This blog is one in a series of blogs on the Future of Ageing, published in the lead up to the ILC-UK Future of Ageing conference on the 24th November. To register to attend this conference, click here.
There is a growing recognition of the value of a built environment that is as inclusive of as wide a range of needs across all ages as possible.
Huge strides are being made in many localities, with Manchester being a prime example as the UK’s first city to be recognised by the World Health Organisation as an age friendly city (http://www.manchester.gov.uk/info/200091/older_people/6464/age-friendly_Manchester).
However, these developments are taking place in a rapidly changing policy context. We will be looking much more towards the private sector for the supply of new housing that older people may draw upon to meet their housing aspirations – either in terms of direct development, or through the private financing of housing associations. The continued development of age specific housing will help to promote a diversity of accommodation choices in later life, both by private and public sector agencies. With regard to the latter, there is also some hope that supported housing for older people by housing associations may be exempt from the one per cent reduction in rents per annum over four years, which was announced in the Summer Budget, 2015 and directed towards the social rented sector as a whole. Of course, the large majority of older people live in mainstream housing and it is here that the pace of change in terms of new construction can help to bring forward an inclusive and accessible housing stock. The new national technical access standards introduced this year incorporate accessible design standards into the Building Regulations for the first time.
Nevertheless, commentators have criticised the optional nature of the two categories in the new standards that would deliver accessible design principles. Furthermore, decision making over which housing standards to apply rests with local authorities, and older people can expect very diverse responses depending on where they live. It also remains to be seen how far the ‘viability test’ contained within the National Policy Planning Framework may hamstring attempts by authorities to pursue the development of new housing to higher access standards.
Even so, the pace of new construction remains painfully slow, and the fact remains that we will need to make the best of what we have, both in terms of the existing housing stock, and in thinking more widely about the infrastructure and capacity of neighbourhoods to enable people to age well. Whilst there are many cities in the UK progressing towards age friendly status, a challenge for smaller communities is building the momentum to create and/or sustain age friendly environments, particularly against a backdrop of the shrinking capacities and budgets of local authorities. Nevertheless, there are examples up and down the country of initiatives led by older people who are striving towards age friendly design within their neighbourhoods (see for example: http://www.elderscouncil.org.uk/). In addition to the evidence base that is developing on what works (http://www.housinglin.org.uk/Topics/browse/Design_building/Neighbourhoods/), it is these examples that point towards the kind of neighbourhoods that are inclusive of all ages.
Katia Attuyer, Mark Bevan and Karen Croucher are members of the Co-Motion team based at the Centre for Housing Policy, University of York (http://www.york.ac.uk/chp/). This project is examining the links between mobility and wellbeing in later life, as part of wider programme of research: ‘Design for wellbeing’.