More questions on Lowfields Plans
For the first time in nearly 3 years, the Councils Executive will review what is happening with the “Yorspace” communal housing project at Lowfield. A meeting, being held on 26th September, will consider “Progress and Opportunities for Self and Community Build Housing” in the City.
The report comes in the wake of concerns being expressed about a large discount being agreed, by a Council official, for the transfer of a building plot to the Yorspace “Community Benefit” Society .
Although Yorspace haven’t endeared themselves to the existing local community in Westfield, because of their trenchant support for the development of the playing field which is adjacent to their site, the main concern relates to the “affordability” of the homes that they hope to construct.
A Council official, at a private meeting held in August 2017, agreed an “exclusivity agreement” to sell the land to what was then styled as a “Mutual Home Ownership Society”. The official decided that a discount could be offered because individuals would not benefit financially from the deal. Homeowners would buy shares in the Co-op in return for the leasehold of a property. When they move on, they can sell the shares.
No alternative proposals for the land were considered, there was no analysis of the advantages of communal ownership compared to those offered by the construction of (say) more Council houses on the land or indeed the possibility of an open market sale with the proceeds being used to quickly increase the availability of social housing in the City.
The report in 2017 gave an estimate of the value of the site. That figure remains confidential. Another “behind closed doors” meeting held in January of this year valued the land – after discount – at £300,000.
Another, smaller, site at Lowfields recently sold for over £400,000.
The Council justified its decision by quoting Section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972 which allow authorities to dispose of land other than at its full value.
However, that power is heavily constrained.
The issue with this sale relates to the absence of an “end occupier” agreement. Council officials confirmed, when considering amendments to the Local Plan, that this development would not be classified as “affordable”. This is because there is currently no requirement for the shareholder in the Co-op to be in housing need.
The Council could have insisted that, in return for any discount, the homes must be occupied by low income families or, at least, by transferring existing social tenants.
They did neither, as was confirmed in a response to a Freedom of Information enquiry a few months ago.
In effect, taxpayers may be subsidising the housing costs of relatively wealthy individuals.
Hopefully, the new report will candidly address these issues.
When the land sale was approved, Yorspace agreed to complete their development within 3 years. No work has started there or on the adjacent “self-build” plots. No construction timetables have been published.
NB. We have submitted a FOI request for information on the Council’s “shared ownership” programme. The last report (to another “behind closed doors” meeting held last year) suggested that such a model would not be of interest to existing social tenants or those on the waiting list. The Councils Executive has yet to review progress on this scheme (which accounts for a significant proportion of new build plans for the City)