The idea is enough to strike fear into many, but a separate granny annexe could solve many a problem facing society — if only planners could wake up to the idea

How many men or women would be happy to share a home with their mother-in-law or father-in-law? There’ll be a few takers but, in the main, the very idea would be greeted by horror.

British society just isn’t geared up to multi-generational living. Many British Asian families are quite happy with the concept and it’s been a privilege to witness it working with three, even four generations in one home. On the Continent, it was quite the norm – up until recently – for the older generation to fit into the family unit and be cared for within the bosom of the family.

To see it, as an Englishman, was always a revelation. There was an acceptance that the elder relative – while not in control or in charge – was nevertheless the titular head of the family. If my mother had moved in, my wife would have left home, closely followed by me. If my mother-in-law had moved in, it would have put enormous strain on our marriage.

There are, however, many upsides to multi-generational living. These days, it’s typical for both partners to work to make ends meet, which raises the issue of childcare. There’s also the problem of finance — huge mortgages undoubtedly stretch family budgets and relationships.

The retired generation – who can suffer from loneliness – tend to be cash rich on the other hand, and are often left rumbling around in a vast house that used to be a family home, while their offspring struggle to raise children in a home unfit for purpose. If only the two could be ‘married’.

Multi-generational living will never again be mainstream, so what could be done to popularise this ‘solution’?

What about granny annexes? Surely they’re one of the most socially aware and meritorious buildings? The planners, however, have always been sceptical. It’s very unlikely that any planning authority will accept a ‘granny annexe’ if it has any semblance of separateness.

In almost all cases, granny has to accept that she’ll not have her own front door and that there must be a direct and maintained access between the ‘annexe’ and shared facilities. And it’s not just granny who has to accept this — the reluctant in-law is then faced with an interloper in their home.

What’s wrong with separation? What’s the problem with a small bungalow-style building in a large back garden? What’s wrong with converting a garage or outbuilding? If it one day becomes redundant, perhaps it could be used to home adult children who would otherwise struggle to house themselves. Maybe, one day, the then-older generation could move across, leaving the ‘big house’ for the next in.

The planners will cry that it’ll mean more traffic and infrastructure. Nonsense! The nuclear family with grown-up children has at least four cars — they wouldn’t suddenly have more as a result. The strain on local authority care resources would also be relieved at both ends of the age scale and indeed, the relief to social services and society in general would be huge.

We are now a property-owning democracy. That property, its cash value and its benefit moves from generation to generation. Why does it have to wait ’til death to do so? Why can’t the resources of the family be utilised for the evolving generations?

But, will the planners and planning laws wake up to the time bomb that an increasingly long-lived society is placing in our midst?

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