Australia’s ageing population continues to increase which has seen greater demand for appropriate, adequate and affordable accommodation in our metropolitan and regional areas for the elderly. In 2017, approximately 3.8 million people (15% of Australia’s population) were aged 65 and over. It is estimated that by 2036, 24% of Australia’s population will be 65 and over.
These projections indicate that now, more than ever we should be planning to accommodate the ageing population by providing suitable aged care homes in locations which integrate with established communities and services.
There is a clear disconnect between the planning framework under State Environmental Planning Policy (Housing for Seniors or People with a Disability) 2004 (SEPP HSPD) and the required development outcome to meet the operational needs for aged care homes. This is particularly evident for such development proposed on land zoned R2 Low Density Residential whereby character and compatibility are key considerations for a consent authority to ensure that development is deemed compatible and complementary.
The Department of Health continues to issue bed licences for aged care homes, in recognition of the need to provide aged care services for the ageing population. However, aged care providers as the developers of these facilities are constantly at war with local Councils, mainly in relation to issues pertaining to character and compatibility.
The contentions generally arising from new aged care developments in established low / medium density areas are:
1. Local character
2. Building articulation
3. Building height
Whilst it is recognised that the above are important outcomes and due consideration needs to be given to achieve sufficient residential amenity for surrounding properties, the reality is an aged care home simply cannot replicate detached style housing. This is due to the required floor plate configuration and internal spatial requirements to provide a high level of amenity and a level of service commensurate with the aged care providers mandate.
Many proposed aged care homes in NSW are the subject of Land and Environment Court proceedings due to the abovementioned issues. This is disappointing given the identified demand for aged care homes and the overall role they play to alleviate the public and private hospital system. The public benefits in this respect far outweigh any subjective opinions of urban design panels and the like.
Aged care homes are a unique and distinguishable form of development that need to be recognised within the NSW planning system given the role they play in our health system.
The NSW State Government is implementing various initiatives during the current COVID-19 crisis to accelerate development approvals and rezonings. It is therefore appropriate that legislative change is enacted now to ensure that aged care providers can develop in residential areas with more certainty to meet the demand for such accommodation and collocate with existing services.