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Uptown living

Uptown living

Legal & General’s Guild Living is planning to build thousands of homes dedicated to retirees in city centre locations. We talked to Phil Bayliss about new thinking around retirement living.

With the number of UK residents aged 85 and over set to double by 2041 it must surely be the case that developers are already falling over themselves to provide bespoke properties in our town and city centres to accommodate them? Surprisingly, the answer is: no, not really. Aside from a smattering of small-scale development across the country, there have so far been very few large, purpose-built schemes offering older people an attractive home in the heart of an urban area.

Change appears to be on the way though. Earlier this year, one of the UK’s biggest institutional investors, Legal & General, launched a new brand, Guild Living, to focus on providing exactly that.

“We’re building urban retirement communities which encourage people to be active socially, physically, mentally, and remain part of their existing (urban) community,” says Guild Living’s chairman Phil Bayliss.

“Part of what success looks like for us is when our residents are so busy, they can barely find a spare minute in the day. It’s the opposite of where the mindbar has been for the last 50 years of what ageing means for the UK’s elderly.”

Legal & General expects Guild Living to create a total of 3,000 apartments in up to 20 individual developments during the next five years. Each site will comprise an average of 200 easily-accessible apartments, spread across five and 15 storeys in prime town and city centre locations. The ground and lower floors won’t match the preconceptions many may have of later living space: they will be filled with a diverse range of uses, from day care nurseries and wellness facilities through restaurants, cafes and flexible working space.

Bayliss, who is also Head of Later Living at L&G, believes that part of the formula’s success will be its scale, which allows the operator to offer innovative value-added services to its customers.

“When you have up to 400 residents the incremental cost of providing a service for everyone is actually quite low,” He cites access to personal trainers and an in-house electric black cab taxi service as examples of what will be part of the inclusive package for residents.

He also acknowledges that grouping a large number of older people in one area may raise questions about the possibility of a development’s insularity from its neighbours.

He responds: “What I’m really passionate about is thinking about individuals and how we change people’s lives. It’s making sure we use the scale of the development to the benefit of an individual. One of our founding principles is about being inclusive, so you’re not seeing a gated community, you’ll have an accessible, lively, active, multi-generational community.”

According to Guild Living’s estimates, the potential for later living accommodation in the UK is breath-taking: in the range of 50,000 units each year, with an investment value of around £100bn – that’s equivalent to the value of the UK’s entire commercial property sector. Not all of those properties will be in urban areas – some will be in the suburban and rural locations that have traditionally attracted later living developments (including Legal & General’s separate Inspired Villages brand) – but Guild is now leading the migration towards town and city centre sites.

The reason later living has so far largely been absent in UK urban locations is several-fold, says Bayliss. Top of the list is an ultra-competitive land market. “We’re buying sites where there are 15-20 bidders and five or six totally different concepts of how to use the same bit of land,” he reports.

“That’s very different to Inspired Villages where we are typically dealing directly with the landowner and not facing any other bidders.”

Securing a site isn’t necessarily the biggest hurdle facing later living development though. Obtaining super-sized finance undoubtedly is. “Out of town retirement schemes tend to be built in phases,” Bayliss explains, “so, for example, at Inspired Villages we may start with a £20m initial build. We can then reinvest the sales receipts from that phase into subsequent ones. So a £100m development may require only £20m of equity. Urban development, however, is often all under one roof, and a city centre development may therefore require investment of £150m before a single sales receipt arrives.”

The first Guild Living developments are already at the planning stage in Bath and Epsom and the operator is actively scouting for further plots across the country from Brighton, through Leeds to Edinburgh. The scale of this new generation of retirement accommodation (Guild Living is typically looking for a footprint of around four acres) means small retail blocks are unlikely to provide enough space.

Instead, former DIY stores and shopping centres are expected to be more suitable candidates for redevelopment. “As a society we are asking how we get more productivity from our town centres and attract more diverse uses,” says Bayliss.

“Urban retirement communities are an ideal partial solution, particularly when you consider that older people tend to spend money more locally than other age groups.”

The benefits of a modern retirement community extend well beyond its local area, with researchers identifying significant reductions in demands on NHS infrastructure, including GP visits and hospital stays. Those located in urban areas, with a wide range of amenities in close proximity, are especially valuable in tackling loneliness, a health factor potentially more harmful than obesity.

“UK town and city centres have a really exciting future,” reckons Bayliss. “They offer a built environment in which people can keep active and socially engaged, so they continue learning in later life and find new meanings and intellectual challenges. Our focus is on healthspan rather than longevity. That means looking at how we get the most high quality experiences into our lives.”

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