How we did it: Planning for older people's housing

A Dorset council has introduced several different policies to help provide for its ageing population, reports John Geoghegan.

Policy-makers: (left to right) Poole Borough Council’s planning officer Laura Archer, senior planning officer Bill Gordon, senior planning officer Laura Bright and planning policy and implementation manager Nicholas Perrins
Policy-makers: (left to right) Poole Borough Council’s planning officer Laura Archer, senior planning officer Bill Gordon, senior planning officer Laura Bright and planning policy and implementation manager Nicholas Perrins

PROJECT: Poole Borough Council’s policies for older people’s housing


Demographic forecasts show that the UK population is set to age rapidly. With this in mind, the government has proposed that councils need to do more to plan for an ageing population. February’s Housing White Paper promised changes to the National Planning Policy Framework so that authorities would be "expected to have clear policies" for addressing older people’s housing requirements.

Some councils, however, are ahead of the curve. Poole Borough Council in Dorset first introduced policies on housing for older people in its 2009 core strategy. A new policy was then included in its 2012 site-specific allocations and development management policies plan and a further policy is set to form part of its new local plan, which is due to be published in draft form imminently.

In Poole, the ageing issue has been particularly pressing, says senior planning officer Bill Gordon.Residents are "ageing at a significantly higher rate than the national average", he adds, with housing aimed at the needs of the over 65s set to form about a quarter of the borough’s housing requirement over the next 15 to 20 years. Sara Ireland, the council’s senior research officer, says 22 per cent of the population is over 65 – compared to a UK average of 18 per cent – and this is set to rise to 29 per cent by 2028. Poole’s population of over 65s is projected to increase by 40 per cent by 2035, Ireland adds.

The two 2009 core strategy policies respectively seek the provision of new care home bed spaces and encourage developers to meet design guidelines, known as the Lifetime Homes standards, that aim to ensure that occupiers’ changing needs over time are met by improving accessibility. Gordon says the care homes policy was prompted by the council’s adult social services team in response to the growing demand for and cost of care home beds for residents who could not afford to pay for themselves. He says: "It was aimed at enabling our adult social services commissioning team to secure contracts for care home beds at a level they were able to afford."

The policy in the 2012 plan – DM6 – however, aims to deliver a broader range of older people’s housing, says Gordon. According to the plan, it promotes developments "across the whole range of housing types" that are "aimed at the growing ageing population of Poole". Such schemes must meet a number of conditions, including being close to local services and amenities, and detailed design and environmental standards based on guidance from the government’s 2009 Housing our Ageing Population Panel for Innovation (HAPPI). More generally, the 2012 plan also makes provision for new care homes on four sites, aiming to deliver an additional 240 bed spaces.

Gordon says the DM6 policy reflected the fact that national policy on older people’s housing had shifted away from a focus on care home provision: "The policy acknowledges that there are other forms of housing that could meet different needs. People don’t need to go straight from their home into a care home, which can be an expensive option. There were other available forms of accommodation, such as sheltered housing, assisted living, and extra care, allowing older people to live independently in their homes for longer."

The effectiveness of the core strategy policies has been "mixed", says Gordon. The care homes policy provided some new, larger facilities in Poole, but this has been offset by the loss of smaller care homes "that are no longer viable". He adds that the success of this policy "is really driven by market forces as much as anything else". Meanwhile, the policy promoting Lifetime Homes has been "hit and miss" partly, he says, because the policy just encourages rather than requires developers to meet the standards.

However, the DM6 policy has been "reasonably successful", says Gordon. Developers seeking consents at least partly on the grounds that they meet need for over 65s’ housing have had to demonstrate how their schemes meet its locational and environmental requirements, he says. "Our urban design officers are included in pre-application discussions and comment on planning applications, providing the opportunity to influence design in the early stages of the process."

Getting the policies in place was "relatively straightforward" he says. However, he adds that, during the site allocations plan’s examination, a "major care home developer" objected to the DM6 policy’s environmental standards, arguing that they were an unnecessary requirement, though the concerns were dismissed by the planning inspector.

For the new local plan, Gordon says the council will introduce a "single holistic policy" on housing for an ageing population. The policy seeks to promote "accessible and adaptable dwellings" and will include a requirement for 20 per cent of all dwellings in schemes of 11 homes and above to meet stringent accessibility requirements as set out in building regulations M4(2), which outline how new homes can be suitable for older people.

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