How housing is used plays an ever-increasing role in its ability to be delivered. This is now more true than ever for retirement developments, in which growing and evolving demand from a rapidly ageing population requires a more youthful outlook.
Gone are the days when the majority providers of ‘residential institutions’ were registered providers and charitable organisations with the benefit of grant funding and subsidies. Private developers are moving into this space to provide retirement schemes for older people who want to live in supportive communities within a physical environment which future proofs likely increased dependencies in their later years. As such they are providing schemes through which particular products lie on, or are even able to move along, a sliding scale between ordinary flats and a ‘residential institution’ with ‘extra care’.
Consequentially, there has been increasing debate about whether particular products fall within the definition of ‘dwellinghouse’ under C3 of the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes Order) 1987 or whether it is a ‘residential institution’ under C2, in which case some form of care would be required to be provided to residents. Care is defined as being “personal care for people in need of such care by reason of old age, disablement, past or present dependence on alcohol or drugs or past or present mental disorder and class C2 also includes the personal care of children and medical care and treatment …”. If dwellings fall within class C3, by the terms of the definition, they cannot fall into class C2. And this distinction can make the difference between housing that can viably be delivered and housing that cannot, given that the former may require the developer to provide an amount of affordable housing which will impact on the value and viability of the scheme.
But does all this really matter? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’. The elderly population in London is projected to grow rapidly. The over-65s are likely to increase by 46% to reach 1.85 million by 2029. The over-90s population is expected to double to 91,000. The real focus must be on enabling developers to think creatively about providing types of housing that affords older people a healthy and desirable lifestyle in their halcyon days, whilst also freeing up existing properties for the next generation. The focus must be on removing obstacles which frustrate this and make these schemes unviable. A new use class could be one way of doing this, as could lower levels of CIL and affordable housing requirements. However, unless and until local planning authorities are willing to give greater primacy to this much needed form of housing, the debate regarding the nuance of its use is unlikely to end.