Only 1 in 7 Wisbech Properties are Bungalows, Despite an Ageing Population. Why?
The bungalow is a building that has represented a more leisurely, gentler way of life since the early 1900’s. Bungalows have been sold as an aspiration for those about to retire, saving them the annoyance of having to climb stairs. With an ageing population, one would think they would be building more bungalows, yet nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, this could be one of the main issues that is holding back many mature homeowners moving home, thus creating a bottleneck in the Wisbech property market for the younger families who are being held back and unable to move into the larger homes they so need to grow their families.
So, before I answer that question, let me share this fascinating fact about bungalows. The word ‘bungalow’ originated in India, not the UK. The name is derived from the Hindi word ‘baṅglā’ or the Gujarati word ‘baṅglo’, both of which seem to refer to a home occupied by a Bengali person. The colonial English started to use it for themselves in the late 1600s to describe the same sort of basic lodgings that sailors and staff of the invading East India Company used.
Anyway, back to the here and now in Wisbech.
There are 1,920 Bungalows in Wisbech.
When you consider there are 13,391 properties in Wisbech, that means only 14.34% of property in Wisbech are bungalows.
To give you an idea of the age demographic of Wisbech homeowners, there are 4,947 Wisbech homeowners aged 65 years old (and over) and 4,539 Wisbech homeowners aged between 50 and 64 years of age.
You can see demand for bungalows is only expected to grow. Yet new homes builders are having to deal with soaring land prices, meaning to get a profit from the site they are under pressure to build more vertically than horizontally as with bungalows (as bungalows take up so much more land).
The last available data is from 2018 and only 1.6% new builds in the UK were bungalows, interesting when it was just over 7% in the middle of the 1990s. As British people are living longer, those existing Wisbech bungalow homeowners will be living in them longer, thus creating even more of a bottleneck in the Wisbech property market.
So, what is the answer?
Well with building land in Wisbech at a shortage, maybe new homes builders should be forced under planning rules to reserve ground floor apartments to be set aside for older people to encourage them to move out of larger houses. I would challenge the long-held point of view that building more bungalows in Wisbech is the pre-eminent way to urge growing numbers of mature ‘last-time buyers’ to move out of their under-occupied Wisbech homes and free up their large homes (where their children have flown the nest) for younger Wisbech families to grow.
With the new Planning Regulations due to be in place in a couple of years, local authorities could require builders to set aside a share of homes for mature residents, as they are already obligated to subsidise local community facilities or low-cost social housing in return for obtaining their planning permission to build in the first place.
Another option would be to convert all those empty shops in our town and city centres up and down the country into residential use. There is no need for planning permission to change offices to residential property and the Government are considering the same for shops (although I have heard of some horror stories of those office to residential developments making rabbit hutches look spacious) – so again, it comes down to the planning laws and making them fit for purpose.
There are no doubt consequences of not designing our housing stock for the 21st Century and beyond for older people.
The population of Wisbech is set to grow
by 5,920 to 37,078 by 2040.
As the UK population gets older in the coming decades, as life expectancy is set to grow from 81 years 2 months to 83 years 3 months by 2040, I fully appreciate the need for more Wisbech homes to be built for families, yet one must ask if the planning authorities are focusing too much on new housing for the younger generation, when they in fact should be encouraging new homes builders to develop larger, ground floor two-bedroom homes and decent accessible transport links.
These are my thoughts, what are yours the good people of Wisbech?