08/12/2016 - 12:49

Land, location challenges for architects’ aged care builds

08/12/2016 - 12:49

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Aged care and retirement living projects are replacing office buildings and apartment complexes on the drawing boards of architecture firms across Western Australia, as increasing demand for beds stokes intense competition among providers.

Land, location challenges for architects’ aged care builds
T&Z Architects’ aged care design team Brad Quartermaine (left), Marc Karol and Peter Leighton. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Aged care and retirement living projects are replacing office buildings and apartment complexes on the drawing boards of architecture firms across Western Australia, as increasing demand for beds stokes intense competition among providers.

Across Australia, the provision of funding for aged care facilities is regulated by the federal government, which allocates capital annually.

According to the latest data from the federal Department of Health, there were 17,385 new aged care places allocated across Australia in 2015, with 1,698 of those in WA.

However, demand to build aged care facilities is outstripping approvals, with the 35,859 applications for aged care places across Australia in 2015 more than double the number in 2014, representing four new places sought for every place available.

Managing housing needs for the state’s ageing population has also recently become an agenda platform for the Property Council of Australia’s local division, which has called on the state government to introduce policies to improve housing choice for seniors.

The latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that there were 340,200 people aged 65 years or over in WA, representing 13 per cent of the state’s population.

The growing demand for aged care places has resulted in the sector becoming a particular focus for Perth-based T&Z Architects, which has more than 600 beds either under construction or in the design phase.

T&Z Architects director Brad Quartermaine said there had been a hiatus of activity in WA’s aged care sector for a number of years, which had led to pent-up demand for aged care places.

He said the number of aged care projects being delivered by T&Z was around double the firm’s previous high levels of activity, while the facilities themselves were going through a constant evolution.

“When aged care was previously active, it was more the greenfields-type development or outer suburban-type developments,” Mr Quartermaine said.

“Now, it’s a lot more focused on infill and brownfields development.”

However, Mr Quartermaine’s colleague and fellow T&Z director, Marc Karol, said aged care projects in existing suburbs also brought particular challenges.

“Due to the inherent bulk and scale of a 100 to 150-bed aged care facility, inflexible planning policy in many existing suburban areas can make it challenging to develop these much-needed facilities,” Mr Karol said.

“Historically, the majority of aged care facilities have been single level. However, large parcels of suitable land that can accommodate single-level facilities are no longer readily available in many required locations.

“In addition, many of the single-level facilities may not be as operationally efficient as the more compact multi-level care facilities”

Mr Karol said the scarcity of land in existing suburbs also presented another challenge for aged care operators, with residential developers also keen on available plots.

“For a parcel of land, an aged care operator may need to outbid other developers whose business models for higher land values,” he said.

“This situation can significantly hamper the growth of the industry, especially in the inner city or other areas of high demand.”

Another firm at which aged care and retirement living projects make up the lion’s share of work is SPH architecture + interiors.

SPH director Jamie Penn said SPH had more than 20 aged care or retirement living projects on its books, and agreed with the assertion that a scarcity of developable land in Perth was perhaps the biggest challenge for aged care operators in meeting demand.

“The chances of getting a large parcel of land is getting harder near the CBD, so you’re generally getting pushed out quite a distance to get those large parcels of land,” Mr Penn told Business News.

“Then you’ve got the other issue that you can do it, but you need height on smaller parcels of land.

“It’s a balancing act being able to get that height, depending on the local authority and the local community.

“One site we’re looking at the moment has a two-storey height limit on it; we’re trying to push it to five.

“It doesn’t seem like much but it’s going to take us probably a year to change the town planning scheme to do that, which is a really significant delay to a project.”

Nevertheless, SPH senior architect Ali Devellerez said recent deregulation of the industry by the federal government, which allowed consumers more choice over what sort of care they received, had resulted in a big move by providers to focus on built environments.

“There is going to be more choice for consumers around funding, so if they receive aged care funding, they can choose which provider they want to spend that money with,” she said.

“What we are seeing is there is going to be a real focus on built environment and what providers can offer and market in a new, deregulated industry.”

Ms Devellerez said a big trend in aged care, as well as retirement villages, was the delivery of resort-style living, a development trend also evident in the residential apartments market.

“Resort-style living and landscaping is becoming very important – it’s not just about buildings anymore,” she said.

“It’s about the spaces that connect the buildings and the spaces between the buildings.”

Mr Penn said connectivity and activation was generally achieved through the provision of auxiliary services at aged care facilities, like wellness centres, doctor’s surgeries, physiotherapy or other health services.

“It also gives us the ability to deliver services to the wider community as well from those wellness centres, so the aged care facility/wellness centre becomes more of a community hub,” Mr Penn told Business News.

Ms Devellerez said there had also been a recent trend to roll out collaborative workspaces at aged care or retirement living facilities.

“One of the great opportunities within the aged care sector is to incorporate those types of spaces that allow people who are moving towards retirement to continue operating their small business, but also have a co-working environment where they can meet other people and exchange ideas,” she said.

“Some people at that age are doing startups, so these co-working environments are very important.”

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