Encouraging older people to move to high-quality retirement housing will free up family homes for the young to move into

All the political parties are now agreed on the urgent need for more housebuilding. New government measures such as NewBuy and FirstBuy, aim to help first-time buyers struggling to raise big deposits. But is this emphasis on the young actually missing the point?

A new report from the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Housing and Care for Older People shows how building retirement apartments can help the younger generation as well. One new home for an elderly person probably means a family house becoming available, often with a garden and frequently crying out for energetic new occupiers to modernise it: that can mean homes for five or more people in total.

APPG members were pleased to hear of strong support for a national effort to build homes designed specifically with older people in mind in the Homes and Communities Agency’s Housing our Ageing Population Panel for Innovation (HAPPI) Report. The Homes and Communities Agency has promoted annual HAPPI Design Awards and some of the major housebuilders - like Berkeley Homes and McCarthy & Stone - are starting to build to HAPPI’s higher standards. But the APPG members were clear that policy makers and housing practitioners are only just beginning to appreciate the real potential.

Few older people are inclined to move home even though the typical family house becomes increasingly unsuitable, unmanageable, expensive to heat, inaccessible and often a place of isolation

Our report sets out a plan for implementation aimed at all the key players. It suggests more housebuilders could respond to the burgeoning market of older people and use their entrepreneurial and marketing skills to accelerate the trend toward retirement housing as a lifestyle choice.

In this country, we do not have the same attitude to down-sizing that is so common in other European countries. Few older people are naturally inclined to move home even though, in our ageing society, the typical family house becomes increasingly unsuitable, unmanageable, expensive to heat, inaccessible and often a place of loneliness and isolation.

No one is going to move unless the product on offer is both special and affordable.

Of course, as always, planning is part of the story. The APPG report calls on local planning authorities to give prominence explicitly to meeting the needs of older people in their local plans, recognising the environmental and sustainability advantages in its higher density and lower traffic use - while being less likely to arouse public opposition.

The report calls for the tariff for Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) payments for retirement apartments to be set at levels that recognise the additional gains - in saving money for NHS and social care budgets - with charges set on a per dwelling basis rather than a per square meter basis to encourage the larger internal floor areas of HAPPI standards to be met. We even recommend halving the CIL for specialist housing and waiving it where communal facilities are open to the wider public.

When it comes to the controversial subject of negotiating Section 106 agreements for affordable housing, our report does not suggest exemption for retirement housing - since that will be going too far in many cases - but asks planners to act sensitively in recognition that this kind of housing costs more to develop than flats for younger people (who are often out all day).

The plan for implementation also asks the British Standards Institute to reconsider proposals to prohibit open-plan flat layouts on grounds of fire safety: open-plan living - which is so commonplace in other European countries - has considerable advantages and fire risks can be designed out by, for example, the use of sprinkler systems.

When it comes to financial incentives, our report proposes that older people who want to “right-size” to new retirement housing should benefit from the First Buy/NewBuy support being made available to help first-time buyers who acquire the homes of the older people moving out. This would help get the market moving, assisting young and old together.

We hope our many recommendations in Housing our Ageing Population: Plan for Implementation (HAPPI 2) will give a real boost to the building of more retirement housing. In 10 years from now, there is a real chance that it will become a natural choice for all of us in older age to buy into more compact, high-quality housing with plenty of space and light, accessibility, bathrooms with walk-in showers, the highest levels of energy efficiency and good ventilation, balconies and more - and with opportunities for a good social life. And in the process, we will then make available the housing so badly needed for the next generation.

Lord Best is chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Housing and Care for Older People and the Hanover Housing Group. The APPG’s Inquiry report, Housing our Ageing Population: Plan for Implementation is available from www.housinglin.org.uk/APPGInquiry_HAPPI