council’s Local Plan policies – also have the potential to make a substantial difference to the sector.

Author: Paul Strohm

Source: Real Asset Insight