New London Architecture

Five minutes with...Jenny Buterchi

Tuesday 11 June 2024

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

David Taylor catches up with PRP Partner Jenny Buterchi to talk through the practice’s approach to later living projects, and how the sector can help with the ‘jigsaw puzzle’ of the housing crisis


David Taylor  
 Hi, Jenny, how are you? 
 
Jenny Buterchi  
I'm very well, thanks David. 
 
David Taylor  
Good. I wanted to talk to you about your particular role in the later living environment and ask you a few questions in the run-up to the publication of the Older People Task Force report. But also, because you as PRP have launched a new campaign in this area. Firstly, with an ageing population, which I think we have in this country, are we attending enough, do you think, to appropriate housing for older people?
 
Jenny Buterchi  
I actually don't think we are. We've seen a lot of movement in this sector over the last 10 years, but I think it remains a sector that needs a lot more growth in it. You know, the demographics are changing dramatically across the UK. But our housing for older people is not keeping up with that at all. I think it's compounded by the fact that when we look at figures of what we do have, versus where we need to be, even a lot of the housing that we do have is actually sheltered housing built in the 70s and 80s, which is quite often not up to scratch when it comes to standards and even people's aspirations. So, there are two things. We're not producing enough new stuff, and we're not looking after the stock that we already have to make sure it's fit for the future.
 
 
David Taylor
Where do you think the sticking points are? Is it in finding sites?  Is it just simple supply and demand?
 
Jenny Buterchi  
I think it's all of those things, actually. On the supply of sites, we see local authorities are now starting to put into their local plans what their needs are for the older people in their area. Unfortunately, we're not seeing enough sites allocated of a sufficient scale to be able to make that viable for many providers. The result of that is, particularly in the private sector, more and more we're looking at Greenbelt sites, because there can be very special circumstances argued under planning policy. But that results in a long time to get planning permission, because frequently those sites need to go to appeal. And that's not really a very sustainable model for many new operators looking to move into the sector. There just aren't enough sites being allocated across the country, really.
 
David Taylor  
Is there a difference between London and the rest of the country? Is it even harder in London because of the scarcity of sites and the costs involved? 
 
Jenny Buterchi  
I think it is harder in London. The London Plan does actually state that, you know, older people's housing with care is now a C3 use, rather than a C2 use. That means that our clients, to buy sites in London for the private sector, need to really look at viability statements to be able to make those stack up financially. And as a result, quite a few providers look for sites outside the M25. There are a few that are still pushing ahead in London, but notoriously, our type of buildings are a little bit more expensive to build because we are providing community facilities within them that are not sellable areas. That makes it a more expensive model than general needs housing. So, for providers to go into London and pitch for sites against general needs housing, they quite often can't actually make it stack up from a viability perspective. And as a result, they've got out of London. So we've not seen anywhere near as much being provided in London as really should be provided. 
 
 
David Taylor
What's the split with your own projects inside London and outside London? Is it the vast majority outside London in this area?
 
Jenny Buterchi  
Yes, the vast majority are outside London. 
 
David Taylor
In terms of downsizing, what bearing does that have on this whole area, or even the creation of more family dwellings where older generations can live with younger generations? Or is that a cultural thing that only seems to appear in other nations?
 
Jenny Buterchi  
Well, we'd like to call it right-sizing now as downsizing has negative connotations...
 
David Taylor  
Right, okay, sorry! (laughs)
 
Jenny Buterchi  
No, no, no! It's about really creating somewhere that's right for someone in their later years. We have in London, on the Olympic Park in Chobham Manor there, we actually did do some intergenerational house types there. Multi Gen houses, which do have a little annexe to the main townhouse that allows that flexibility of generations within a family to live together. That's part of a puzzle, but you're right, sometimes that's quite a cultural thing. A lot of what we look at is more to do with the larger retirement villages or the extra care. So, it's about providing not just a home that will actually suit you into your later years but somewhere aspirational and designed to be really inclusive and accessible. It's about actually having the availability of support and care on site as you age, so that it can just sustain you in that property for years to come. I think the sector needs all those solutions to come in. It needs to be quite a choice for older people. And at the minute, there is not much of a choice. Looking at family housing, we can design family housing, and many, many providers do design family housing so you can age in place. The issue really, then comes down to, you know, when you're maybe in your late 80s, and you can no longer care for the property, and it's maybe not suitable for you with stairs or whatever within it. It's more about whether that is the right place for you to be in your later years. When we look at why people move into specialist retirement villages quite often it's not even just the headache of looking after your house, which has quite often outgrown you really, but it's actually about having people around you that create a community; that are there at home at the time of the day that you're at home so there is social interaction. Sometimes older people who are living, in a normal house out in the community can be quite isolated, because everyone else has gone out to work, everybody else is busy and they're not; their world's changed when they retire, and they don't have those same connections. So, it's about trying to really make sure that we’re provide something that's suitable within a community that is also suitable for people of ageing I think older people's housing could provide a really key solution in the housing crisis that we frequently discuss. Because if we could provide something that's really aspirational in your local area where people might want to move into and seen as an aspirational beautiful place to move into, they are more likely to do that, then they free up the family housing, and then those families free up the first starter home housing. It's part of a jigsaw puzzle - I don't think it's been given enough emphasis from government today.
 
David Taylor  
Are you hopeful that an incoming government – let's phrase it like that – might attend to this a bit more than previous governments?
 
Jenny Buterchi  
Yes, I am hopeful that we will see a change of government that will look at the wider strategy, and it seems to be quite positive that things are heading that way with an incoming government. There are two things that have happened over the past couple of years that actually hopefully will feed into that. One is there has been an APPG that's been looking at the current state of sheltered housing which has had a call for evidence and has been running some sessions. They're due to publish a report with their recommendations to government, which will probably be issued after the elections.  I think the state of sheltered housing in the UK is something that needs looking at quite closely, making sure that we can actually upgrade those properties, or, in some cases redevelop them, to make sure that they are fit for purpose for many more years to come. So that's one part of the puzzle. And then we've also had an Older People's Task Force. Again, that's been since, I think it was May last year, and they have been looking for evidence and really drilling into what we have and what changes need to happen, in policy terms to actually push the supply of what's coming through. So, we're quite hopeful that they will come out with quite strong recommendations to government and offer the sort of policy changes that we need to be able to support the sector. Because at the minute, a lot of the policy isn't actually considering the sector and what would actually work for and what would push that supply coming through the country.
 
David Taylor
Last couple of questions, because we're just up to time. Which countries do this kind of thing better? I imagine the Scandinavian countries attend this whole topic in a much more level-headed way. And if not them, which country is it? And lastly, if you had a magic wand to wave in terms of one thing which could improve this whole arena, what would that swish of the magic wand result in?
 
Jenny Buterchi  
We always look towards America, Australia and New Zealand, and I think New Zealand in particular. They have got a whole Retirement Living act of parliament that has actually clarified a lot of things for them, and they have a lot of policies - planning and building regs actually support the sector. And I suppose, from my perspective, if we were to have clarity around use class in planning, that would really assist us. There's been some recent amendments to leasehold, which has been really welcome to the sector. So that's a really good step forward. And I think some strong guidance for planners about why this part of the housing puzzle is important and how they should deal with it would really help this sector.
 
 
David Taylor
Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for that. It's been really fascinating, and I hope, that both the task force and any incoming government can improve the situation – for practices as well. I presume you're attending to the issue in terms of design too, aren't you? You're waiting for whatever outcomes to materialise in a design sense.
 
Jenny Buterchi  
Yeah, absolutely. I think the sector has actually had a lot of momentum behind it in the last 10 years, despite the fact that a lot of the policies aren't there to support it. So, if we got some policies in place, I think it would be amazing; that we would see a lot more traction across the sector, which would be welcomed and I'm sure would be welcomed by older people across the UK, not just by the operators and the design teams that work around it. It's something I feel quite passionate about, that we need to be considering this. This is a really important sector if we're going to solve things like social care pressures, NHS pressures - and actually more than that to be able to create communities where people can age in place and have really enjoyable later years in their life, really,
 
 
David Taylor
Yeah, I look forward to that too! So, thank you very much. Thanks for your time.
 
Jenny Buterchi  
Thank you now, bye
 
David Taylor  
Bye


David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly



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