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:
- What is happening ?
- What is our practical response ?
- Who can we learn from ?
- What other organisations can we link with ?
- 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?
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.
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.