Meet the Team James Ahearne – Development Director
James Ahearne is the Development Director at Retirement Villages. We caught up with him to find out a bit more about what he does.
How long have you been with RV?
I joined RV three years ago following seven years in the retirement sector working with start-ups and larger corporates delivering developments across London and the South East. Previously, I’d spent a decade in food retail development.
What do you love about the retirement sector?
Fundamentally, I am driven by its social imperative. We are faced with an aging population and a critical lack of suitable housing stock to meet this increasing demand.
RVG, whilst established for over 40 years, has a disruptor’s mindset, unafraid to challenge convention. With the full support and financing of AXA IM Real Estate and the leadership of our CEO Will Bax, we have the opportunity to positively change the landscape of the retirement sector like a few others.
What is it that makes the sector challenging?
Retirement living is largely misunderstood in the UK, by both the general public and local planning authorities. It can be perceived as some form of an undesirable forced later-life decision where personal liberty is diminished, or the product is mistaken for care home accommodation. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are exceptional options available for independent living from RVG and our peers. Our core mission is to preserve and enhance residents’ quality of life by providing thoughtful homes focused around community and great placemaking, with a suite of on-site support services available if needed.
Few local plans adequately make provision for Independent Retirement Communities failing to recognise both the need and the positive benefits it brings to society, the health service, and economically. We can often be met with suspicion when challenging affordable housing policies, even though the cost of delivering the product is significantly prohibitive when compared with standard market housing coupled with lower gross to net efficiencies. Of course, all sectors are currently grappling with the crippling build cost inflation that we have seen over recent months, and we are no different. Finally, our customers are discerning, so the product has to have a strong pull factor to convince them to leave our biggest competitor; their beloved family homes.
However, in my view, the key to the success of any retirement village isn’t the building itself but the community it creates and the service provided by our operational teams.
Do you need any special skills to work in the sector?
It’s important to be passionate about the underlying social value of the product to overcome the challenges, of which there are many!
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m involved in several projects ranging from enhancing existing villages to the cradle-to-grave delivery of new urban and peri-urban villages. These include our sector-leading whole of life net-zero carbon developments at West Byfleet and Tunbridge Wells. These developments are unique as they will be the first of their kind in the UK, driving forward the sustainability agenda far and above regulatory requirements.
Are we actively seeking new land opportunities?
Yes, always. We have the mandate to deliver 5,000 new homes over the next 10 years and therefore will require around 2-4 sites each year to achieve that. We work with a number of different partners, understand our site requirements here.