On 22nd March 2023, the House of Lords debated amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. The Bishop of Manchester, on behalf of the Bishop of Chelmsford, spoke in support of an amendment to the bill that would require local authorities to being forward an assessment of the local need for housing for older people as part of their housing plans:
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, I support Amendment 221 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best, to which, as he indicated, my right reverend friend the Bishop of Chelmsford added her name. She apologises for being unable to be in her place today; in my own brief remarks, I will make a number of points that she would have contributed had she been here. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, who, like the noble Lord, Lord Best, has a long and honourable history of leading the thinking on housing matters in this land.
I declare my interest in housing for older people: as set out in the register, I am a board member of the Wythenshawe Community Housing Group. In fact, it is more than an interest; it is a passion. In my time as chair of the association, we have opened a flagship development of 135 apartments for older people with mixed rental, shared ownership and outright purchase. Developments such as this enable local people to live in dignity in old age. They provide social space as well as private dwellings. In many cases, they allow residents to remain close to their family networks and former neighbours—the support networks that they need in later life. We can do well for older people but that should not have to rely on episcopal passion or potluck. It needs to be part of how we plan housing provision at a strategic level.
Research by BNP Paribas Real Estate published late last year found that there is a shortfall of more than 487,000 senior living housing units. As our population ages and the housing crisis continues, this housing shortage is set to grow. The 2021 census confirmed that there are more people than ever in older age groups. Some 18.6% of the total population, more than 11 million of us, were aged 65 years or older—an increase from 16.4% at the previous census a decade earlier. There is expected to be a 31% increase in those aged over 65 over the next 15 years. I reached that milestone myself a few months ago; I have a real interest in remaining part of these statistics for many years to come.
Furthermore, as has been indicated, housing is not just for fully able people. Some 91% of homes in England fail basic accessibility standards. Not only do we need more housing but we need to work to improve the suitability of our existing and new housing stock. In doing so, it is important to note that, as the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, reminded us before the dinner break, older people are not a homogenous group so needs will vary.
The recent Mayhew review suggested that 50,000 homes are designed for older people annually. Providing suitable housing for seniors not only addresses their housing and care needs but reduces demand for NHS services, as people stay healthier for longer, and frees up housing and surplus bedrooms for younger families. Amendment 221 would facilitate an important part of the solution to these issues, enabling the Government to consider older people’s housing needs in drawing up plans. These should include more integrated retirement communities, such as the one that I referred to in Wythenshawe. They foster social connection, especially for people living alone in the latter years of their lives. This would help to counter the epidemic of homelessness, since over 6 million people will be living in single person households by 2040, half of them over the age of 80.
There is a real opportunity in this Bill for His Majesty’s Government to work more comprehensively to address the housing needs of our ageing population. I urge them to take it.
Extracts from the speeches that followed:
Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab): My Lords, this has been a really fascinating debate on a key part of the Bill. It has been good to hear voices with such great expertise and wisdom around the Chamber this evening. I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part. They have rightly emphasised the importance of a development system that is properly plan led. I greatly appreciate that.
If the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester has declared his passion for housing for older people, I should probably declare that mine is localism, devolution and community engagement. So I want to be optimistic about this Bill, but in these crucial aspects of planning I genuinely feel that it is going in the wrong direction.
I should probably give a brief confession that I am very bruised by experiences I have had relating to the planning system. Our Stevenage local plan, after some two and a half years of public engagement and consultation, a public inquiry which was extended to three weeks, which is quite unusual for a district local plan, and the approval of the inspector, was then called in by our local Member of Parliament and held by the Secretary of State for 451 days while we waited for a determination to be made about whether it could go ahead. It was eventually released under certain conditions, which I will not try noble Lords’ patience by going into. So the thought of this kind of centralising tendency in planning in the way proposed in the Bill makes me exceptionally nervous. I hope that explains a little bit why.
I support Amendment 221, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Best, on older people’s housing, as did the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester. I would probably want to consider that that reflected a slightly wider group of housing. We have developed specific housing for people with learning disabilities. The people who go into that special type of housing support each other and are able to be supported better in that housing, and people with physical disabilities might also benefit from that type of housing. It might be worth thinking about widening that a bit as well when we get to later amendments. I am very grateful for the comments on that. As was said in that part of the debate, developers will always focus on the profitable side of housing, so we need to think about how we incentivise that type of building. There is a great role for social housing here, and I am sure we will have wider discussions about social housing as the Bill progresses.
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