That’s what we were doing at Property Week’s Retirement Living Conference. As one of the most untapped sectors in real estate we were amazed to hear about the potential for a retirement living explosion. There were approximately 11.8 million people over the age of 65 in the UK in 2016, and this is set to rise by 52.7% by 2036.

We met John Nettleton, Land Director at Audley Group who gave us his view on the potential for growth: “The retirement living sector in the UK has been growing steadily for the past decade or so. However, with an ageing population and insufficient supply, it is a market which we believe has significant capacity for accelerated growth in the coming years. Audley Group has long held this belief, and the recent activity by large institutional investors further backs up our conviction that the sector is at a tipping point.”

The glossy photographs of beautiful apartment buildings on the conference slides showed all the facilities that an (ageing) rock star would want, and we started to daydream about living there one day ourselves. This is certainly aspirational living, but one of the key “takeaways” for us was the many tenures of retirement living that already exist. One size does not fit all. Retirement living properties offer a wide range of care, facilities and services and we are now seeing the rise of operational models supporting luxury living, hospitality and care. The pioneering of a rental model is set to open up the sector further in a bid to meet the increased demand. It was widely acknowledged that this sector may be somewhat insulated from the economic condition due to this demographic need.

As planning and real estate lawyers, we are particularly interested in how planning policy can help this sector reach its full potential. The main issue seems to be the lack of central and local government buy-in, with more focus on homes for first time buyers than other types of housing. However, according to the government’s Chief Planner, Steve Quartermain, who opened the conference, the government is taking action to increase the mix of housing. He asked for views on how this is best achieved, citing national policy, guidance and/or separate use classes as potential solutions.

The word “retirement” appeared only once in the government’s Housing White Paper. However, it suggested that national planning policy may be introduced to encourage local planning authorities to set clear policies for addressing older people’s housing needs. This would be a step in the right direction, but much more is needed.

The current build to rent (BTR) boom has government backing, partly brought about by the hard work the industry has done to persuade Westminster and the Mayor of London of its benefits. If the retirement living sector could do the same, it could ignite the political will to unlock some of the existing constraints to growth. The stats on the potential capacity of this sector are clear, but to make a real success of it, retirement schemes need to be planned properly to ensure high quality, sustainable development that meets the needs of the next wave of retirees, whether they are rock stars or not!