Town centres have been in decline for many years. Online retail and COVID-19 have probably changed shopping habits forever, and once life returns to some semblance of normality there will be even more gaps on the high street.
Speaking at the second 'AAA ISO Ageing Societies Leaders Forum', Lord Best, Chair of the Affordable Housing Commission and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Housing and Care for Older People predicted that older people could be the catalyst for a modern housing revolution, which could result in many of these town and city centres thriving again.
With millions of older adults living in large suburban homes they don’t need, located far from the services they do. Lord Best's APPG is calling for government to actively encourage older home owners to move to newly created, technologically enabled multigenerational neighbourhoods, this could kick-start a new chapter in how our societies work and different generations support one another.
Citing his work with HAPPI (Housing our Ageing Population Panel for Innovation), Lord Best referenced the Neptune scheme in Malmo, Sweden as a prime example of a new neighbourhood where older people are (literally) placed at its centre.
There, older residents act as a societal anchor because they are "less likely to move, more likely to spend their money, and can offer support to their neighbours, old and young alike". Indeed, they provide stability.
Challenged on the Government’s lack of interest in this issue, Lord Best explained that age friendly housing is seen as less urgent as old people already have a home. But, as current Housing Minister Chris Pincher admits, right now the UK housing market is ‘frozen’. And, as the pandemic so cruelly illustrated, millions of older people living in isolation is an accident waiting to happen.
Kick-starting the economy
Lord Best said there is significant demand from older people, who would be willing to move given the right financial incentive (no Stamp Duty for example), indeed, older people are best placed to do so as they are more likely to be mortgage free.
This would be a triple win for the economy. Revitalise our ailing town and city centres, free up suburban housing for younger home buyers, while reimagining redundant commercial real estate across the country.
Concluding with a question, Lord Best asked "Is there a better way to Build Back after COVID than to develop accessible, manageable, well-designed, age-friendly housing, that simultaneously frees up family homes, regenerates town centres, overcomes loneliness, and reduces health and social care costs?"
Answers on a post card please, to the Right Honourable B Johnson, 10 Downing Street London SW1A 2AA.
Lord Best was speaking at the 2nd AAA ISO Ageing Societies Leaders Forum. To meet the other speakers and watch their presentations visit https://www.agileageing.org/standards