Following L&G’s recent plans to convert a former Bath Homebase store into retirement living housing, there has been much discussion on whether senior housing could form part of the mix to revive UK high streets.
The economic data certainly makes the prospect of attracting seniors back into urban centres enticing. Saga estimates the ‘grey pound’ to be worth over £320bn a year, while insurer Prudential calculated that people retiring in 2018 can expect a £20,000 annual income; for the first time, young graduates’ incomes are eclipsed by those of retirees.
Repurposing vacant shopping centre units and underperforming elements to attract some of that spending power is a valid option. Projects such as plans we submitted recently to redevelop a car park above The Pavilions Shopping Centre in Waltham Cross into apartments highlight the potential to add residential and other elements to shopping centres, improving their viability by creating a critical mass of people and attractions in one place.
What would tempt retirees and their collective spending power to move into such developments? For a start, we need to design housing suitable and adaptable for all parts of the market, not just the young adults the sector has typically focused on.
Having easy access to healthcare provision could be another positive influencer. Using ailing shopping centres to create a senior living community as the focus for a range of support services, including walk-in urgent care clinics, primary care and GP group practices, is a sensible proposition and should be part of the healthcare rescue plan in the UK.
Walk-in clinics are an integral part of US shopping centres, with a third of all urgent care centres now inside malls, according to the Urgent Care Association of America. In the UK, partnerships between councils and health providers have started to realise the benefits of integrated health facilities as part of the retail and residential development mix.
In Newham, for example, S106 funding from regeneration projects has been used to lease units at Royal Wharf to a walk-in health centre, to meet the demands of the area’s increasingly ageing population.
In south Belfast, we are working with healthcare developer Benmore Octopus to design a health park masterplan, as part of a senior residential, lifestyle, leisure and wellbeing park. An economic impact assessment suggests the King’s Hall Health and Wellbeing Park will boost the Northern Ireland economy by £47m a year and improve patients’ access to services.
The intensification of shopping centres with build-to-rent options is clearly a no-brainer, and opportunities to add later living units with easy access to leisure and healthcare should not be overlooked.
John Chapman is a principal at Todd Architects in London