As the UK’s ageing population increases, the demand for suitable accommodation in care homes and other forms of retirement housing is on the rise.
Demographic predictions suggest over 8 million people will be aged over 80 by 2050, while the number of people diagnosed with dementia is set to double from its current level of 800,000 over the next 30 years according to the Alzheimer’s Society. To respond to these changes, we must ensure that suitable facilities are built to provide the care that many will need in the future, and with such growth levels projected, it’s unsurprising that the healthcare sector has been touted as an emerging area for real estate investment.
With an existing lack of suitable care home beds in many areas – elderly residents in York could be sent to care homes in neighbouring authorities due to shortages – there is a demonstrable need for new care homes. Combine this with the positive community benefits offered by these developments such as job creation and providing a boost to the local economy, and you might expect that care homes would be a shoo in for planning approval. Growing your business and obtaining planning permission for new services is easier said than done, however.
Despite government efforts to cut red tape around new developments, the planning process remains slow. Complicating this further is the government’s localism agenda manifested in its neighbourhood plans, which give communities more power in planning local development. Though the Conservatives have at times exhibited centralist and contradictory policies, Labour’s attempts to position itself as the real party of devolution and its “right to grow” powers for local authorities suggest that the localism agenda is here to stay – whatever the colour of our government after May 2015.
Navigating the competing demands of councillors, planning officers, local residents and community groups alongside neighbourhood and local plans can seem like a minefield. The need for effective engagement with communities has therefore never been more important. Resistance to plans can cause delays and stop development in its tracks. So, how can you best expand your business to take advantage of the need for high quality residential care homes and overcome the hurdles of the planning process?
It’s a common fact that many communities frequently oppose planning applications on the basis that anything “new” is disliked, and anything new that they don’t necessarily understand is doubly disliked. Consequently, effective stakeholder engagement with local communities can be vital in determining the outcome of a planning application.
Engaging with local stakeholders through public consultation programmes is not simply an opportunity to address the fears and concerns of potential detractors. They also offer an important opportunity to outline the benefits of your scheme, generate support by identifying individuals and other potential advocates for your proposed development, and allow communities to provide valuable feedback on your plans. It’s no wonder both the Local Government Association and the British Property Federation have lauded early engagement and effective pre-application communication as saving both time and money in delivering high-quality developments.
Undeniably, the planning system remains in need of reform – a CBI/KPMG Infrastructure Survey in 2013 found that 96% of businesses see planning as a barrier to development. With the contentious nature of the housing crisis, planning will be a key battleground in the next election, and we may yet see a radical shake up of the process. But while truly effective reform may be on the horizon, you can bet your life that whatever the political make-up of next year’s newly elected government, they will continue to recommend that developers consult effectively with communities when pursuing planning permission. If we are to meet the growing demand for new, high quality services, we’re going to have to get out and make the case for them, one scheme at a time.
This article was first featured in the June print edition of Healthcare Business News
Aurora Horwood is an Account Executive at PLMR and provides public affairs and media relations support on the company’s planning accounts.