A luxury retirement sounds lovely, but please can we have affordable sheltered housing too?

The idea is billed as a response to the ageing demographic, the growing wealth of people over 55 and the trend for inner-city life among active “seniors”

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The Independent Online

Who says no one is building housing any more? There are no fewer than five office-to-residential developments within a block of where I live, including one right outside my sitting-room window, and they will eventually produce a total of more than 500 “homes”. So it takes something a bit different to tweak my interest in new development locally, and that something has duly come along. Just around the corner, offices used by the Parole Board are to be converted into sheltered housing.

Not just any sort of sheltered housing , mind you, but – in the words of our sister paper, the London Evening Standard, a “VIP home for senior city slickers” with facilities – pool, gym, on-site health care – and of course, prices to match. The idea, or should I call it the concept, is billed as a response to the ageing demographic, the growing wealth of people over 55 and the growing trend for inner-city life among active “seniors”. Well, who would have thought it?

The area was chosen, apparently, because it is “relatively tranquil for central London” – or it was, I would suggest, until all the frenetic building started recently. What is true, as the blurb says, is that central London has lacked upmarket sheltered housing. Unless, and I say this tongue in cheek, you count old-fashioned mansion blocks, with porters and lifts, such as the one we moved into a decade ago.

Rural quiet, and the space that comes with it, of course, will be sought after by many. But my trawls, and those of friends, on behalf of older relatives looking for sheltered housing turn up mostly standardised developments on the edge of places – almost never in the centre – and often ridiculously inconvenient for public transport. Some websites helpfully include the distance to the nearest bus stop; 500m seems the norm, which is too far if you have difficulty walking.

This may be why new, inner-city flats are in as much in demand by retired downsizers as by the young urbanites they were intended for. And now, perhaps, someone has seized the obvious opportunity. Dare we hope that where “VIPs” are being helped to go today, the rest of us will have a – more affordable – chance to go tomorrow?

It’s our problem, not his

Now I know you don’t need to feel particularly sorry for a 48-year-old chief executive who is voluntarily leaving his job and taking shares worth between £10m and £20m with him. But it seems to me that the outgoing head of BT, Ian Livingston, is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. He is stepping down to become a Government minister, and accepting an enormous pay-cut to do so. He will bring to Government, at least that is the hope, some of the business savvy and flair that made him such a success at BT (and contributed to its healthy share price).

A move such as Livingston’s would have drawn minimal comment in the United States, where business people and academics regularly move in and out of government – and, like Livingston, accept that the money is not what government service, note the word service, is about, but the challenge. And it is their success elsewhere that makes it possible for them to spend time in government. Livingston should be applauded for his move, and the fact that it has drawn so much adverse criticism says much more about the inability of our government system to incorporate real-world high-fliers than it does about him.