Ageism in property planning impedes culturally rich communities

John Nettleton, group land director at Audley discusses ageism within the property sector

Discrimination comes in many different shapes and forms and, unfortunately, the property sector isn’t exempt from this problem. Housing prejudice is rarely discussed, which is an issue, especially as later living properties continue to be undersupplied. In my 15 years at Audley acquiring sites for retirement villages, I have witnessed numerous instances of ageism in the property sector, which must be addressed.

One recent instance of ageism in the property sector occurred last year. Guild Living’s proposal for a 222-home scheme in Walton-on-Thames was rejected by Elmbridge council last October, and the developer claims that this was due to “ageism.” Elmbridge council initially rejected the proposal, believing that a care community would jeopardise the vitality and viability of the town centre .

Elmbridge councils’ sentiments were clearly problematic, so it was unsurprising that the Planning Inspector strongly rejected the council’s argument and overturned the ageist decision on Guild’s Walton site. A key piece of evidence in reaching that decision was a visit to Audley’s Clapham development, Audley Nightingale Place, and seeing people from the wider local community enjoying the bar, café, and bistro, as well as other services such as leisure club and domiciliary care, alongside the owners.

Another example I see on a regular basis is on masterplans, where housing for older residents is always located in the worst part of the masterplan, next to busy roads or in the far corner away from open space. The site owners/master planners fail to recognise that older people are frequently cash rich and will pay premium prices because they will be spending more time in the apartment or house than when they were working.

The worst example I heard of in a well-known London masterplan was the developer not putting balconies on apartments geared towards older people in order to avoid “putting off” general market purchasers and other users.

However, there are many fantastic examples of vibrant retirement communities that integrate specialist housing for older people with excellent facilities and play an important role in the vitality of the local community, and in some cases, such as Mayfield Watford, in the regeneration of an entire area.

Furthermore, as the UK’s population grows, so does the demand for NHS and Social Care services; in order to reduce this demand, we must first reduce the need for care. Independence, well-being, and keeping people out of expensive care homes and hospitals should take precedence over maintaining a broken system. Providing good quality housing where older people can be independent and have access to care services, when needed, will help them live better lives and relieve the social care system, benefiting everyone.

Investment in later life living can create jobs in the area as well as resulting in significant savings for government-run care services.

Alongside the notable benefits for the owners, the community and the overburdened social care system, there are also considerable upsides for the wider housing market and those who invest in these projects. Investing in later-life living can help to correct some of the current market failures in the property sector.

High-quality retirement living schemes encourage older people to downsize, freeing up housing supply for young families and first-time buyers in the long run, creating more lucrative opportunities for property landlords and investors.

In 2020, there were 15 million “surplus” bedrooms in family homes in the UK, and without intervention, this figure is expected to rise to 20 million by 2040 . The property industry must recognise the enormous opportunities in this sector and the fact that older people require appealing locations and developments, or they will simply not move.

There is an opportunity to do significant social good by providing high-quality housing for the elderly. The stigma associated with growing older must be removed; older people are not a blight on their communities, but rather valued members of them. We need to break down barriers, not create them.

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