The importance of the ‘Older Persons' Walkable Neighbourhood’ when considering Housing Land Audits and the allocation of development sites for older people housing
As an Architect with a Masters in Urban Design, a practice portfolio with a focus on older people housing design, and an academic role in dementia design, I am often pulled between the importance of the macro and micro scale when considering design decisions which benefit our older people. In recent months I have been encouraged to see an increase in awareness of dementia-friendly communities and I welcome the launch of the PAS 1365: Code of practice for the recognition of dementia-friendly communities in England. In parallel, The Scottish Government have recently commissioned a literature review of best practice design for older people – another welcomed and important piece of research. So it is in the spirit of good placemaking and lifetime communities, that I take this opportunity to offer my thoughts on the importance of strategic planning and the ‘Older Persons' Walkable Neighbourhood’ tool when considering Housing Land Audits and the allocation of development sites for older people housing.
Scottish Planning Policy requires a five-year ongoing record of effective land supply in relation to housing needs and demand and the associated identified housing land requirements. For many local authorities this is undertaken annually in a survey known as the Housing Land Audit (HLA).
The HLA is the first determinant for decision makers when accessing applications for housing developments in Scotland and these are referenced in Scottish Government guidance (Pan 2/2010) and policy (Scottish Planning Policy June 2014), which therefore ensures the HLA assumes a degree of statutory importance when considering applications.
The Housing Needs and Demands Assessment provides an account of established and effective housing stock which helps local authorities accurately record housing need and demand taking account of shifts in demographics. This should help local authorities understand the number of older people requiring housing and, through identification of sites, where future housing developments may occur or can be encouraged.
However, where this assessment method becomes restrictive is in establishing the suitability of a site in relation to access to amenities for the older person; a fundamental right to everyone irrespective of ability and an important factor in supporting our older clients to remain as active and independent as possible.
The ‘Older Persons' Walkable Neighbourhood’ tool is an adapted method of the ‘Walkable Neighbourhood’, an assessment tool for designing for ease of walking (published within the Urban Design Compendium, 2000). In this adapted method the average speed of pedestrian movement and therefore resultant time taken to access facilities has been reduced to reflect the speed of the average older person. This provides an effective tool in assessing site suitability in relation to the older person’s needs - recognising the potential for a reduction in mobility and proximity to daily amenities such as shops, bus stops and green space. The quality of the route is also important. Busy roads, vacant sites or unoccupied commercial and business districts should be avoided.
Adoption of this tool when considering the appropriateness of a site for development for older people housing would help private care home providers and Registered Social Landlords to identify sites suitable for our older client base.
Where some HLAs seek to identify the tenure of the site; affordable housing (shared ownership, housing associations etc.) and private market, further classification based on suitability of the client group, in particular suitability and effectiveness of site with regards to progressive normal age related impairments such as mobility, visual impairment or for some, cognitive decline would ensure strategic allocation of sites within close proximity to amenity as a priority to this client group.
The majority of HLAs provide site size and an indication of the number of units which can be accommodated on the site. However, where sites are omitted from the HLA (if the total number of development units is less than 5), this can reduce the opportunity for small scale co-housing initiatives or the potential for a cluster model of smaller older person housing provision, developed over a number of sites with shared amenity, care provision and administration accommodation.
Where it is not possible to overcome natural site constraints (topography being a key consideration) this should be identified thus encouraging efficiency in the initial feasibility stages of a new-build development & discussion around the appropriateness of this site for an alternative client group.
To conclude, an integrated, strategic approach to the allocation of sites for care homes, older people housing & affordable lifetime homes which, acknowledges access to amenity within an accessible, walkable distance will help ensure the development of new housing that meets the needs of older people and which creates a considered approach to master planning and lifetime communities.
“New housing that meets the needs of older people will contribute to helping them to remain at home and reduce the need for adaptations” (Age, Home and Community: A Strategy for Housing for Scotland’s Older People: 2012 – 2021, The Scottish Government, 2011).