5th April 2022

Retirement community ’downsizing dividend’ to help UK decarbonise faster

  • New research reveals that downsizing to a retirement community could help the UK decarbonise faster.
  • Each new retirement apartment could save up to c. two tonnes of CO2 per year compared to building a new build house.
  • Around nine in 10 of McCarthy Stone’s apartments are also developed on brownfield land, compared to an average of six in ten new-build houses.
  • McCarthy Stone confirms its new developments will all be net zero carbon from 2030.

Downsizing to a new retirement community could help the UK decarbonise more quickly, according to new research published today.

New research by public policy consultancy WPI Strategy, highlights the environmental benefits of building new retirement housing. Examining properties built in 2021 by McCarthy Stone, the UK’s leading developer and operator of retirement communities, the report found that each of their apartments could save up to c. two tonnes of CO2 per year compared to a standard new-build house, creating a ‘downsizing dividend’.

As well as saving more than one tonne through reduced energy use per year compared to a new build house, the report found a ‘home improvement dividend’ of between 0.3 and 0.5 tonnes less CO2 a year caused by younger homeowners who move into the vacated properties and make energy efficient improvements to that home.

Due to the central location of retirement properties, the report also identified a significant carbon saving of around 0.35 tonnes per year as a result of reduced driving, with retirement developments typically well-located on central, town centre sites.

Taken together, retirement housing could remove up to 60,000 tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere per year if 30,000 new properties, or 10% of the Government’s 300,000 new home target, was retirement housing, instead of 30,000 standard new-build houses, meeting the level of demand for retirement living.

With the Government striving for net zero carbon emissions by 2050, retirement housing remains an untapped resource when compared to other types of development. At present, just c.7,500 new retirement housing units are delivered annually, versus demand for 30,000.

Speaking on the findings of the report, McCarthy Stone CEO John Tonkiss said:

“The UK’s net zero journey needs to consider how we meet the rising demand for homes in the most sustainable way and tackle the housing crisis at the same time. By ensuring that 10% of new housing developed is designed specifically for older people, the government can ensure more people – young and old – enjoy the downsizing dividend, as well as helping more older people live a healthy and happy later life.”

Chris Walker, author of the report, said:

“Considering our ageing society and the clear environmental gains to be had through the ‘downsizing dividend’, government and local authorities should seriously consider the major carbon reduction savings and natural environmental benefits that would come through building new retirement properties over standard new homes.”

The report is published alongside McCarthy Stone’s new sustainability policy. This includes plans to make all of its new retirement communities net zero carbon from 2030 and ensure at least a 10% biodiversity net gain on new developments from 2023. The company also intends to build 50% of future developments using Modern Methods of Construction (MMC), as part of its plan to build high-quality, energy-efficient retirement communities and to increase supply.

The research by WPI Strategy also highlighted several other ways that retirement housing positively impacts the environment:

  • Residents are less likely to drive, and it is estimated that building a typical retirement development could take up to 15 cars off the roads. Collectively these cars would have driven 1,800 miles a week.
  • With around nine in 10 McCarthy Stone apartments developed on brownfield land rather than greenfield land, in comparison to an average of six in ten new-build houses, retirement housing brings previously developed land back into use, saves green fields, and frequently requires the tidying up of contaminated land which would have posed a threat to biodiversity.
  • Moving from an existing home to a McCarthy Stone apartment, which are already heated 100% through electricity, would significantly reduce a homeowners’ monthly energy bill, with energy consumption in a McCarthy Stone retirement property found to be roughly half of a normal house.

WPI’s report is the fourth in a series of studies into the socio-economic benefits of retirement housing. The first three reports (on the benefits to retirement living to the health of older people, the housing market, and town centre regeneration) can be found here.