The Government has recently published guidance on housing for older and disabled people but does it provide greater clarity for the retirement living sector?
In terms of plan-making authorities, the new guidance helpfully requires that plans should set clear policies to address the housing needs of older people, and to provide for specialist housing for older people where a need exists.
Plan-making authorities still have a wide discretion in terms of how housing needs of older people will be identified, and whether to allocate sites for specialist housing.
Where there is an identified unmet need for specialist housing, local authorities should take a positive approach to schemes that propose to address this need. Decision makers are encouraged to consider the location and viability of a development when assessing planning applications for specialist housing for older people. Local planning authorities can encourage the development of more affordable models and make use of products like shared ownership.
The great C2 (Residential Institutions) / C3 (Dwellinghouse) Use Class debate in regards to extra care housing remains unresolved, despite a recent recommendation from a House of Lords Select Committee on Intergenerational Fairness and Provision that the Government should issue guidance to clarify that extra care retirement communities fall within the C2 rather than C3 Use Class. Of course, the draft new London Plan proposed by the Mayor suggests that extra care housing should fall within Use Class C3 and it remains to be seen what the outcome of the examination of that policy will be.
The new Government guidance puts the onus on the local planning authority to consider which use class a particular development falls within and suggests that they may consider, for example, the level of care and scale of community facilities provided when reaching a decision.
The guidance provides an indicative list of four types of specialist housing for older people but notes that there is a significant amount of variability in the models provided:
- Age-restricted general market housing: Generally for people aged 55 and over and the active elderly. It may include some shared amenities such as communal gardens, but does not include support or care services.
- Retirement living or sheltered housing: Usually consists of purpose-built flats or bungalows with limited communal facilities. It does not generally provide care services, but provides some support to enable residents to live independently. This can include 24 hour on-site assistance (alarm) and a warden or house manager.
- Extra care housing or housing-with-care: Usually consists of purpose-built or adapted flats or bungalows with a medium to high level of care available if required, through an onsite care agency registered through the Care Quality Commission (CQC). Residents are able to live independently with 24 hour access to support services and staff, and meals are also available. There are often extensive communal areas, such as space to socialise or a wellbeing centre.
- Residential care homes and nursing homes: Individual rooms within a residential building and provide a high level of care meeting all activities of daily living. They do not usually include support services for independent living. This type of housing can also include dementia care homes.
Although the new guidance is a step in the right direction, it fails to provide any real certainty for developers in the retirement living sector. No doubt calls from the industry for a dedicated use class for that sector will continue. Whatever the use class a development falls into, however, a key question is what planning policies apply to that development, including importantly by way of on-site or off-site affordable housing requirements and community infrastructure levy. The guidance does not do enough to encourage authorities to consider easing the burden for developments providing communal and care facilities for older people.