Planning for an ageing population

As a society we are living longer, in smaller families and with greater resilience to illness. The implications of the changing demographic on housing and our communities are intense. While none of these issues are new or unexpected, our ability to use spatial planning to make a meaningful difference might be. Our intention is to create a framework that draws together a practitioners’ perspective and package it up to share. If you are involved in this area and can contribute let us know – either here or back at the ranch.

To offer some structure, this can be broken into five chunks:

  1. What is happening ?
  2. What is our practical response ?
  3. Who can we learn from ?
  4. What other organisations can we link with ?
  5. What other publications are useful to us ?

To repeat the offer – if you’d like to be interviewed or could even write something get in touch. If there are cost implications we might be able to come to some arrangement.

1. What is going on?
There are some well-understood facts that act as ‘drivers’ for many of these issues. To walk the mindmap above, there is a hump in our population from the increase in birthrate following 1945 and throughout the 1960s. This hump is gradually working its way through the population distribution like a python swallowing a small rodent. This is compounded by an increase in life expectancy.

We care because this generates a triple whammy for us. People living longer means that housing demand increases as stock isn’t turned over with the same frequency. It also reduces occupancy rates as people choose to live on in the family home rather than down-size. It also creates a need for additional housing for the carers required – often in areas where it is extremely difficult to service that need.

It is worth drawing out the spatial component – our sustainability appraisal process means that we applaud high density schemes built around transport nodes. Perhaps this (combined with rural NIMBYism) has acted to make rural areas more difficult to adapt to the variation in capability that increasing age generates. Villages have lost many of their local facilities to competition a car-journey away. Rural exclusion from services (both state and social) combined with isolation and poverty does not tick our “sustainable community” box.

2. What is our practical response?

planning's response

planning's response

Nestled in the middle of this web is the evidence base. The planners have an opportunity to bring together the demographic model and existing / planned service provision spatially. This exposes any gaps.

Engagement is something that planning has worked hard to get better at. There will be good models of consultation out there, although a quick google just generates some faintly patronising advice. “Yes, dear, A NEW BUILDING”. I suspect extra points will be awarded for processes that encourage people who are not yet old to think ahead and support a style of development that they will only find useful later in life.

These skills should lead to holistic plan-making and consistent decisions. Missing from the mindmap is the sustainable community strategy. It is probably here that some of the very biggest decisions should be set out, so they can be debated and get a thorough going over from political and community leaders. There will be an existing approach to the provision of ‘sheltered housing’ – we need to take direction on whether the model is one of “retirement communities” or “extra care housing”.

I also notice that I’ve missed the community infrastructure levy and section 106. These (along with land assets held by service providers) provide a way of providing money to create and service some of the “gaps” previously exposed.

3. Who can we learn from ?


I’ve not contacted them directly, but heard good things about Basingstoke & Deane (actively considering older people’s choices on a particular large development), Newcastle under Lyme for their practical approaches to managing their housing stock and Sunderland for a sensible city framework.

There will be plenty more, these have just been mentioned. Why not volunteer your own authority ?

4. What other organisations should we link with ?


Some of these are old friends, others less well understood. ADSS is the “Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, and the voice of adult social care”. They recognise there is a problem, and that planning represents part of the solution. (sorry, I realise I mistyped it above and am now on a different computer without Freemind)

HUDU is the healthy urban development unit – I think I’ve mentioned them before. They are very clear about some things (“a polyclinic is not a building – it is a model of service delivery” will remain with me until my grave) and less clear on how these new models will be supported by infrastructure (we just don’t know, but at least we know we don’t know).

The set that presents probably the biggest opportunity is the 3rd sector – age concern, help the aged and others. They represent an enourmous chunk of knowledge and experience that will help us move swiftly.

As always, there is a balance to be struck between creating a set of wheels once, nationally, and recognising that each place will need to set its own direction.

5. What other publications are out there ?


Not an exhaustive list. Useful to signpost what is already out there to reduce duplication etc.

I’m sure there must be some good design guidance on public realm, but I can’t think of any just now.

In conclusion

One of the things we try to guard against at PAS is the “planning for planning’s sake” mindset. For this reason, the “so what” question is really useful when considering some of the really knotty issues like climate change and demography. I’ve tried to skip through the obvious issues, but what we need now is some pragmatic guidance. Given all this awkwardness, what are the first three things a planning service should do ? Where is the value for money activity that helps everyone decide and then deliver a plan ?

If you are involved and have any insight or experience (and at the risk of repeating myself) please get in touch and if we can help publicise the debate we will.

6 thoughts on “Planning for an ageing population

  1. Interesting. Sheltered Housing is an excellent way of releasing larger than needs housing back into a nation’s housing stock. However, it needs to be attractive to entice the elderly to leave the place they call home and to where there are memories memories attached to every chair and ornament . The advantages should be stressed here:
    1). Puts people into a like age group.
    2). Reduces age related isolation.
    3). Most importantly it has a Warden or Scheme Manager to carry out minor care and monitor the residents on a daily basis and provide a sense of security and community in old age.
    4). In these days of ‘fuel poverty’ for the elderly, Sheltered Housing lends itself readily to ground source heat pumps and solar power .
    5). Can provide activities and interests applicable to the age group it houses and……
    6). Unfortunately the Government in the UK has embarked on a strategy designed to run down Sheltered Housing reducing funding for Wardens for those who received relief for this from the State . So reverse the thinking from numbers 1 to 5 above .
    1). Keeps elderly people in the community .
    2). Makes sure that they are socially isolated.
    3). Remove the care they were enjoying.
    4). Advise them to put on extra pullovers if they are cold.
    5). Who said they should enjoy old age anyway !


    Vernon J Yarker

  2. I think that there are two publications that deal with aspects of this subject which you may care to get hold of:
    1) I seem to recall that a few years ago the RTPI had a Working Party about this which published a report; presumably you could get it from RTPI HQ
    2) I also remember that DCLG brought out a report (I think earlier last year) on ‘Lifetime Neighbourhoods’ which effectively complemented the idea of ‘Lifetime Homes’, both of which cover a lot of the ground you are interested in.

    I suspect both publications would cover a lot of the ground you are interested in. CABE have also recently brought out guidance on inclusive design which covers issues such as public realm.

    I am also aware that some of the bigger social services authorities, Lancashire CC being one of them, have been looking at this subject.

  3. The ESRC has done work on changing household types that I came across when I was doing some work for a planning authority locally, and this includes ageing. This page tells you more and brings up some other relevant areas of their work.
    (I’m sure there should be a way not to have this look so horrendous!)

  4. As part of the SHMA background research by Cambridgeshire County Research Group, they looked at age structure which can be found at : , including the appendices.

    In terms of planning policy it seems inappropriate to bundle 65+ into one category of household type. The Research above sugested that 65-74 should not need much special housing, but 75-84 and then 85+ do develop more specialised housing requirements, but that provision needs to planned in close collaboration with PCTs and Social Care team, and delivered across tenure types in order to achieve a balanced community.

    We should be ensuring that all SHMAs include this kind of analysis for different household types including their tenure types. Any conclusions must also be checked with PCT and Scoial Care to ensure other forms of suppport are mobilised as well as any planning policy changes to the types of dwellings provided, and there is a general provision of social infrastructure to allow all of us to live in properly serviced neighbourhood for as long as we want to. [e.g. easy walking access to shops, health facilities, leisure, community and cultural facilities].

  5. The issue of Lifetime Homes is one where there has been a lot of talk and tinkering around but a failure by Government to take the necessary action to ensure that these design standards are properly included in all new housing.

    My view, as a shortly to retire local authority access officer, is that we will not crack this one with developers until the principal design requirements are incorporated into the Building Regulations (Part M for dwellings). Unless LTH standards are mandatory and compliance is checked, we will not achieve the position where new housing stock meets the needs of an aging population.

    If LTH standards are only a planning requirement, practical compliance cannot be checked. The Code for Sustainable Homes is not a tight enough process to ensure compliance. My view is that to achieve the necessary level of inspection and compliance, incorporation into the building regs is the only reliable step. This step should have been taken at least two years ago.

  6. I raised this issue elsewhere and someone commented

    “As a basic starting point Lifetime Homes should be considered a minimum and mandatory requirement for all new housing – we have had this in place in B&H since 2001 and the Government suggest sit may happen in 5 years or so (only 20+ years after it came out!)
    I worked on an EU project to develop an accessible design guide for older people’s housing – although the principles can (and should) equally apply to any housing. The guide takes Lifetime Homes a step further and also draws on good practice from across Europe. Its very visual in nature to help bridge the gap between the wide range of stakeholders involved in developments.
    Details here:

    Thanks for your interest. I will be updating this shortly !

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