About the Centre for Ageing Better
The UK’s population is undergoing a massive age shift. By 2050, one in four people will be over 65. The fact that many of us are living longer is a great achievement. But unless radical action is taken by government, business and others in society, millions of us risk missing out on enjoying those extra years.
At the Centre for Ageing Better we want everyone to enjoy later life. We create change in policy and practice informed by evidence and work with partners across England to improve employment, housing, health and communities. We are a charitable foundation, funded by The National Lottery Community Fund, and part of the government’s What Works Network.
About this submission
As well as using our own evidence about what works for people in later life, this submission has been informed by feedback from our strategic partners in Greater Manchester, Leeds and Lincolnshire, on their views of the impact that the White Paper would have on their ability to create age-friendly communities as outlined by the World Health Organization. We have also engaged with partners across the housing industry, some of whom are members of the Housing Made for Everyone (HoME coalition), and with members of the DCMS Task and Finish Group on place based approaches to building social connections, part of the government’s loneliness strategy, in our capacity as co-chair. The HoME coalition is calling for changes to minimum requirements for accessibility of new development, to help us all live independently in our own homes for longer.
The built environment constitutes many of the material and social determinants of health - including housing, neighbourhood design, places and spaces to connect and transport routes – which shape the social, economic and environmental conditions for good health, social connections and ageing better. Decisions taken about the built environment therefore have a profound impact on current and future generations and shape the way we interact with the world around us.
As we live longer lives, the planning system is an important vehicle to ensure that such decisions prioritise the health and well-being of people of all ages, adapting for our population shift. Not doing so misses a unique opportunity to future proof our communities and risks creating homes and places with a damaging legacy for all of us as we get older, rather than supporting prevention and reducing demand for services and support in later life. The current cost of poor quality housing to the NHS is £1.4 billion per year in first year treatment costs alone (Nicol, S et al, 2015). Nearly half of the 4.3 million homes which are non-decent are lived in by someone over the age of 55 (Centre for Ageing Better, 2019).
Sacrificing quality of housing for quantity will lead to poor outcomes, as has been seen by evidence of the impacts of the recent expansion of permitted development (Clifford et al, 2020). Connectivity will also be increasingly important to the health of an ageing population, enabling people to make and maintain their social connections and reducing the physical, mental and cognitive health implications of loneliness and isolation.
The government recognised the importance of homes and connectivity in its Foresight report on the Future of an Ageing Population (Government Office for Science, 2016) and of ensuring the future design of new homes and communities are age-friendly through the Home of 2030 competition, which the Centre for Ageing Better is on the Advisory Panel for. Despite this, there is no mention of our ageing population or the demographic shift in the Planning White Paper. Our planning system must match the level of ambition of the government’s Industrial Strategy Ageing Society Grand Challenge and the Home of 2030 competition to achieve a future-proofed and sustainable built environment and enable more connected communities, which support people and places to thrive.
In summary, we are concerned that the simplification of the planning system proposed by the White Paper could lead to poor quality outcomes with severe impacts on the ability of us all to enjoy our later lives. We urge the Select Committee to give serious thought to the following four themes:
Any simplification of planning must protect the rights of everyone to a good home to live in, in a well-designed environment that helps them enjoy their later life. This means design that meets the needs of people of all ages and the opportunity to engage fully in the planning process.
Allocating land for development must be accompanied by a process that understands the needs of local communities and the functions of existing land uses. This includes the need to protect local amenity spaces that serve as important assets for communities, and to enhance green infrastructure (green spaces, trees) in new developments which can play a vital role in improving the mental and physical wellbeing of older people, and act as important social spaces.
We are concerned that speeding up the planning process in certain geographical areas – without the opportunity for proper democratic scrutiny of individual proposals, risks imposing developments that damages the health and wellbeing of older people. There is a need for basic standards that protect the rights of everyone to a healthy home. The Centre for Ageing Better supports the principles of the Healthy Homes Act to ensure new homes support the health and wellbeing of current and future generations.
The government launched a consultation on raising the mandatory standard for the accessibility of new homes in September 2020. The Centre for Ageing Better is co-chair of the HoME (Housing Made for Everyone) coalition, which is calling for Part M, Category 2 of building regulations to be the minimum standard. Currently, only 9% of all homes meet even the most basic accessibility standards, which has a severe impact on the ability of people to live independently in their own homes and to be able to live fulfilling later lives.
Changes to development management policies in the planning system must require this standard as a minimum for all new homes. Policies must also give full consideration to ensuring that the wider built environment is accessible and inclusive, and meet the needs of people of all abilities.
There is no doubt that we need more homes. We support the ambition of the government to increase housebuilding and especially the use of modern methods of construction which can have benefits for speed and quality of homes to meet our needs as we get older.
However, in order to meet the challenges of climate change, homes built now need to be with us for at least 200 years. Sacrificing scrutiny of development proposals for speed can be a false economy and lead to very poor outcomes. The government must learn the lessons from recent expansion of permitted development which has led to tiny homes on industrial estates.
The White Paper contains proposals to move planning to digital platforms. Planning is currently inaccessible to large portions of the population, and digitisation has significant potential to improve engagement. However, such a move must be accompanied by a strategy to ensure that older people who rely on more traditional methods of engagement are not excluded.
Over the last decade, neighbourhood plans have become an important way for local people to engage in the planning process, and to set a vision for the future of development in their area. However, evidence has shown that neighbourhood plans are predominately created in areas of higher levels of wealth and where more people have the time and skills to form plans. The planning reforms present an opportunity to genuinely put local people at the heart of decisions about their local community, with positive implications for wellbeing and belonging. However, without enabling effective, inclusive and meaningful consultation, there will be an imbalance in the community voice, with the least healthy and least wealthy most likely to miss out, yet are the ones most likely to gain from better planning decisions.
Relying on neighbourhood plans for community input risks excluding people who live in areas without these plans and/or those plans that do exist are not inclusive of marginalised groups. In these areas, scrutiny of development proposals by democratically elected representatives is currently a key current safeguard to ensure that the short-term interests of developers are not prioritised over the health and wellbeing of current and future residents. Any future planning system must retain such safeguards and ensure that local people can engage fully in decisions which affect them.
Current national design guidance does not place enough emphasis on the need to make new homes and places age-friendly. As we all live longer lives, the way that we design our built environment needs to prioritise the requirements of older people if we are to support people to remain living independently. This includes maintaining good physical and mental health and the importance of social connectivity.
We are concerned that removing a critical phase of the planning process – the planning application stage – risks creating poor quality outcomes due to a lack of proper scrutiny of the detail of proposed development. The White Paper does not provide enough detail about how the proposed new design codes will operate and the resourcing available to produce these. We are particularly concerned that areas who have less of a voice currently in the planning process, especially more deprived areas will be excluded. Since these groups are also likely to be those most at risk of missing out on a good later life, it is particularly important that a strategy is in place to ensure their involvement.
As part of the charter for the HoME (Housing Made for Everyone) coalition, we are calling on Homes England to require higher levels of accessibility on public land. It is crucial that leadership is shown by government departments on accessibility and quality of housing to set a high bar via publicly owned land and raise expectations about what consumers can expect. This will lead to the step change that we need amongst private sector developers.
We also believe that developments built through the ‘Help to Buy’ scheme need to be assessed based on strict criteria of accessibility and their contribution to ensuring age-friendly developments. Public subsidy through this scheme must be used to fund development which creates healthy environments for us to age well.
The Centre for Ageing Better is sponsoring the Good Home Inquiry which is making practical recommendations for how we can drastically improve the condition of our existing housing stock. Part of this is addressing fuel poverty and improving energy efficiency.
We welcome the government’s focus on energy efficiency standards in new homes, but these must be accompanied by a strategy to address existing homes and especially to target homes lived in by owner occupiers. The majority of housing in poor condition is owner-occupied, particularly among over 55s, with 78% of non-decent homes headed by someone in this age group being owner-occupied (Centre for Ageing Better, 2019).
The proposals in the White Paper require significant investment in capacity at a local authority level to ensure that plans are created that meet the needs of all ages. The new resources and skills strategy needs to address the upskilling required of planners to ensure that new developments are future-proofed and inclusive of all ages and other protected characteristics in the Equality Act. This is a major opportunity for achieving a legacy of mixed and thriving places that help us to us live independently for as long as possible. We would be delighted for an opportunity to discuss this further.