RETIREMENT housebuilder McCarthy & Stone is committed to doubling the size of its business in Scotland in the coming years, according to its new managing director for Scotland, Jonathan Fair.
In an ageing population, the ability to build houses which are suitable for elderly people and allow them to live at home for longer, seems certain to take on added importance in the future.
McCarthy & Stone said it provides the majority of retirement housing built each year in Scotland. The importance of the firm’s developments is highlighted by the fact that the number of Scots aged 65 or over is estimated to increase from 930,000 to 1.47 million over the next 20 years, while those aged 75 or over will almost double to 800,000.
Jonathan Fair recently joined McCarthy & Stone from Stewart Milne Homes, where he had been managing director for Central Scotland since 2012. He was also previously chief executive for Homes for Scotland for almost five years.
Now based at McCarthy & Stone’s Scottish headquarters in Glasgow, he told Project Scotland about the responsibility of driving forward the company’s growth strategy north of the border.
“In McCarthy and Stone, I see a business that’s pretty committed to growing its activity in Scotland,” he said.
“That’s an ambition to double the size of the business over the next 3-5 years within an area where clearly we have a growing, ageing population and a demand for retirement living that’s only likely to increase in the years ahead.
“As a business, they’ve got a real commitment to high quality planning, design and living environments so that they can produce very sustainable developments and have a strong track record of doing that already in a Scottish context.
“All of those things combined were what attracted me to the role.”
Jonathan said that, over the last 40 years or so, McCarthy & Stone has delivered around 4500 apartments in 110 developments across Scotland.
“Thinking about the future, clearly the scale of the business certainly is something we would like very much to increase, whilst at the same time ensuring that the needs of older people – particularly those who want to own or occupy their homes – are met within a planning environment so that we get a balance to the needs of the population,” Jonathan added.“Retirement living differs somewhat from mainstream housing in that the developments we construct have to be located in central locations, close to local shops and services. And obviously in large part that means you’re working within brownfield sites, which are typically in pretty short supply but high demand at the minute with a range of other uses potentially being possible for them.
“That means that in the context of the developments that we deliver, then we have to ensure that retirement housing is an integral part of our planning policy. Often you’ll find that government policy focuses on the need to deliver affordable homes but it does not have the same focus on meeting the needs of Scotland’s older population.”
Retirement living homes tend to contain features which make it easier for older people to live comfortably in their own homes for longer. “That’s a pretty important part of the approach to development that we adopt,” Jonathan said. “If you think about the needs of older people, whether that be the space standards that we use across our developments, the facilities within them, whether it be common/shared space for people to interact with fellow owners, whether that be the personal care and support that we provide to our customers in conjunction with Somerset Care; these are all tailored packages of assistance to suit the needs of our home owners.
“By doing that we keep them healthier and happier and in their own home for much longer than otherwise would have been possible. That clearly has a benefit to the healthcare system and to community facilities elsewhere within the housing markets that we operate in.
“I suppose the other advantage is also that we, as a result of providing facilities that are adaptable, that are designed specifically for the needs of older people, then in moving to our developments we also unlock the housing chain elsewhere in the system.
“Around five or six other transactions elsewhere in the housing market are unlocked each time one of our customers buys from us.”
Jonathan said there needs to be an “appropriate response” to the challenge of an ageing population, in relation to both public policy and private provision.
“It’s certainly true that the projections for growth of an ageing population are pretty substantial,” he said. “(The challenge) is something McCarthy and Stone are well placed to address and will be focused on in the years ahead.”
McCarthy & Stone is currently engaged in a UK-wide £2.5 billion investment programme in land and build over the four years to 2019. Scotland will very much play its part in that exercise but Jonathan said that growing the business is “not just about money and numbers”.
“It’s also about ensuring we have a very high standard of customer service,” he explained.
“We have an assisted living development in Lyle Court in Barnton which consists of 73 apartments for people over the age of 70 and that particular development was voted as the UK’s best retirement development at the Housebuilder Awards in 2016. It was one of the fastest selling developments we’ve had across the business actually and (features) facilities which combine a service restaurant, hairdressing salon and various external landscape gardens and sun terrace areas.
“It was a fantastic project for us and also incorporated the refurbishment of a Grade C listed building. It’s a pretty salubrious location and one we’re particularly proud of.”
Given his experience in the housing sector, Jonathan is better placed than most to comment on the industry generally – and he’s optimistic for the future.
“The housing sector in Scotland as a whole is in a fairly positive place that continues to see strong demand for new homes and for that matter a healthy level of mortgage supply,” he added.
“Those things are important in the context even of the developments which McCarthy and Stone deliver because clearly you need a healthy, vibrant and active housing market to allow people to downsize from what typically are pretty large properties that they may be occupying presently and making the decision to live in a McCarthy and Stone development and take an opportunity to enjoy the retirement lifestyles that we present.
“That clearly means they will need to sell their existing property and free that up into the housing market generally. Both new build and second hand markets therefore are particularly important to our business.”