Homes built now must be fit for the future

Homes built now must be fit for the future

Paul Gamble, Habinteg CEO, letter published in Inside Housing on 19 July 2013

We all know that the challenges facing social housing providers over the next 50 years are significant. However without serious consideration of accessibility and adaptability in the design of the homes of the future, the sector won’t be ready to answer the questions posed by our ageing population. We must face up to this now.

The projections could not be clearer. By 2030, one in three people in the UK are estimated to be aged over 55 and the number of disabled people is estimated to rise to 4.6million by 2041. These demographic changes will be felt acutely in social housing.

Specialist housing options can play a role but specialist provision (including extra care) only provides a marginal response. At present only 6% of older people live in specialist accommodation. This percentage is unlikely to change dramatically given that 230,000 new households are created every year with over 55% of them headed by older people.  

The reality is that most people want to age in their own homes as independently as possible, for as long as possible. Future generations of tenants will expect their homes to be fit for purpose for the long term. Older and disabled people want flexible, accessible and adaptable homes which grow with them and can adapt to their changing needs. This is what the Lifetime Homes Standard delivers.

The Standard incorporates design criteria that can be universally applied to new homes at the design stage. These design features consider the accessibility needs of a wide range of people and include level access, wider doorways and, crucially, the potential for cost effective future adaptations.

The sector needs to respond by applying Lifetime Homes to all new developments. We need to think differently, strategically and more about the quality of general provision in addition to specialist provision.

Of course, there is a cost. The last DCLG estimates suggest that Lifetime Homes cost around £500 extra for a house and £100 extra for a flat. However, it is important to realise that access isn't a luxury. Data from the Building Research Establishment has demonstrated the enormous cost savings available to the health budget alone.

Look overseas to the detailed and innovative work on access in Australia, New Zealand and the USA, where the challenges are similar yet the responses are so different.

Effective partnerships between housing, social care and health will be vital in delivering long term value in the face of the significant demographic challenge of this century. But to keep building homes that are not future proofed is a dereliction of duty. Housing associations are in the business of social responsibility and there is no greater responsibility than planning for the future.