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Independent living developments offer new opportunities for developers

Gavin Hughes, Associate at Meinhardt UK, explains how the utilisation of MMC can deliver cost savings within the private independent living homes market.

We are living longer in the UK and our housing needs to respond to this trend. Recent estimates project that there will be 16.1 million people over the age of 65 by 2032, compared with 10 million today. This growth will require significant development in the provision of new private independent living homes, to cope with a new and enlarged group within the elderly population. The majority of demand for independent living homes comes from retirees who are likely be in moderately good health but face social isolation from their local communities as they encounter greater mobility restrictions over time.

Many of these will be homeowners who may have seen a 400% increase in the value of their homes since the 1970s, and now have the opportunity to release equity stored up in their properties in order to move into accommodation better suited to their aspirations, lifestyle and health.

Independent living centres provide elderly members of the population with the opportunity to move from large, unsuitable homes to a centralised series of apartments within a specialised building. These new buildings are designed to provide independent living for elderly tenants while allowing them to live within a community of similarly aged peers.

The buildings are designed around the needs of an elderly community, but do not provide care services. The focus is on maintaining the individuality and independence of the tenants.

Local authorities are encouraging this type of development as part of larger projects within inner city urban regeneration schemes. On constrained city brownfield sites, local authorities are far more likely to grant planning consent if the development proposed is comprised of, or at least incorporates schemes such as independent living residences, social/affordable housing, and community facilities.

This particular type of residential development is significantly different from traditional long term care home formats and offer unique opportunities for providers to prosper within a fast growing market sector. In addition, they can allow for substantial use of modern methods of construction, using modularisation and prefabrication, to reduce costs, construction programmes and delivery times.

Growing demand for this type of development has meant providers are now constructing modular lightweight buildings using systems in timber, concrete or steel to provide cost effective solutions.

Key design considerations

  • Maximum of 12 twelve units per floor or accessed off a single stairway/lift per floor
  • Generally, apartments should be one bedroom units with a separate living room, a shower room (no baths), toilet and kitchen
  • Each floor should have a small meeting point with couches and natural light
  • Heating / electricity / gas should be individually controlled and metered
  • A central ‘clubhouse’ is required for community activities
  • Lighting should be low key and not institutional
  • Low maintenance, easy to clean surface finishes are required

The rise of private independent living homes represents a shift from the traditional long-term care home development formats by offering aspirational accommodation to retirees focused on independence and support, if required. In Australia and New Zealand this market represents more than 5.5% of the residential market while in the UK it is currently only 0.15% of the market.  Therefore, this market offers significant growth opportunities.

Meinhardt’s design experience in successfully helping to deliver these developments using modern construction methods allows us to provide cost effective solutions whilst maximising development potential.