More than just a number

24 Oct 18

The National Planning Policy Framework’s (NPPF’s) approach to older people’s accommodation is somewhat flawed. It is largely a numbers game, requiring Local Authorities to specify and plan for the quantity of retirement houses needed in an area.

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Having volunteered with a charity that supports older people in the community, I have witnessed first-hand the day to day challenges elderly people face in the urban environment.

Places that are not accessible and inclusive to all, are places that can never truly fulfil their potential. All of this comes at a high personal cost to the individual, and is also a massive loss for our towns and cities.

The National Planning Policy Framework’s (NPPF’s) approach to older people’s accommodation is somewhat flawed. It is largely a numbers game, requiring Local Authorities to specify and plan for the quantity of retirement houses needed in an area. While this is an improvement on the previous NPPF, planning for an ageing population is not just about the numbers. We absolutely need more suitable housing, but the wider urban landscape plays just as crucial a role.

When it comes to planning for older generations, Greater Manchester is leading the way as the first UK City Region to be recognised as age-friendly by the World Health Organisation (WHO). While there are many components to this success, the impact of the region’s Age Friendly Design Group should not be ignored.

Comprising retired architects, planners and urban designers, the group provide specific development design advice and insights – blending their relevant technical expertise with real life understanding of the necessity to plan for the needs of older people.

The group advised Manchester City Council on their recent £4.5m refurbishment of Alexandra Park. Older local residents were consulted and afforded the opportunity to feed into the scheme design. The finished project includes carefully designed landscapes, ramps, benches, public toilets and a flexible community space. It is now the city’s first recognised ‘age-friendly park’.

Designing inclusive places for older people can have the additional benefit of meeting many of the needs of children, parents, and people with disabilities; ensuring accessibility for all.

As architect Christine Murray wrote in the Guardian earlier this year, when it comes to designing inclusive environments, ‘lived experience is a great teacher’. The efforts we have seen in Greater Manchester are a good start on which to build and London has subsequently outlined its ambition to become a WHO recognised age-friendly city too. I for one hope to see more and more communities follow this lead.