A Look at Senior Living

31.10.23 3 minute read

Rangeford Villages scheme

Wellbeing is now firmly on the national agenda and as the UK’s elderly population is projected to reach 15.1 million with 22% over 65 by 2030, alongside this edition of Local Plan Watch, Harriet Wooler and Steven Butler look at how senior living is being planned for across our patch.

Two years ago, our colleague Sarah Hornbrook asked what role the Planning System can play in helping to fix Social Care, and particularly Older People’s Housing.  In simple terms, it was established that we are not building enough of the right types of homes for older people and the gap between supply and demand is constantly widening.  Fast forward twenty-four months, in our observation local planning authorities are now beginning to take real steps to address the critical need and range of senior living housing, but not all local authorities are alive to this, nor is it always being actively planned for.  We therefore think that it is important to be aware of the changing planning context and how this may affect your land and property interests moving forward.

There is a wealth of research which shows that older people living in specialist accommodation enjoy better health and make fewer demands on health and social care services; they feel more secure, better connected to their communities and enjoy improved quality of life.  Retirement villages, co-housing, independent living, dementia housing, care homes, extra care, sheltered accommodation – these all form part of an increasing range of senior living housing options available to suit older people’s changing needs. 

Very Special Circumstances

Planning Practice Guidance states that the need to provide housing for older people is “critical”.  Successive appeal decisions have re-affirmed this position and, in the case of two notable schemes in Cambridgeshire, have been deemed sufficient to warrant Very Special Circumstances for specific types of older people’s housing in Green Belt locations where there is a clear unmet need.  So, this demonstrates that there are ways and means of securing a timely planning consent for specific types of older people’s housing on sites that may otherwise be deemed unsuitable for other forms of development, and even more “traditional” housing, where there is an identified need.

Plan Making

On the plan-making side, evidence underpinning spatial strategies has long separated the forms of specialist housing need by type but, given the increasing level of need, some local authorities are now starting to actively plan for older people in a way we have not seen before, through their emerging local plans.  The North Norfolk Local Plan for example, which was submitted for Examination earlier this year, proposes the provision of a minimum of 60 homes for older people on all sites of 150 homes or more, with a further 40 older people’s homes for each additional 250 dwellings thereafter.  Similarly, Uttlesford‘s emerging draft Local Plan, which is subject to consultation this Autumn, proposes at least 5% extra care provision on all its strategic allocations within the district.  We consider that this will have masterplanning, land budget and viability implications for all allocates sites in these areas.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are instances where the identified need is simply not being planned for, despite the evidence.  A need for nearly 5,000 new units of older person accommodation across tenures is identified across West Suffolk to the year 2040, but with remarkably no specific site allocations dedicated to their delivery in the latest version of its emerging Plan.  Similarly, in Breckland, whilst a need for 1,277 C2 bed spaces is identified in the adopted Local Plan for the period up to 2036, only one site is allocated, as part of a wider residential allocation, for a 60-bed care home.  It is assumed that this issue will be addressed as Breckland prepares its replacement Local Plan.

Bidwells View

In our view, the recognition of the range of housing options available and now being facilitated through the planning system provides substantive land promotion and development opportunities.  In areas where need is plainly not being met contrary to evidence, or where an emerging policy approach is silent on the matter, this could provide a clear opportunity to take forward schemes in suitable locations in advance of the Local Plan where it meets need.  Even in more rural locations, specific types of senior living housing that includes a range of onsite facilities and services open to the wider community could improve the sustainability of the host settlement and therefore their attractiveness to the local planning authority as development proposals.

The senior living sector therefore provides an angle with which to approach sites and opportunities, in a range of locations, that may not previously have existed or been considered suitable.  Perhaps it’s time to factor this into your future planning strategies.


Get in touch with the team


Harriet Wooler

Principal Planner

Harriet enjoys planning for spaces and new settlements to meet the needs of a variety of people and in which communities and nature can thrive.

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Steven Butler

Partner, Planning

A personable and dependable chartered town planner who prides himself on his local knowledge, attention to detail and relationships based on trust.

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Local Plan Watch - Autumn 2023

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