County bids to tackle housing shortage for the elderly

Nearly a quarter of the county's population is over 65.
Nearly a quarter of the county's population is over 65.

A strategy has been drawn up to tackle the shortfall of accommodation for Northumberland’s ageing population.

Currently, 23 per cent of the county’s residents is over 65 and this is expected to rise to nearly a third by 2031.

The Extra Care and Supported Housing Strategy, which was discussed at Tuesday’s meeting of the county council’s health and wellbeing scrutiny committee, aims to increase options and choice so that people can live as independently as possible for as long as possible.

The strategy covers a variety of accommodation types, such as bungalows, Extra Care schemes, sheltered housing or supported living, and it was emphasised that there is no single Northumberland model.

Figures show that there is a shortfall of 1,238 in age-exclusive properties, like bungalows, and 3,257 in specialist accommodation, such as sheltered housing.

The recommended future supply is 5,187 age-exclusive and 10,017 specialist units by 2035.

However, while the report encourages greater choice across the county and highlights preferences such as an increased demand for two-bedroom units, there is less flexibility about ensuring the accommodation is in the right places.

It also identifies a number of priority areas for new developments – Berwick, Rothbury, Cramlington, Morpeth, Hexham, Bellingham, Blyth and Ponteland.

The strategy doesn’t just tackle the requirements of the over 65s, it also deals with housing for younger adults (18 to 64-year-olds) who require supported living, for example, those with learning disabilities.

There are currently 272 places in accommodation across Northumberland, but just 36 vacancies and 102 people on the waiting list.

A further 377 adults aged 18 to 64 live with a carer, while there are 1,420 children with special educational needs who may or may not need supported living when they are older.

The strategy suggests a range of ways the new accommodation can be delivered, including using council land, working in partnership with other organisations, and requiring the development of specialist schemes via obligations attached to planning approvals.

Another opportunity highlighted in the report to councillors is to use funding from the North of Tyne Combined Authority – another area where it is hoped the devolution deal will support Northumberland’s goals.

Coun John Riddle, the council’s cabinet member for planning, housing and resilience, described the strategy as ‘timely, much-needed and very good’.

Coun Liz Simpson added: “This is absolutely fantastic, it’s well overdue that this has happened.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service