Planning Minister Nick Boles recently said the Government had a 'moral' duty to force councils to find land to develop to stop home ownership becoming the preserve of the wealthy. The UK is facing an increasing housing shortage, and one which needs to be urgently addressed. I am certain that the Planning Minister's comments will be met with agreement and dismay in equal measure; such is the fractious nature of this debate in modern Britain.
The best way of addressing the shortage however, is to calmly and carefully address the needs of the ever growing population of the country, and the severe lack of available quality and appropriate housing. It is important to make the right plan now in terms of where we build, how we build and what we build. Once the Greenbelt has been built upon, it cannot be recovered easily.
There is a need to build new houses. But what is not being discussed, and should be, is the large number of properties that already exist, and could be made available very easily to families who need somewhere to live. I am talking about large family homes currently occupied by older people. Over 65s are the fastest growing sector of the population, and the latest ONS General Lifestyle Survey found that more than 60 per cent of 60-64 year olds own their homes outright. Yet many of these properties are unsuitable for the needs of those in later life, as well as being expensive to heat and run. There is a fear that the alternative to living in the family home is a move to institutional care, but this need not be the case.
We should be exploring alternative and sustainable models of retirement living, which will free up family-sized housing for younger generations, as well as allowing older people to use their equity to move into appropriate housing and release capital to fund their retirement. Moving into high quality retirement accommodation, where any additional care and support will come to them in their own home, actually diminishes the future likelihood of institutional care, which in turn means it will truly become a home for life.
As the recent HAPPI2 report, which was published in November 2012, states, if 2% (84,000) of the older people presently under-occupying their homes moved into retirement housing, 400,000 people could find their housing needs met. This would go some way to freeing up existing stock and re-drawing the housing map across Britain.