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Back garden with accessible steps

Planning is a key part of the solution to creating homes for everyone

Planning deregulation has been high on the political agenda in recent months. But whoever forms the next government must learn from recent experience to ensure that we are creating homes which meet the needs of our changing population.

Our Senior Programme Manager for Homes, Henry Smith, talks about the importance of good planning to ensure we are building homes genuinely fit for the future. 

Over the next 20 years, the number of people aged over 65 will grow by 40%. Most older people (over 90% today) live in mainstream housing rather than in specialist housing such as sheltered accommodation or retirement communities. It is therefore vital that the quality of new homes and the design of the communities in which they are built enable us to age well.

Planning for an ageing population

Let there be no doubt – we need to build more homes. However, the homes we build now will be with us for many decades to come – 80% of current homes are predicted still to be in use 30 years from now – many will therefore be occupied by people in later life. It is crucial that they are genuinely homes fit for the future.

The standards that we require for all new homes must take this into account. Adopting a light touch approach to planning might boost the number of new homes being built in the short-term, but risks creating a legacy of sub-standard homes which could have a profound and lasting impact on our society.

In October, changes were proposed to deregulate planning and make it simpler to create new homes. In particular, extended permitted development rights would allow commercial buildings to be demolished and replaced with housing, and extra storeys to be added to existing buildings without requiring planning permission. But recent history shows that this approach could come at a significant price.

The impact of relaxing planning requirements

Evidence has shown that relaxation of planning has led to plummeting standards in significant numbers of new homes. At least 70,000 homes have been created since 2013 from converted offices and industrial buildings. A review for the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors showed that just 30% of homes built through this route meet national space standards.

There are several examples which highlight the impacts of this on the health and wellbeing of people living in these homes. Homes have been approved without windows, adjacent to cement factories and on isolated industrial estates without access to basic infrastructure and amenities.

Any future government must ensure that its approach to planning creates homes and places that improve, not damage, people’s health and wellbeing.

Currently, just 7% of homes in England meet the basic standards of accessibility that make them visitable by disabled people. Extending permitted development rights risks making this problem even worse.

It is particularly concerning new homes built through permitted development are not required to meet local policies on accessibility. Currently, just 7% of homes in England meet the basic standards of accessibility that make them visitable by disabled people. Extending permitted development rights risks making this problem even worse.

At the same time as this announcement, Government has published a new National Design Guide. This acknowledges the need for homes and buildings to be accessible and to account for an ageing population. However, permitted development bypasses the normal planning controls which allow for the principles in this guide to be implemented in local decision-making and so threatens to undermine these good intentions.

How we plan for the future

We are living longer, but many of us are not getting the most out of these extra years. A suitable home is crucial for our health and wellbeing as we grow older.

At the Centre for Ageing Better, our goal is that by 2030 half of all new homes will meet accessibility standards. We believe that we must work together across the sector and be bold and ambitious in how we plan for the future of our built environment to meet the needs of an ageing population. This is why we’ve launched the HoME coalition, calling for all new homes to be built to accessible and adaptable standards.

At its best, town planning can be visionary and creative. It can enable us to tackle major societal challenges in a holistic and integrated way, by using our limited land resources in a way that benefits present and future generations. It is important that whoever forms the next government learns from recent experience of deregulation of planning and focuses on creating homes and communities that can help us all to age well.

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Henry Smith
Senior Programme Manager – Homes