McCarthy & Stone boss: 'You’re selling a lifestyle, not just a home'
Gary Day, land and planning director at McCarthy & Stone, talks about a new direction for the retirement home specialist
Explain your new venture into baby boomer homes?
To meet the increasingly varied demand for better housing for older people we need to provide a wider range of designs and house types. So, we’re designing and developing new lifestyle-driven products that meet the needs and aspirations of the baby boomer generation, as well as evolving our core products for those in their 70s, 80s and beyond. In the future, it’s not just going to be about providing retirement apartments, but also carefully designed cottages, houses and bungalows that meet particular requirements of the different stages in later life.
You have a certain image and your developments had, at least until a few years ago, a McCarthy & Stone ‘look’. Are you wanting to change that and why?
Over the last five years we’ve focused on revolutionising all of our developments, including the architecture of our buildings. People would be pleasantly surprised by what we’re building now. Our new products will take this a step further. We’ve been building more contemporary schemes and our apartments are larger than they used to be, with more storage, natural light and balconies. We’ve incorporated atriums, winter gardens and roof terraces. Like any forward thinking business you can’t stand still and keep doing the same thing - people and society evolve. All housing design continues to progress and retirement housing shouldn’t be any different.
Where does design fit into your thinking for your new direction?
Good, high quality design is fundamental to our business as it enhances saleability and underpins customer satisfaction. We’ve taken the management of our developments back in-house and we’re the only large retirement housing developer delivering designs in response to the recommendations identified by the government’s Housing our Ageing Population: Plan for Implementation (HAPPI) report; we sold our first HAPPI-style apartments to this standard last year including open plan living rooms, enhanced kitchens, full “master bedrooms” with ensuites, and sliding walls providing multi-use spaces, as well as communal atriums, garden/roof terraces and winter gardens.
Are you looking for architects?
We employ around 80 qualified architects and technicians across five regional operations and are always on the look-out for great talent. We’ve boosted our head office function recently with the recruitment of Lee Allcock, our new Group Design Director, and formation of a group design department. We also use external architects. For example, we worked with Glenn Howells Associates for our new tower scheme in Pool; with Ben Pentreath and Associates at Poundbury; and with Tom Russell Architects on a variety of current sites, the winners of our recent RIBA design competition (AJ 05.06.2013).
What do you want from an architect?
To think hard about how our customers want to live in the future. Purpose-designed housing for older people is far more complicated than general needs accommodation. You need to know more about the specific needs and wants of our customers, and understand that you’re selling a lifestyle, not just a home.
How are you finding the planning system?
We’re working with a planning system that doesn’t cater for the new types of retirement housing required. Around a third of older people would consider living in retirement housing, but planning constraints mean provision lags behind demand. The Government is aware of the benefits of retirement housing to health and wellbeing, and hence to the economy - but it is yet to implement a pro-active plan to encourage delivery via the land and planning system.
We’d immediately change the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), a charge levied by councils per square foot on different types of development. CIL doesn’t yet differentiate between the particular design characteristics of retirement housing and new ‘mainstream’ homes.
As applied, we can’t operate on a level playing field with other housebuilders because the CIL charging schedules relate to gross internal floor area, yet we have extensive communal areas which equate to 30-40 per cent non-saleable floor space in all our schemes.