Ray Dawe: many good ideas for meeting future housing needs

Do we perhaps need a grand bargain between the generations as part of the big debate about housing and where it should go? Could it be that more homes tailored to the needs of older home owners but which psychologically do not feel like life’s final resting place, and instead provide a stimulating future, helping to free up family sized properties for the younger generation as a result?

Recently in a report by one of David Cameron’s favourite think tanks, a study found that 30 per cent of people said they would like to live in a bungalow, a preference considerably more strongly expressed by older people. Another survey by the Halifax also reveals bungalows as Britain’s ‘happiest homes’, with people apparently favouring their security and ease of use.

The report adds, ‘Older people who are reluctant to move out of family homes, even when children have moved away, could be persuaded to downsize to bungalows as a preferred way of living’.

Undoubtedly as a nation we need to think much more about the problems of an ageing population.

As part of this, older people currently living in large family homes might want to downsize to somewhere smaller, easier to maintain, on one floor, and offering outside space.

If we look abroad, particularly to the USA, there is a tantalising glimpse into what may be the way forward. As an American newspaper put it: ‘Boomers Flock to Niche Retirement Communities’.

In America such communities, the paper tells us, were, ‘originally geared toward golfers and pool loungers in Florida but now retirees want more choices. When you have 78 million baby boomers, they have a lot of expectations with retirement. The days where your only choices are assisted living or a nursing home are long gone. Specialized retirement communities fit retirees’ needs for a variety of hobbies and cultures’. The most popular apparently are university-based retirement communities, which offer retirees the opportunity to attend campus events.

Such places tend to offer more individual properties than the one or two bedroom ‘retirement’ flats in blocks that we see springing up in Britain. Besides the obvious fact that such a community provides a good challenging social environment, it is also able to provide a range of services from just a few hours a week of house cleaning, through getting in shopping to a service providing visiting nursing care.

In the UK, on our own doorstep, the soon to be constructed Durrant’s Village at Faygate, follows the style of an award-winning development for over-55s with a number of ‘cottages’ as well as flats.

Facilities include a fitness room with hydrotherapy pool and gym, a restaurant, bar, library, medical centre, meeting and games room. The onsite team will, we are told, provide a range of services including maintenance, gardening, laundry and cleaning, ‘So you can enjoy all the independence and freedom of living in your own home with the added security of knowing someone is around should you need them’.

Whether we live in Horsham, Henfield, Storrington, Billingshurst, Southwater, or any of our other villages, there is huge reluctance by communities to accept a need for new home building. It seems that although we are all living longer and we understand the simple logic that this then leads to a need for more homes, we don’t usually want them near us.

Could it be that what is needed, if we are interested in increasing the housing supply to make more efficient use of the existing housing stock, is to look at building more homes that attract older people and they would be keen to move into?

This week, at the district council offices, we had an excellent turn-out from parish and neighbourhood councils to a planning seminar. This was part of our move to Neighbourhood Plans written by each of our communities saying what sort of housing they believe they need.

These plans can start right now, so maybe they will throw up some really good ideas on this topic and on our other housing needs too!