Going the extra mile for retirement living


Creating suitable new retirement homes offering the ‘extras’ has never been more essential, says McCarthy Stone, who spoke to Housebuilder & Developer’s Roseanne Field about a high-profile recent example in the West Midlands.

There’s little need to reiterate the fact that the UK has an ever-growing number of elderly people. But when coupled with the country’s housing shortage, focusing on good quality housing options for later living is more vital than ever before. 

It’s a driver McCarthy Stone have made the most of, developing retirement communities. The company has new developments onsite throughout the UK, under both of its two business streams: Retirement Living and Retirement Living Plus. The former is for people over 60 and including a range of amenities, and the latter for those aged 70+ with a similar standard range plus a few extras. 

One recent ‘Plus’ development is Wheatley Place, situated near Solihull, just south of Birmingham. The development comprises a total of 66 one and two bedroom apartments, available to rent or buy, either fully or partly through the Older Persons Shared Ownership (OPSO) scheme. Amenities include communal areas featuring landscaped gardens and roof terrace, an onsite bistro, lounge, bar, private dining area, wellness suite, gym and exercise studio, and games room. A manager is onsite 24/7, and tailored domestic support and personal care are available. 


Wheatley Place forms part of the wider regeneration of an area known as The Green – the former headquarters of automotive and aerospace manufacturer Lucas Industries (now part of engineering company ZF Group). With the company relocating to a new purpose-built complex at a nearby business park, the brownfield site was freed up for a range of new development possibilities, as Sam Brownhill, associate development director for McCarthy Stone explains. “The site forms the gateway into a wider mixed use regeneration development comprising residential and commercial uses,” he says. “The development being in close proximity to national infrastructure and a number of local services makes it an excellent location from a retirement community perspective, as well as from a build and procurement point of view.” 

The site covers a total of 47 acres. McCarthy Stone partnered with M7 Real Estate, who were responsible for obtaining planning permission for the wider scheme, as well as undertaking the demolition of the existing office block, and creating the necessary infrastructure to service the site. The site has planning permission for a total of 330 dwellings including affordable housing, as well as McCarthy Stone’s retirement living development, a care home, and 100,000 ft2 of car dealerships. 

The planning process for the development wasn’t smooth. Being the ‘gateway’ to the wider scheme, the local authority were particularly interested in the materials and overall quality of the design; to a higher level than on other projects. Brownhill says: “Given these challenges, an engaged and robust pre-app process was undertaken, discussing all elements of the design and key milestones during the pre-acquisition of the site which allowed both McCarthy Stone and the local planning authority to build a strong partnership to bring this scheme forward.” 

The need for this partnership became evident, he adds, when (following some market research) McCarthy Stone wanted to amend certain details after planning consent had been granted. Despite the intense nature of the process given the project’s prominence, the local authority were willing to accept an amended planning application, with “refreshed apartment types and communal areas being integrated into the scheme,” Brownhill says.

The materials chosen were picked to bring a “contemporary complement to Shirley’s mix of architectural styles,” says McCarthy Stone. A mix of coloured brick was specified, – largely red, with smooth blue bricks also included. Protruding external details will be finished with a white render, and anthracite grey PVCu windows are to be used throughout. Where apartments include balconies, these are constructed using metal and feature glass balustrades. A timber pergola will be installed on the roof terrace. 


Having worked in the sector for so long, McCarthy Stone didn’t struggle to identify design priorities on this scheme. “The inherent approach to designing any retirement living development is ensuring community and companionship are at the heart of the building’s footprint,” explains Brownhill. “Locating a central communal hub with direct permeability from the main entrance, through to good quality, spacious external areas help to create a sense of freedom that the residents of the development can enjoy.” 

Located to the left of the reception area, the communal lounge has generous natural light and includes spaces for both socialising and also solo activities such as reading. Next to this is the bistro restaurant, which offers drinks, snacks, lunch, dinner, and afternoon tea. The garden, which ‘wraps around’ the whole building can be accessed from these two areas, and has been designed so it can be enjoyed all year round. 

Brownhill also acknowledges that while the sense of community and social aspects are key, equally important for many of the residents is retaining a sense of independence; which security and safety are implicit parts of. “Functional aspects of the design such as a 24 hour emergency call system and video door entry ensure residents feel safe and secure from the independence of their own apartment,” Brownhill says. 

The accommodation comprises one and two bedroom apartments, with varying layouts and room sizes depending on where in the building they’re situated. The one-beds include a double bedroom with walk-in wardrobe, a shower room, large living room, and storage cupboard. Some apartments have access to outdoor space – patios on the ground floor and balconies on the first, second, and third floors. 

The two bedroom apartments have similar features, with the addition of a second double bedroom and a separate toilet room, and some also include additional storage space, as well as integrated appliances, anti-slip flooring in shower rooms, and high quality fittings. In terms of security, apartments can view the door camera entry system via their TV, have intruder alarms, access to the 24 hour emergency call system, and illuminated light switches. 

The idea behind the communal facilities (games room, roof terrace, exercise studio and wellness suite), as marketing manager Declan Fishwick explains, is giving residents the ability to “focus on doing what they love.” The wellness suite will offer beauty treatments, hairdressing, and therapeutic massage, and the games room will cater for various clubs, crafts and activities. A management team is onsite 24/7, and the guest suite offers somewhere for friends and family to stay overnight. Domestic support staff are available to assist residents with tasks from general cleaning and changing the bed, to grocery shopping and posting letters. 


As with any new development, both Sustainability and ecology were high on the list of priorities for McCarthy Stone, and Brownhill gives the example of mature trees which were protected by a TPO around the site’s periphery but which were “integral to the scheme’s success.” They were used to help establish the developable area, the protection area covering their roots “governing the building footprint’s position.” They also provide a “natural buffer to Stratford Road.”

The ability to bring nature-based SuDS approaches was also harnessed to bring amenity, as Brownhill explains: “A planted swale formed an integral part of the drainage strategy to naturally attenuate and cleanse storm water at source, before entering the wider network.” 

Brownhill asserts that sustainability is “embedded into the structure” of McCarthy Stone, adding: “With all schemes we adopt a fabric first approach.” At Wheatley Place, a 7 kWh PV array has been provided that ensures that “some of the overall scheme’s energy generation and demand comes from a renewable source.” 

The company claims its fabric-first approach has delivered retirement communities that have a lower carbon footprint, and are overall more sustainable, than other new build housing. High quality insulation is coupled with schemes that eschew gas in favour of electricity. However, added to this is the firm’s approach of preferring town centre brownfield locations, which the company says results in an average carbon saving of 0.35 tonnes (based on residents driving less). 

A strong emphasis is placed on landscaping, and delivering biodiversity net gain, and the firm’s model of building apartment blocks also means land use is more efficient. Overall the developer claims its apartments emit one tonne less CO2 (0.3 tonnes) than a new build house (1.3 tonnes).


The ageing population trend isn’t expected to slow down at any point soon; it’s anticipated to continue increasing “significantly” over the next 30 years. It’s therefore no surprise, says Brownhill, that housing purpose-built for the older generation is the only type that the National Planning Policy Framework has identified as ‘critical.’ “This creates challenges as well as opportunities,” he says, “in terms of how to support the increasing number of older people in the UK while addressing the vast undersupply of suitable homes.” 

Brownhill refers to a recent report by Knight Frank which found that while the number of 0ver 65s is expected to increase by 22% over the next 30 years, less than 3% of the UK’s housing stock meets their particular set of needs. The report also revealed that a lack of suitable options was preventing many from downsizing, with demand for specialist housing at over 30,000, but only 7,500 units delivered in 2020. Finally, it found that 36% of local authorities don’t have a clear policy in place with regards to retirement housing. 

These are major issues confronting us – based on a host of reasons, but Brownhill explains how it’s a great opportunity too: “As the population ages, it is vital that the housing needs of older people are met in order to enable them to maintain their independence for longer. This in turn creates health, social and economic benefits for both individuals and society at large.” 


McCarthy Stone believes that focusing on building suitable retirement housing will also free up existing housing stock for younger people and families. This is a benefit in itself, and also reduces the demand for more traditional new build housing, which the developer holds makes far less efficient use of land than retirement housing, as well as having a much higher CO2 output per unit. 

McCarthy Stone says it’s high time for the arrival of the dedicated Government task force – promised in its Levelling Up White Paper – on older people’s housing. However the firm’s CEO John Tonkiss lists a variety of challenges preventing growth in the retirement living sector, including planning issues, affordability, stamp duty, and a lack of incentives. The company is working with Homes England to address these issues – Tonkiss explains the goal: “We would like to see 10% of Homes England’s housing delivery to be homes for older people.” 

Since initial marketing began on the Wheatley Place development, Declan Fishwick asserts that MCarthy Stone has seen a “very positive” response from customers, with over 1,000 potential buyers registering interest. He believes this level of interest is in part thanks in part to the mixture of tenures available, with the lack of such a mix having been suggested as another barrier for the older population when considering downsizing. 

Apartments were released for sale in May 2022, closely followed by the release of rental prices and the Older Persons Shared Ownership element of the scheme. The first apartments are due to be completed in the development later this spring.