Is elderly care provision the next growth sector for the development industry? And do elderly care facilities face the same planning hurdles as their residential competitors?

If the latest figures from the Office of Budget Responsibility are anything to go by, the provision of retirement accommodation and elderly care facilities is likely to require a similar level of attention as the c. 250,000 new homes that need to be built year-on-year.

The OBR estimates that by 2065, over a quarter of the population of England and Wales will be over 65. This constitutes an 18% increase on the current proportion of elderly citizens and will undoubtedly put a far greater strain on government spending as a result.

Estates Gazette recently reported that there is ‘enormous potential’ in the extra care retirement housing model, citing the low level of UK market penetration (0.5%) compared to higher levels in places like the US (14%) as an indication that far more is to come from existing providers and those that will seek to obtain a piece of the proverbial pie.

The British Property Federation (BPF) have entered the fray and urged the government to encourage private developers to build more care facilities in aid of relieving pressure on the NHS and local authorities. The BPF’s latest report advises that local authorities should include care facility provision in their local plans and even allocate specific sites near hospitals for development.

It is irrefutable that people are living longer in the UK, and as current housing stock does not accommodate many of the intricacies of elderly living, tomorrow’s population is going to grow dependent on residential accommodation that also provides the requisite care and support.

So yes, it does seem we’ve have stumbled upon a significant growth area.

But what of the intricacies of delivering these developments in practical terms?

The various constraints of the planning process are regularly cited as obstacles to meeting the (somewhat intimidating) housing targets put before us. However, residential care facilities are often devoid of some of the issues that pervade other use classes.

Having worked on a number of planning applications for elderly care facilities, we at Snapdragon have seen first-hand – particularly from the point of view of local communities – that a 60 bedroom elderly care facility in the Green Belt, is a much preferred prospect in certain areas than say, a normal residential development or a block of student housing.

Elderly care facilities boast a number of perceived benefits over traditional residential schemes. Residents are seen as quieter and less prone to antisocial behaviour. Residents do not typically drive their own cars or do so infrequently, reducing potential impacts on local traffic congestion. The facilities create full-time and part-time jobs and are often pillars of the local community, drawing on small local businesses to provide products and services to the residents.

Crucially, for many would be developers, applications for care facilities can be exempt from providing affordable housing and Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) contributions, depending on the borough in which they are being determined. This not only brings down the costs associated with the applications, but is also likely to reduce the timescales involved.

Retirement villages and care facilities also sit within an advantageous emotional space. These developments appeal to those in later life, by providing an opportunity for them to remain in the communities in which they have lived and forged relationships. They also appeal to those that cannot offer their loved ones the progressive and consistent support that they need at home.

A 102 unit dementia care facility was recently approved unanimously by Wandsworth’s Planning Application Committee and – despite its size and prominent location – drew a significant level of support from residents across the borough. Committee members also failed to find fault with the use-class in light of concerns about density and height. A similar flatted scheme may not have received such a warm reception.

The prospect of entering into this market is therefore a compelling one, and we will likely see new and existing providers occupying more front pages in the trade press.

This is certainly a Saga to keep an eye on.