Property developer plans 5,000 UK retirement homes in city centres

Is this the start of the “New Normal”? – Owl

A property developer owned by a French investment management group has announced an ambitious £2bn plan to build 5,000 retirement homes across 40 urban sites in the UK over the next decade.

Julia Kollewe 

As town and city centres are being reshaped as a result of the changes to UK high streets accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, Retirement Villages Group (RVG) said it had won planning permission for a £110m retirement community of 196 one and two-bed apartments to rent or buy in central West Byfleet in Surrey, on the site of a 1960s office block with shops and a car park, which will be knocked down.

In its first move into north-west England, the company, which was acquired by Axa Investment Managers’ property arm in 2017, has also won the go-ahead for a new £65m village of 147 retirement homes on the site of a former garden centre in Chester, 10 minutes from the town centre.

The sites are being developed in response to rising demand from people aged over 65 looking to downsize from their family homes, and keen to live close to town and city centres. Construction will start on both sites this summer and the homes are expected to be put for sale or rental off-plan towards the end of next year.

The homes will be centred around a community square, and residents will have access to a restaurant or cafe, wellness centre with gym and swimming pool, library and support and care services if needed.

Traditionally, retirement villages have been built in rural areas as “gated communities”, but a number of firms have embarked on constructing apartment blocks designed for elderly people in urban areas, taking advantage of empty retail and office sites.

Legal & General has set out plans to build 3,000 retirement homes in UK city centres in a £2bn project in coming years, in an attempt to revive ailing high streets.

The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a surge in online shopping and exacerbated the decline of big city centre high streets. Many office workers have been instructed to work from home since the outbreak a year ago, prompting companies to draw up long-term plans for more home or hybrid working, split between home and the office.

There is a shortage of purpose-built retirement housing in the UK. A report published last year by Cass Business School, the Association of Retirement Community Operators and the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation found that just 7,000 new homes designed for older people are built each year. This, it concluded, is “insufficient to serve the 180,000, 65-plus households that will be created each year over the next decade”.

RVG was set up in 1981 to build housing-with-care and today runs 16 sites with 1,500 retirement homes in the UK. In 2017, it was acquired by Axa Investment Managers’ alternative investments and property arm.