Ministers must put onus on councils to provide more homes for older people, by Richard Garlick

Backbench MPs last year concluded that there was a shortfall in the supply of specialist homes for older people.

The verdict, which came from the House of Commons housing, communities and local government select committee, will have rung true with many people who have tried to find housing of this kind. Locating sheltered homes - accommodation that has a warden service but offers no assistance with personal tasks such as washing and dressing - in your local area is hard enough. Locating "extra care" housing - in which staff help with such tasks - is even more difficult.

Last week, Planning organised a breakfast briefing, sponsored by the consultancy Lichfields, that explored how central and local government could help developers deliver the housing for older people that is needed. One solution, which has influential supporters, is to exempt developers of extra care homes from affordable housing planning obligations. Its advocates argue that characteristics of specialist older people’s housing, such as the need for space for shared or care facilities, make viable provision of affordable homes particularly difficult.

Yet, because there is widespread uncertainty about whether extra care schemes should be classified as C2 (residential institutions, which are not liable for affordable housing obligations) or C3 (residential, which are), many such projects are asked to make payments towards affordable housing (see News Analysis).

There are plenty of voices urging the government to tell decision-makers that they must no longer treat extra care housing schemes as C3 residential. Last year, the Commons housing, communities and local government select committee made this case. Last month, a House of Lords committee report on intergenerational fairness made the same recommendation, and was promptly echoed in findings from the Centre for Policy Studies think-tank.

However, the government has already told the Commons committee that it is not minded to follow its advice on this matter. Ministers should stick to their guns. Extra care housing schemes come in many forms, and a blanket rule that their developers should be subject to reduced planning obligations would deny the public purse of funding that some projects could afford. The existing rules allow authorities the flexibility to reduce affordable housing requirements to make schemes viable, and as long as enough onus is put on them to meet the need for older people’s homes, they are likely to use it where neccessary.

However, there is evidence that authorities are not yet sufficiently conscious of that responsibility. Research by Lichfields into all post-National Planning Policy Framework adopted plans in England, and all adopted local development plans in Wales and Scotland, shows that only seven per cent include site allocations for housing for older people. In its long-promised guidance on planning for older people’s housing, the government could and should put more emphasis on the need for authorities to assess the requirement for such housing, allocate sites specifically for it and monitor its delivery.

Richard Garlick, editor, Planning //

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