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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.

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How can placemakers help to reduce loneliness?

How can placemakers help to reduce loneliness?

Helen Ashby-Ridgway 21 Jun 2019
Last week was Loneliness Awareness Week, a week established by the Marmalade Trust to raise awareness of loneliness and social isolation, to reduce the stigma of loneliness and to help people connect. This will be its third year and the movement is growing. This isn’t surprising when studies have shown that in the UK more than 9 million people always or often feel lonely[1]. The Costa Book Award winning novel Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was written by its author Gail Honeyman after she had read an article on the subject of loneliness which reported on an interview with a young lady who said she would come home from work on a Friday and then wouldn’t speak to anyone again until Monday morning. Such a situation seems incredibly sad but worse yet, extensive research shows that loneliness poses a number of risks to physical and mental health, including: Increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke (Valtorta et al, 2016), Increased risk of high blood pressure (Hawkley et al, 2010) Greater risk of cognitive decline (James et al, 2011) Higher risk of the onset of disability (Lund et al, 2010) More prone to depression (Cacioppo et al, 2006) (Green et al, 1992) Predictive of suicide in older age (O’Connell et al, 2004); and, One study concludes that lonely people have a 64% increased chance of developing clinical dementia (Holwerda et al, 2012). Some of the studies are more worrying. Not long ago a stark headline was being carried by a number of newspapers. A meta study (a study of studies) of some 3.4 million people by Professor of Psychology Julianne Holt-Lunstad and her research team[2] had concluded that weak social connection has the same risk of death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Moreover, according the findings it doesn’t matter whether the loneliness is perceived or actual the risk to health remains the same[3].The NHS ‘Behind the Headlines’ critique of this particular study concluded that the research ‘provided some evidence that the isolation was causing ill health, rather than the other way round, but we can't be certain[4]’. Whether or not this particular headline is as troubling as it appears the remaining evidence that suggests that loneliness and social isolation can have adverse impacts upon our health and well-being and upon the UK economy. Research reported by the Co-op suggests that loneliness costs UK employers £2.5 billion per year. Causes of loneliness The causes of loneliness are not surprising. They include but are not limited to: Changes in day-to-day routines (such as retirement), A lack of or loss of friends (such as through bereavement or divorce), Restricted mobility, cognitive and sensory impairment or other causes of poor physical health (which then create a vicious circle), Financial limitations (limiting ability to participate in activities), Personal characteristics (such as age, stage in life, ethnicity, sexual orientation); and, Neighbourhood characteristics (such as a lack of amenity, layout of streets, crime). Loneliness is not only restricted to those who are alone or are of a particular age group.  “Young or old, loneliness does not discriminate” said the late Jo Cox MP who, with her colleague Seema Kennedy MP, set up a cross-party Loneliness Commission in 2016. Source: ONS analysis of Community Life Survey August 2016 – March 2017 Creating spaces that reduce social isolation National and many local planning policies seek to ensure that developments create healthy and safe communities. Many of the recent call to action publications by a variety of respected organisations, charities and commissions focus on a wide range of measures to improve loneliness and to reduce social isolation. However, not as much has been written in these documents about how the built environment can contribute to tackling its causes. As place makers we can help to create places that encourage social connection and to create spaces that people want to use and are able to use that are safe and secure and that are accessible to all.  These are just a selection of ways that creating spaces and places can help to increase both formal and informal social interaction which may in turn help to reduce loneliness: Making dementia-friendly spaces that are designed to encourage people out of their homes, with connections and routes that are accessible and safe (The RTPI has published practice advice on this); Ensuring that amenities and facilities are in walking distance and the routes to these places are safe, legible and encourage more people to use them; Delivering a range of places for leisure activities and where people can meet - from community halls to bowling greens, and from public squares to public footpaths; Including facilities for physical activity such as formal parks and informal open spaces, playgrounds for children where parents can mingle, as well as allotments for all ages; Ensuring that the spaces to meet are safe, with excellent natural surveillance through active frontages and well-considered layouts; Creating jobs and educational opportunities with further enhancements by creating dedicated indoor and outdoor spaces for people to meet during lunch breaks (rather than eating a sandwich at a desk); and, Places for cultural activities through formal and informal spaces such as heritage assets, coastal paths and outdoor theatres. Understanding why places and spaces are important in helping to combat loneliness is a good starting point. Indeed, many of the measures are integral to high quality urban design decisions but can be easily missed although our experience, from working on health impact assessments for a number of projects, is that the measures can be simple and often not costly. Whilst we cannot solve the factors causing loneliness entirely, placemakers can be part of a range of measures that help.  [1] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pm-commits-to-government-wide-drive-to-tackle-loneliness [2] https://www.aging.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/SCA_Holt_04_27_17.pdf [3] https://www.ahsw.org.uk/userfiles/Research/Perspectives%20on%20Psychological%20Science-2015-Holt-Lunstad-227-37.pdf [4] https://www.nhs.uk/news/mental-health/loneliness-increases-risk-of-premature-death/  

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