Steve Wiseman: Policy change needed to help provide housing for the elderly

There are just 36,000 sheltered houses in Scotland. Picture: Getty
There are just 36,000 sheltered houses in Scotland. Picture: Getty
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SCOTLAND faces a demographic time-bomb: by 2030 there will be 500,000 more Scots pensioners – a 63 per cent increase – and by 2035 the number of pensioners living beyond 75 will have increased by 82 per cent.

Such growth has massive implications for housing and planning policy. With just 36,000 sheltered houses in Scotland, how can the country provide sufficient – and suitable – accommodation to meet demand?

The public sector cannot cope on its own. Resources will continue to be stretched, so there needs to be a level of commitment from the private sector. There is clear demand for private retirement accommodation, with schemes that have been completed selling quickly. And more specialised forms of private retirement housing, such as Extra Care schemes, are also popular. Yet, obstacles stand in the way of the private sector making a greater contribution.

How can the Scottish Government help? First, by revising Scottish planning policy to include a section specific to the housing needs of the elderly, with councils in particular – in their local development plans – required not just to identify suitable housing land but also to identify sites suitable for retirement housing.

Second, local authorities have to recognise that specialist retirement accommodation differs from traditional housing, requiring on-site care and support with greater financial outlays. Development costs are increased, for example, by the need to provide communal lounges.

Specialist accommodation sites must be located where older residents can easily live – close to shops, services and transport links. Such sites are in short supply and located in higher-value areas. Yet retirement housing developers may also face the added financial burden of being asked to provide affordable housing as part of any development, a burden not placed on other developers providing retail or commercial uses, competing to purchase the same land.

To create a level playing field and encourage the growth of specialist accommodation, the government should instruct councils that affordable housing should not be a requirement for such developments.

• Steve Wiseman is managing director of McCarthy & Stone Scotland