Will encouraging older Londoners to move to the seaside help the housing crisis?
Head of Inclusive Design, Neil Smith, explores the unusual question – Does London’s Mayor really need older people to move to the seaside to help solve the housing crisis?
The lack of family housing is a recurring theme in London planning policy. I recently amazed my colleagues by informing them that one of the Mayor’s solutions for providing housing for over-crowded families in is the ‘Seaside and County Homes’ scheme, which provides financial support and other benefits for older Londoners to encourage them to move out of the city. But there are alternatives to this plan, which the Mayor’s team could be about to explore.
How has this happened?
Research that I commissioned for the GLA identifies that 54% of older homeowners and 16% of older renters in London are under-occupying by two or more bedrooms. In fact, the Mayor’s scheme priorities applicants who will free up the most bedrooms!
A major factor is mobility and wheelchair accessibility and the growing need as people age. For example, some simply can’t get up stairs anymore. The lack of suitable accommodation in the right location(s), to allow people to downsize or re-size, continues to exacerbate the problem.
So, rather than encouraging older Londoners to move out (mostly to areas that do not even have accessible housing stock, for example the only wheelchair accessible properties available through the scheme are flats in Brighton), shouldn’t we be supporting them to stay?
The report ‘Older Londoners and the London Plan: Looking to 2050’ identifies that the majority of London boroughs fail to adequately address the existing and future needs of older people in terms of housing provision, the built environment, social and community facilities, and transport.
In fairness, the Mayor’s Housing strategy does seek to encourage downsizing by improving the choice and quality of specialist accommodation. But it is not just provision; it’s location, the quality of the public realm, and ease of access to social infrastructure that matter. It’s shocking that only a small number of London boroughs require that specialist accommodation be located close to local shops and medical facilities with reasonable public transport accessibility – as these amenities greatly enhance day-to-day life.
I do not believe just more specialist housing such as extra care or nursing homes are needed and support the Mayor’s Design Advisory Group recommendations in their report ‘Ageing London’.
I also do not believe that it is just more specialist housing such as extra care or nursing homes that are needed. I strongly support the Mayor’s Design Advisory Group recommendations in their report ‘Ageing London’. This says that our ageing population must be a driver to guide good growth, catalysing innovation in new types of housing choice. We focused the creation of lifetime neighbourhoods within the our work to support the Legacy Communities Scheme within the Queen Elizabeth Park long before the Mayor adopted this approach as policy.
In the 2015 alteration of the current London Plan, some elements were introduced to start to grapple with these issues. Three principals were provided to help frame the concept of lifetime neighbourhoods, provisions were made to accommodate the growing demand for housing for older people and policy was amended to support town centres by encouraging high density, residential-led mixed-use development, with supporting social and physical infrastructure. Addressing the needs of older people in the planning and design processes was also addressed in the Accessible London SPG – of which I was principal author.
However, we cannot rest on our laurels. We need a rethinking of the High Street, the types of housing we locate there and the social infrastructure required. A further challenge of an aging society is that of addressing dementia – not just in our care services but in our built environment too. A current report from the RTPI identifies the role that planning has on delivering good quality housing and well-planned environments that can have a substantial impact on the quality of life of someone living with dementia. The importance of addressing this critical issue has been much debated between the Mayor’s planning team and wider stakeholders.
I want to see a plan that clearly sets out how the high street and the town centres can create neighbourhoods that promote health and wellbeing for older Londoners
What does the future hold?
Our new Mayor has stated in his vision for London that he is going to include an Inclusive Neighbourhoods principle in the next London Plan which will ensure that places are accessible to all, both young and old and from all backgrounds. I strongly believe the Mayor has to be bolder than his predecessors. London will continue to grow and intensify to meet the housing demand and at the heart of this growth should be his strategy for older Londoners. I want to see a Plan that clearly sets out how the high street and the town centres can create neighbourhoods that promote health and wellbeing for older Londoners and result in long term independent living. A Plan that promotes and encourages housing options that let people remain at the heart of the community with the infrastructure they need – good public transport, high quality public realm, local shops, doctors surgeries and community facilities.
The draft version of this Plan will be coming out for consultation in autumn this year and I am looking forward to see how the Mayor’s officers have developed these themes to tackle to challenge head on to deliver a more sustainable future for us all.