Let’s face it, we’re all getting old. So, it’s in all our interests to develop homes that allow the elderly to live independently in the community, with the right amount of support

Over 65s account for about 16% of the population, according to the Office for National Statistics. This figure is expected to rise to 20% by 2031 and 27% by 2071. Furthermore, the number of people over the age of 85 – 1.1 million at present – is predicted to double by 2030 and treble by 2040.

To date, housing policy has tended to focus on the needs of the young, but an ageing population has changed our priorities. The reality is that elderly people have different requirements to the young. So where are we going to live when we are older?

In response to this dilemma, the government has adopted the Lifetime Homes standard, which specifies 16 ways to ensure a home meets, or can be adapted to meet, the needs of the elderly. These include full wheelchair access, a downstairs toilet and shower, a downstairs room that can be used as a bedroom, easy-use fixtures and well-lit common areas. The standard will be mandatory for public homes by 2011 and laws will be introduced for the private sector in 2013 if it fails to adopt the standard by 2011.

The move has caused resentment in some circles. The Home Builders Federation, for example, has complained that the standard is a scattergun approach to the wide-ranging needs of the elderly. It is also worried about price increases (though completed projects indicate that meeting the standard will only cost about £500 a home).

An alternative to the standard is to build more continuing care retirement communities (CCRC). These developments provide a variety of dwelling types, and residents can move from home to home as their requirements for space and care change. They usually incorporate on-site nursing care as well.

The trouble is, CCRCs are land hungry. The UK’s first – Hartrigg Oaks, built by the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust – has 194 bungalows and bedsits set across 21 acres. With its excellent facilities and village location, it is a great place to live, but its ultra-low density makes it difficult and expensive to replicate. Affordable land on that scale tends to be well away from established communities, so the practice may lead to ghettoisation.

The Hartrigg Oaks community has 194 homes across 21 acres. With its excellent facilities and location, it is a great place to live, but its ultra-low density makes it difficult to replicate

In America, CCRCs are built on a larger scale – many with more than 1,000 residents – so they become communities of their own and attract retailers and service companies.

But in the UK only 25,000 people live in CCRCs at present, and while that number will rise, it is unlikely to ever become a significant proportion.

In contrast, the Lifetime Homes standard is an affordable solution that can easily be included in new-build projects. Not every new home would need to be built to the standard. On the other hand, private developers may just find that incorporating such flexibility into homes is a selling point.

What about those who need more intensive care? This can be provided through extra-care homes, in which residents have independence as well as support. The present supply of these isn’t meeting demand. There also needs to be greater effort to incorporate them in or alongside existing developments, so residents can remain part of the community.

The financial cost is a small price to pay to offer the elderly – and, one day, us – the right quality of life.