By Tim Spencer, Associate Director of Nexus Planning (www.nexusplanning.co.uk)
On the 6th August, the Government set out their plans for “radical” reforms to the planning system in England. The Prime Minister’s foreword raises the problem that there are currently nowhere near enough homes in the right places. The Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick MP, calls for the guiding principle of the reformed planning system to be as the eminent architect Clough Williams-Ellis once said, to “cherish the past, adorn the present and build for the future”.
With its roots in the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, the modern system has been regularly adapted and modified and while it has grown significantly more complex, it has remained fundamentally unchanged for the last 72 years. It might be said that the planning system has now passed retirement age.
While there is much to be lauded in the White Paper – in particular, the focus on design quality and simplifying the planning system – there is a disappointing oversight (or omission) regarding the role that developments for older people play in housing an aging population.
The planning system is an essential and core part in the delivery of all forms of housing and the planning White Paper confirms that the system “must make land available in the right places and for the right form of development”.
Planning for the accommodation needs of the older generation has been largely pushed to the side-lines by the planning system. Very few Local Planning Authorities have meaningful lanning policies which promote the development of the correctly balanced communities, which provide suitable accommodation for a range of ages in well located areas.
The most recent significant changes to the Town Planning System were brought about in 2012 with the adoption of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which condensed thousands of pages of planning policy to around 60 pages. The NPPF condensed Local Planning Authorities obligations to plan for accommodation for older people, to two short paragraphs. Subsequent changes to the NPPF in 2018 and 2019 further reduced the importance of planning for older people’s accommodation.
A number of changes made to National Planning Guidance in June 2019 hinted at better things to come. For example, directives to Local Planning Authorities to encourage a positive approach to address the unmet need for specialist housing as well as an acknowledgment that housing for the older generation is to be counted against nationally pre- scribed housing objectives. However, the importance of planning for the specialist accommodation needs of the older community has not been met by the planning system in a manner anywhere near proportional to the urgency of the growing need.
Care communities play a vital role in providing safe, age appropriate accommodation in our villages, towns and cities. In June 2019, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that more than 24% of people living in the UK will be aged 65 or older by 2024, an 18% increase from 2016. This figure highlights the scale and urgency of the need to provide accommodation for the increasing number of people who will benefit from the development of care communities.
While the White Paper promises “radical change” to the planning system, it needs to remain focused on sustainable development and the need to provide healthy, well planned environments that cater to the broader needs of a wide cross section of society. It is essential that the planning system provides the right homes in the right places. However, the overwhelming emphasis of the planning reforms, which border on a single-minded obsession, is the delivery of “housing” with no mention of the older community, retirees and those in need of specialist older person’s care facilities.
The central principle of the planning system is that it is there to work for the overall good of the broader community and to achieve sustain- able development. While the White Paper emphasises the importance of creating sufficient affordable homes as well as homes for first time buyers, the lack of attention to the older population is a worrying over- sight which needs to be addressed in detailed policies.
Nexus Planning will, on behalf of our clients, be responding to the government’s consultation to highlight the importance of addressing the need for later living care accommodation and to ensure that that the planning system has, at its heart, the need to provide the right type of accommodation for all members of society.