Planning matters blog | Lichfields

Planning matters

Our award winning blog gives a fresh perspective on the latest trends in planning and development.

Co-living in the material world: what next for purpose-built shared living?
A new form of housing has emerged across London and the UK in recent years. Co-living, as the name suggests, is a type of community housing in which residents share facilities such as kitchens, bathrooms and living rooms. Recently, they are generally large-scale, purpose-built shared facilities, primarily for young professionals. The Collective in the London Borough of Ealing, for example, contains 550 rooms, and is said to be the world’s largest co-living building. Amongst other benefits, co-living developments offer a high concentration of bedrooms in a period of significant housing shortage in the UK. However, concerns from planning authorities have been expressed over lack of affordable units and residential quality. As such, greater weight to material considerations such as design and operation are being applied within local and regional policies, which future proposals need to consider. However, to realistically contribute to a holistic answer to housing issues, co-living facilities may need to refocus their role in the solution completely. Shared living at The Collective, Old Oak Source: The collective Co-living has many benefits which have helped grow its popularity with developers and residents alike. The units offer short-term and flexible accommodation, and links are often drawn between mental wellbeing and the increased social engagement of shared living (though there are limited studies to support this). From a planning perspective, it can potentially offer further benefits. Though co-living currently accounts for a very small proportion of overall housing stock, its potential to deliver a significant volume of homes is often stated (see articles from The Guardian and CityMetric)[1]. Co-living communities create a lot of capacity in a small space, with the Collective offering over 500 bed spaces in roughly half a hectare of land. Buildings such as student halls and office spaces have been re-purposed as co-living accommodation, which removes the need for new land or demolition and reconstruction. However, the prospect of co-living contributing to a holistic solution to housing issues is currently probably limited. Perceived problems over high pricing raises a possible stumbling block to accessibility for many. In the Collective, rooms start from £245 a week. Further, an application in Redbridge was considered affordable to individuals who earn approximately £35,000 per annum. Space is also more restricted than typical residential standards, with the Collective stating that an en-suite room with a small double bed comprises 9.2 square metres, with access to a shared kitchen of 5.8 square metres. By comparison, the Technical Housing Standards (2015) set out that a double room should have a minimum area of 11.5 square metres. The counter argument is that co-living developments provide extensive communal space beyond the bedrooms, raising the question as to whether typical residential space standards should apply. This uncertainty over use class has meant that authorities have previously lacked sufficient statutory means to properly consider co-living proposals. Typical housing policy includes standards on matters such as affordability and space. However, co-living developments do not fall under standard residential use classes and are instead considered sui generis, facing less defined policy measures. For example, although the Collective agreed 30% of rooms at sub-market rent with LB Ealing, it was noted in the Committee Report for the application that ‘given that this is not a traditional housing scheme and is accommodation that would fall within Sui Generis, there is no policy requirement for affordable housing on this site’. The GLA stated in a report for a referred co-living scheme that ‘it is accepted that the residential standards are not strictly applicable to the type of housing proposed’, highlighting the vagueness of relevant use class. To address the ambiguity, the GLA are responding to standards issues by exercising greater weight to material considerations for co-living applications. The emerging London Plan contains a draft policy considering ‘large-scale purpose-built shared living’. The policy requires developments to, amongst other criteria, be of good quality, have 3-month tenancies as a minimum, and provide affordable housing contributions. In assessing proposals, there is evidence of greater scrutiny of how standards are applied. This is shown in a recent application for a co-living development in Redbridge. The scheme demonstrated that it exceeded required minimum standards for private living. However, the GLA stated that the approach was ‘unacceptable as the proposed co-living product is not a typical residential environment and is not considered comparable to a typical house share’. It was determined that the application did not comply with the emerging London Plan due to the size of the units and quantum of communal facilities. Local Authorities are similarly beginning to incorporate policies concerning co-living in their emerging Plans, with Hackney, Lambeth and Westminster being examples, which may influence development. While the GLA Housing Standards Review (2015) found that space standards had not had a discernible negative impact on housing delivery in London, increased considerations may lead to more protracted negotiations between developers and the Authority[2]. With focus increasingly on quality of facilities over quantity of units, the current large-scale format will remain challenging to developers and the authorities alike. To realistically contribute to a holistic solution to housing issues, co-living developments may need to adapt their proposition to refocus on affordable accommodation and support for low-income young people. The non-for-profit Hyelm model successfully provides well-sized rooms at sub-market rates. Further, they offer personal development support to help residents rehouse into permanent accommodation when their tenancy ends. Their flagship development in Old Street, LB Hackney, provides housing for 125 young people who are in employment or training, but who cannot afford to rent or buy in the private sector. The model recognises tenants needs and provides social support such as information and training in financial management, budgeting and other social, health and welfare issues that affect young people. The success of the Old Street development has led to a new project to provide housing and services for 154 young people in Colindale, North London, which has received positive feedback from LB Barnet and the GLA alike. Hyelm, Old Street Source: The Hyelm Group Co-living developments offer benefits such as flexible living and social interaction, and can deliver high density accommodation in central locations. As such, these developments have a part to play in easing the problems associated with the housing crisis. While in the wider scheme of emerging development it is likely to only play a small part, there is no doubt that co-living can add to the mix of accommodation available and serve a growing market, especially in our larger cities. In doing so, they could help to ease pressures on the housing stock elsewhere. However, to achieve this, developers will need to react to more stringent tenure, space and affordability requirements, while potentially refocusing their role to support young people in the housing market. [1] Can 'co-living' solve millennials' housing woes?; and Here are five lessons on the future of co-living [2]Housing Standards Review: Evidence of need


Planning Practice Guidance on housing for older people
Last week Government published new Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) on housing for older people and disabled people. This is a positive step, as it recognises that providing housing for older people is critical and that it needs to be considered from the early stages of plan-making through to decision taking. This recognition is particularly welcome given that (as our research: "Solutions to an age old problem: Planning for an Ageing Population" shows whilst nearly a quarter of the population will be aged over 65 in Great Britain by 2036, only 7% of Development Plans in England, Scotland and Wales include land allocations for housing for older people. It is well documented that there is a clear need for housing for older people. The planning system plays a fundamental role in ensuring this need is met. However, the new guidance remains loose on critical issues, leaving it open for LPAs to decide: whether or not to allocate sites for specialist housing for older people in their Development Plan Documents; the use class a particular development may fall into; and whether to monitor delivery through the Annual Monitoring review process. These are three key areas that our research highlights need clear and stronger guidance to aid the delivery of the right amount and type of housing for older people in the right places. Taking each in turn, our research highlights that whilst 60% of Development Plans identify a general need for housing for older people, only 14% have a specific policy relating to a requirement for need and only 7% actually include any land allocations specifically for this use. This can make it difficult for developers of older people’s housing to compete with general housing developers when bidding for land. Including allocations in Development Plans would provide more certainty for both the Local Planning Authority and developers alike. Whilst PPG states that LPAs do not have to allocate sites for housing for older people, the PPG sets out that LPAs should provide clear policies to address the housing needs of older people. This includes how proposals for different types of housing for these groups will be considered. Lichfields' Carepacity Toolkit can assist in demonstrating the need for housing for older people and our research sets out how the planning system can help facilitate the delivery of housing for older people. In turn this can assist in identifying sites to be allocated to meet the identified need, or indeed brought forward through a planning application. In relation to Use Classes, the PPG acknowledges there are many types of housing for older people but does not include a definitive list. Nor does it provide any definition of what type of housing for older people falls in Use Class C2 and which better aligns with Use Class C3. As highlighted in our research, this causes uncertainty and can have financial implications for developers. Our review of 23 appeal decisions for older people’s accommodation in 2019 showed that there are many different factors that are taken into consideration in relation to what Use Class an older peoples housing development falls within and the conclusion on an appropriate use class often proved critical to the outcome – for example whether or not an affordable housing contribution should be provided. Our appeal review also demonstrated the importance of fully addressing the planning balance as a whole, over and above demonstrating the need with 17 of the appeals being dismissed (totalling 588units) with refusal reasons including: Eight - related to design and amenity Two - related to affordable housing Three - related to impact on countryside / Green Belt Four – related to policy conflict (employment allocation, rural exceptions, lack of community support, no evidence of need). Where five year housing land supply (5YHLS) was cited: three LPAs had no 5YHLS and were still dismissed two LPAs had a 5YHLS, one being allowed and one dismissed. This review demonstrates that there are many factors that help determine what Use Class a scheme falls into and it is not clear cut. Design and amenity remain important with many inspectors considering massing, amenity space for residents and impacts on neighbours. Turning to monitoring, only 16% of LPAs in England and Wales monitor delivery of housing for older people. Given the critical need to ensure that enough good quality housing for older people is provided to meet the growing ageing population’s need, it is vital that, as an industry, we monitor delivery to ascertain whether the need is being met. PPG refers to this but again does not make it a requirement. To conclude, whilst the new PPG is a positive step in the right direction, acknowledging the clear role that the planning system has in the delivery of housing to meet the needs of our growing ageing population, it does not go far enough. It should be made abundantly clear to LPAs that it is a requirement rather than an expectation that Local Plans identify and allocate sufficient land to meet the housing needs of older people.