Business Clinic
Central Bedfordshire’s housing ambitions

Central Bedfordshire Council has launched a new project and an investment prospectus of opportunities for the private sector, to help it meet the accommodation needs of its ageing population. The forward-thinking document sets out in detail the Council’s ambitions and objectives for development of provision in the area.

The prospectus, launched at a recent conference, is looking to bring together developers, architects, investors, providers and housing associations to help boost accommodation provision for older people in Central Bedfordshire.

It sets out the area’s current situation regarding housing, care and housing with care in the locality and the likely demand up to 2020. It sets out a number of opportunities that it is opening up to the private sector. It also contains a detailed breakdown of each locality, with demographics, supply and demand requirements and more.

The ambitions see it wanting to deliver a range of accommodation for the older residents of Central Bedfordshire to enable people to retain a good quality of life and health, in attractive homes that meet their needs and support their independence. It also wants provision to reflect the tenure wishes of residents in its four localities: Chiltern Vale, Leighton Buzzard, West Mid-Beds and Ivel Valley.

Julie Ogley, Director of Social Care, Health and Housing at Central Bedfordshire Council said, ‘I know how important the private sector is in delivering specialist accommodation and care for older people and we are keen to engage with organisations across the sector. We know that organisations who may not already be active in Central Bedfordshire can find it difficult to get the information they need about demand and site availability along with an understanding of what the local council’s approach is. The Investment Prospectus aims to cover many of these areas, but we are aware that we need to better understand the requirements of the sector so this is just that start of what we intend to be an open and productive conversation.’

Housing with care

The Council has identified a lack of extra care housing in the region and wants to see increased provision available with a mix of tenure. Its plans set out the development of six affordable extra care schemes by the end of 2020. Its aim is that there is one scheme of 80 apartments or more in each locality area, plus two more schemes in areas of high demand. The Council is offering opportunities for registered providers to work with it to make this a reality. The Council specifically notes the lack of open market extra care provision in the region, and it is actively pursuing the development of sites with full extra care facilities and services, including the availability of 24/7 care. It is keen to connect with providers in this sector and to help them explore opportunities.

Care homes

The Council currently owns seven care homes with a capacity of 249 beds. It would like the capacity in these homes to be reprovided by the end of 2020 in homes with modern design standards. Again, it is offering opportunities for providers to work with the Council on this. It also wants to work with existing providers in the area who are looking to renovate or remodel their existing homes.

During its detailed research, the Council has also identified a lack of care home provision in the north of the area. As part of its prospectus it is encouraging new developments in the north, that specifically meet the expectations of older people.

Mainstream housing

Central Bedfordshire, like many regions, is also seeing a large amount of housing development. As part of this, the Council is looking to encourage developers to build mainstream homes that are suitable for older people as part of their new developments. It is also looking for open market providers to develop innovative housing and small scale housing solutions in smaller towns and villages, town centres and neighbourhood centres. It states that older people prefer to live in more established communities and close to amenities and services.

Wider opportunities

The Council is also looking for more dementia-friendly buildings with a view to making Central Bedfordshire dementia-friendly. It would also like more open-market housing that is suitable for older people who are likely to be owner-occupiers. It states that there are models of open-market housing for older people, some of which include care, however there are few providers active in the local market.

Additional information

For interested parties, the Council has also put together a detailed breakdown of the region’s four localities. This includes data on population, housing tenure, existing developments, wider regional development plans, supply and demand for care homes and extra care housing. It also sets out market opportunities for each locality. Added to this, the prospectus summarises design characteristics that the Council considers important for each type of housing and housing with care.

Central Bedfordshire Council is keen to make connections and open dialogue with those organisations interested in helping it meet its objectives for the accommodation needs of older people in the area. It has set up a dedicated team to offer a wealth of support for interested organisations. This ranges from market intelligence and community engagement to planning, land management, procurement, building control, business support and business grants.

Over to the experts…

This is a very detailed, open and forward-thinking prospectus from Central Bedfordshire Council. It has compiled a lot of the information that potential partners would require when considering the area for investment and development. Are its commerciality and awareness of wider role of private sector in meeting its objectives unique? Should other local authorities adopt this principle? Is this likely to achieve the Council’s ambitions for 2016 to 2020? 

A clear, accessible call to arms

The prospectus is a clear, accessible call to arms. It is making a coherent ‘business case’ for investment in a range of specialist and mainstream housing that meets the needs and aspirations of the area’s ageing population. It is interesting that while the prospectus talks about meeting short-term challenges – addressing a projected shortfall up to 2020 – it quite rightly provides much data on the projected significant growth in demand by 2030.

The council is sensibly inviting prospective partners and stakeholders to meet identified gaps in the market over the long term, and to meet a more pressing need for up to six affordable extra care housing schemes.

To ensure interest from as wide an audience as possible, the prospectus succinctly draws together much of the key detail that the Housing LIN’s tool for predicting and meeting future local demand suggests parties require. In developing SHOP@, we urged councils and their partners to take the sort of clear-headed look at their local specialist housing markets, demand and opportunities that Central Bedfordshire has done here.

I was also pleased to see that the document includes two pages on ‘important design characteristics’, but, as someone involved in the three Housing our Ageing Population: Panel for Innovation (HAPPI) reports over the last decade or so, it would be good to see interested parties directed towards what many now see as the ‘Bible’ of quality design for older people’s housing.

I will watch with interest the impact this document and approach has in meeting the needs and choices of the older people of Central Bedfordshire over the next 5 to 15 years and beyond.

Jeremy Porteus, Director of the Housing Learning and Improvement Network (LIN) 

Demonstrating strong leadership

This is extremely welcome. It identifies the vital role of extra care and retirement villages in contributing to local priorities, and specifically schemes with services such as on-site care, and 24/7 staffing. This is significant and demonstrates a forward-thinking approach. All too often, councils don’t distinguish between different types of older people’s housing. Clearly, acknowledging that ‘housing- with-care’ is distinct from sheltered/retirement housing is a step in the right direction.

Similarly, the prospectus is right to consider specifically self-funders – many councils focus too narrowly on local authority supported extra care places. Whilst provision needs to increase across the board, at present the ‘middle market’ catering for ‘average’ homeowners is the most under-served.

Importantly, Central Bedfordshire Council is not just highlighting needs, but committing to ‘actively facilitate and support’ innovative developers. Birmingham City Council took this approach, and a close partnership between the council and The ExtraCare Charitable Trust, has led to the development of five mixed-tenure retirement villages (with care services) since 2007. Given the challenges of competitively bidding for land, help to secure sites is especially important, and Central Bedfordshire and other interested councils may want to look at the Birmingham model more closely.

Whilst the tide is changing, Central Bedfordshire is still part of a minority really demonstrating strong leadership in relation to older people’s housing and care, and we encourage other councils (and public bodies such as NHS Trusts) to follow suit and tip that balance.

Michael Voges Executive Director, Associated Retirement Community Operators (ARCO) 

Unable to offer the certainty about funding

Come on in – the water’s warm.

Central Bedfordshire Council is pushing the door wide open on its thinking about how to address the future needs of its community. Its prospectus contains many of the key elements for a community embracing the future requirements of an ageing population.

It is very positive that the council is including the care sector in its profile of future accommodation requirements for the community, recognising that, for many, access to high-quality care provision is an essential part of their future.

What Central Bedfordshire Council may also need to understand is that engagement with care providers will also bring benefits in terms of determining ongoing access to effective homecare to sustain its vision of independent living.

There are huge numbers of generalisations made about older people’s housing and care needs, and Central Bedfordshire Council’s analysis of the need for the housing solutions to reflect the identities of the local communities is refreshing.

Is its approach unique? No. Might it have early adopter status? Yes – but I think there will be plenty more who adopt this approach.

The challenge for Central Bedfordshire Council, and indeed localities around the country, is that whilst it can and should be very clear about future needs, it is unable to offer the certainty about funding the services it requires.

This is a challenge for both the provision of supported housing, including extra care and funded care, and unfortunately this level of uncertainty will make even the most welcome of partners reluctant to dip their toe in the river Great Ouse in Bedford.

Vic Rayner Executive Director, National Care Forum 

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