We have received the good news that our appeal, for Guild Living and Legal & General’s new Later Living community in Bath & North East Somerset (BANES), has been upheld following an inquiry held in June and July 2021. A copy of the inspectors report can be found here.

This outcome underlines, the stark divide between the pressing need for housing-with-care and the ease with which local authorities are able to refuse such applications with an ostensibly only a basic level of understanding of the key considerations.

The Local Government Association noted in 2017 that around 0.6 percent of the UK’s over 65s live in a Retirement Community, which is around a tenth of the level of provision in comparative markets, such as the USA and Australia being over 5%. The International Longevity Centre puts the figures at 0.7% for the UK and 5-6% in equivalent markets.

Specialist housing-with-care plays a vital role in meeting the housing and wellness needs of a growing older population. The personal, societal and economic benefits derived from such developments, which combat loneliness, isolation and inactivity are considerable and particularly meaningful for the health, happiness and wellbeing of residents and their families.

It is no surprise that there are so few older people living in housing-with-care in the UK, when one considers how challenging it can be to secure planning permission. Despite the evolution of a generally positive policy disposition, and there being no uncertainty of the significance and consequences of the elderly accommodation crisis, many planning authorities adopt a hostile approach to these developments, despite the breadth and substantial benefits that they offer.

The planning policy landscape has evolved, over recent times, to be far more enabling of developments for housing-with-care, in direct response to changing demographic and care requirements. A growing number of planning authorities have increasingly clear local policies and guidance and National Planning Policy has made it clear that Councils are required to plan for housing for older people. “The need to provide housing for older people is critical” espouses the National Planning Policy Guidance (PPG). The PPG goes on to say that offering older people a better choice of accommodation can help them live independently for longer, allows them to be more connected to their communities and helps to reduce costs to the social care and health systems.

However, planning authorities often take a negative approach to such schemes, and fail to recognise not only the strength of presumptive polices and the various benefits of housing-with-care, but also the pressing need for such housing.

Were one presented with a site which is sustainably located, allocated for residential led regeneration, within an authority with an acknowledged significant deficit of housing-with-care, where there is adjacent developments of a greater scale and height, one might be forgiven for thinking that securing planning permission would be a relatively straightforward exercise, if only this was the case.

This takes us to the case in point. The site in question is located in Bath, and is an archetypal allocated residential-led regeneration site, until recently a Homebase retail shed. The Council refused planning permission against officer’s recommendation and against general consistency with planning policy.

In response to the identified undersupply of extra care housing BANES’s Core Strategy in (Policy CP10) calls for housing developments to contribute to the provision of homes that are suitable for the needs of older people. The Placemaking Plan (Policy H1) deals specifically for Housing and Facilities for Elderly and People with other supported housing or care needs. Policy HC1 is a positively worded enabling policy, which states that housing and facilities for the elderly will be permitted where locationally appropriate and subject to design standards.

Therefore, it begs the question, in the face of such strong local and national policy support, why would a planning committee resolve, against officer’s recommendation, to refuse permission, on an allocated site, for an application which meets such a pressing need.

The committee put four reasons for refusal forward. Firstly, (a reason somewhat overworked by planning committees) height, bulk and massing, and its related impact on heritage assets, which include the Bath World Heritage Site. Secondly, adverse impact on residential amenity. The third and fourth reasons for refusal were withdrawn prior to the inquiry, these being insufficient parking and an unacceptable loss of trees.

The aforementioned reasons for refusal had been clearly and comprehensively addressed for the planning committee’s benefit in the officer’s report to the committee, and the officer’s justification was, in all substantive matters, subsequently confirmed during the inquiry.

The inspector agreed with our comprehensive evidence presented that substantial weight flows from the health and wellbeing benefits of providing additional care and support in a specialist environment. The benefits of locating specialist accommodation for older people in a highly sustainable city location and delivering housing for older people were also matters afforded substantial weight. These and other benefits were considered to outweigh the effects on the World Heritage Site and it was determined that the scheme delivered benefits to the setting of the Conservation Area, with the inspector confirming that the poor quality of the existing site was a detractor, exacerbated by its unkempt and derelict appearance.

In this appeal decision, as well as several recent related decisions, the manifold significant benefits, which flow from housing-with-care, have been openly expressed and carefully scrutinised, and surely must now be recognised by decision makers.

We are hopeful that as more developments for housing-with-care are granted permission and subsequently constructed, an understanding of this type of housing expands to decision makers and the numbers of planning applications, which need to be fought at appeal, will reduce, and the availability and choice of housing-with-care can expand to address the urgent need for such accommodation.