Progress in boosting York cheaper homes initiative

The Council has recently agreed to purchase several vacant homes in the City. It is part of a plan, tabled several years ago, by the LibDems which will see property bought on the open market to  ease the housing crisis.

Grange Lane

The funding to purchase empty homes will mainly come from the surplus accumulated over many years on the Council housing account.

The properties will be available on a part rent/part mortgage basis for lower paid local workers.

Typically schemes like this allow couples to get on the housing ladder and gradually move on to own the whole of the property.

Homes purchased recently include ones in Foxwood Lane, Kingsway West, Troutbeck, Teal Drive and Grange Lane

Several of the properties are former Council houses which were sold under “right to buy” legislation. They are a mixture of 2 and 3 bedroomed properties.

Initially the homes are likely to be offered to those on the housing waiting list and existing tenants.

The initiative will reduce pressure to build on greenfield sites.

An independent appraised of shared ownership can be found by clicking here

York Council set to punish “good tenants”?

The York Council is aiming to quit the North Yorkshire Home Choice service (NTHC). The scheme provides a boundary free geographical area in North Yorkshire for which prospective social housing tenants can register their interest. It allows, for example, Selby residents to register an interest in moving to York, while York applicants can register to move to Scarborough.

Most respondents to a council survey disagreed with the York plan to leave the organisation, although most did agree with a range of changes which would tighten up the how social housing allocations are made.

These include plans to crack down on fraudulent applications and ways to reduce the period during which bids for housing must be lodged.

The full new York allocations policy can be found by clicking here

Hidden in the proposed changes is a plan to scrap the “Good Tenants” system which allows existing tenants, with a good rent payment and behaviour record, to participate in the bid process for vacant properties in other parts of the City.

It was introduced about 15 years ago to help those tenants who, through no fault of their own, ended up being housed in a neighbourhood remote for their job, family or friends.

This could happen when new tenants were given no choice of location when allocations were made.

In some cases, neighbour problems prompted requests for transfers.They often found it impossible to agree anl exchange, particularly if they lived in a street or block with a poor reputation.

When considering the “good tenant” scheme  several councillors, at the time, argued that a mis-allocation should not be a “life sentence”. Some tenants found it impossible to find  a mutual exchange partner and “management transfers” were hard to get.

Including transfer requests in the letting process does not reduce the number of vacancies available. It may add a few days into the cycle as the first tenant moves to their new home. Their old tenancy though becomes immediately available for letting.

The only real argument in favour of the restriction offered by officials is administrative convenience.

Peoples well being should have a higher priority.

Interestingly this proposal was not included in the survey of opinion that the Council undertook with local tenant representative organisations.

Separately, the Council has said in response to a Freedom of information request that it cannot provide figures giving the number of applicants on the housing waiting list divided between those applying because of overcrowding and those existing tenants who are seeking to downsize.

They say only that the numbers on the waiting list by band currently are:

  • Bronze 408
  • Silver 866
  • Gold 206
  • Total 1480

Historical trend information is also not available.

We are slightly sceptical about the response.

If the authority does not have an accurate picture of the size of homes which are in greatest demand, then it can hardly justify spending tens of millions of pounds on its new Council house building programme.

York Council debts mounting as housing borrowing plan pushes finances to the brink

By the end of the year the York Council will have debts of over £318.2 million, up £52 million compared to 12 months earlier.

Nearly 14% of taxes paid to the authority now go on interest and principal repayments on loans.

The authority owes £139 million in historic debt on Council housing programmes.

The overall exposure is partly offset by investment balances which stand at £75.7 million (down from £91.6 million in 2017)

Debts have increased because of several projects. One of the most expensive is York’s share of the Allerton Park waste processing plant. Money has also been borrowed to fund aspects of the York Central development.

The financial assessment is due to be discussed at a meeting later this week.

The same meeting will consider the Council’s policy on funding new housing.

Included in the plan is a proposal which would see the Council borrowing £10 million to fund the development of the Lowfields site. This means the Council will have housing debts of £145 million, close to the legal debt cap of £146 million.

The Lowfields proposal involves building on a sports field which will be controversial and may lead to legal challenges. A promised “start on site” early in 2019 looks optimistic.

There is also the problem of development expertise in the Council. It has a woeful recent project management record with cost escalations on several major projects including the Community Stadium and the refurbishment of the Guildhall.

Lowfields – Plan to build on sports pitches

There are some good features in the new housing plan, but the Council will be sailing very close to the financial wind if it accepts the officer recommendations without amendment.

The report fails to address the problem of unlocking disused Council land like the site behind the Acomb Library or private sector “land banks” like the prime location next to the Barbican.

It would be more than ironic if the planning committee was bullied into accepting the Lowfields plans which, green space provision aside, feature straight geometric lines of 3 bed semis – a discredited  layout abandoned by other Councils over 50 years ago

New strategy for homelessness prevention in York

 Halving the number of rough sleepers and nearly £200,000 investment in our homelessness prevention work will be among the five priorities for the council’s new, five-year homelessness strategy.

Preventing Homelessness Together 2018-23 will be discussed by senior councillors on 21 June. It states a continued commitment to early help and prevention and outlines the council’s response to recent legislation.

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New ways to support rough sleepers year-round

 Big-hearted residents are being asked to consider year-round ways to support rough sleepers into safer more stable lifestyles.

The generosity of people to people sleeping outside at Christmas and this year’s snow has been overwhelming, say homeless charities and the council. This helped to continue work to ensure every rough sleeper is offered a bed and support into safer more stable lives. with the result that on 28 February, just five were sleeping outdoors.

The Salvation Army, Changing Lives, Carecent and Peasholme and other hostels have been flooded with donations of bedding, clothing, food, toiletries and gifts which have been given to people sleeping on the streets and to those who are setting up a new home.

Knowing that many people want to help people who are homeless year-round, the hostels and charities are suggesting some ideas to help support people off the streets:

Please offer your skills:

  • Volunteer with Changing Lives, Restore and Carecent or contact York CVS to offer your time and skills to help homeless people. Maybe you can cut hair or teach cookery, perhaps you could train someone in plumbing or teach guitar? Please contact the charities or York CVS at www.volunteeringyork.org.uk/, 15 Priory St, York, North Yorkshire YO1 6ET, tel: 01904 621 133

Please offer accommodation:

Please offer household goods:

  • Donate clean bedding, towels, toiletries and kitchen utensils to help people who are moving into accommodation. Please hand it in to Peasholme Centre, 4 Fishergate for distribution to York’s hostels.
  • Donate reusable furniture to York Furniture Store on 01904 426444, which helps homeless people furnish their homes. They’ll pick up items for free. http://communityfurniturestore.co.uk/wordpress/index.php?page_id=7
  • Donate food to York Foodbank tel or visit https://york.foodbank.org.uk/ or to Carecent call 01904 624244 or visit www.carecent.org.

Please offer to fundraise:

  • Fundraise or donate to recognised charities working with rough sleepers and homeless people. Changing Lives, Salvation Army,

Please help rough sleepers off the street:

  • Report the location of rough sleepers 24/7 to Streetlink on 0300 5000914 or www.streetlink.org.uk. Streetlink passes this information to The Salvation Army which regularly visits rough sleepers to help them into accommodation and safer, more stable lives.
  • Please urge them to go to our hostels. We will do our utmost to help them off the streets and into safer, more stable lives.

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Pensioners concerns over Council sheltered housing plans

Lincoln Court

Occupants of Lincoln Court had their first chance on Thursday to comment on the Council’s plans to modernise their sheltered accommodation.

In the main, the upgrade plans – which include new kitchens, bathrooms, heating and wiring, new front doors and windows, a new door entry system, roof repairs and external & internal decoration – were welcomed.

However, concern was expressed over the time that residents would be expected to live on a “building site”. This arises out of the proposal to demolish the adjacent Windsor House building and replace it with a centre for the disabled.

Proposed new layout

Residents, most of whom are in their 70’s and 80’s, felt that they could be inconvenienced for as long as three years while the work took place.

It emerged at the meeting that most of the work on Lincoln Court would not be undertaken until the adjacent new building had been completed. This led residents to point out that the noise and dust generated by any demolition process would filter into their living areas because of the inadequacies of the existing doors and windows.

Prior to the meeting the Councils plans to address parking and traffic congestion problems on Ascot Way had been criticised and these issues were raised again by residents. Residents were particularly angry that they might be expected to pay for residents parking permits because of pressure on staff parking. A plan was also needed to address parking needs during the building and modernisation phases.

Residents are also concerned that the existing bus stop – located outside Windsor House – is not shown on the new plans.

One resident went further and said

Hedges blocked view and light from Lincoln Court flats last summer

The new homes will take away our landing sitting areas, take away all light in the corridors and fill the few outside areas we have. The small, existing garden will not be freely available as we are to become, in effect, a community centre and can only access it via the community room (which is to be in use most of the time). We are also expected to cover all the running costs of the shared facilities as the fuel costs are shared by residents and no charges made to outside departments, clients etc. Even the electricity costs of all the offices and rest areas will be paid by us – we were told that it isn’t a problem at other developments & we can also use facilities! Not good enough”. 

Officials have apparently threatened to install security doors on each corridor prompting concerns that the building would resemble a “prison”.

Residents had complained last year about the Councils failure to cut a tall hedge at the rear of the properties. The hedge effectively blocked light from the flats, prompting a feeling of isolation.

The consultation event was dismissed by some as a “paper exercise” and there were calls for a fundamental rethink before planning permission was sought.

Local Councillors are now looking into the issues raised.

Demolition of Newbury Avenue garages set to add to parking problems in Kingsway area

Residents only have until 11th April to record any objections to plans to demolish the 28 garages on Newbury Avenue. 

There is a lot of concern that the planning application, to build 5 bungalows on the site, has been submitted before work on providing alternative, off street, car parking in area has even started.

Although the bungalow proposal has received more support that the original plan to build a block of flats on the site, parking problems have increased in the intervening 2 years.

As long ago as 2012 the Council stopped letting the garages when they became vacant. Some were used for temporary shortage, but several have remained empty.

There is a long waiting list of people wanting to rent garages in the area.

These underused garages, together with the pressures put on spaces by visitors to the new Hob Stone development, has led to a campaign by local residents to get more off-street parking (Email Hob.Moor@btinternet.com).

Last year, local Councillors identified at least 8 possible sites.

These included one on Kingsway West with the rest being on Windsor Garth and Ascot Way. The plan was to use matrix surfacing so the spaces continued to look like they were still part of the green areas (the technique has already been used successfully on other plots in the estate).

The spaces were to have been partly funded by the “Ward Committee” who have a delegated budget of around £50,000 a year. Initially it was hoped that lay-bys would be provided in 2016 but this didn’t happen.

A report to a recent meeting has now confirmed that none of the 2017/18 financial year laybys will be completed before November 2018 at the earliest.

To add to transport pressures on the estate, the Council is also considering major redevelopment plans for the Lincoln Court/Windsor House site which could further add to parking and congestion problems on estate roads.

Inadequate parking provision has led to access problems for larger vehicles and the bus service.

The planning application gives details of a  contamination survey that have been completed on the site together within internal layout plans for the bungalows.

Objectors to the planning application – who can ask that the planning committee impose a Section 106 agreement requiring the developer to fund 28 alternative parking spaces before any work commences – should be Emailed to the Council at planning.comments@york.gov.uk quoting reference 18/00410/GRG3  before 11th April.

Council bid for nearly £70m government housing fund moves a stage further

York Central

City of York Council has moved a step closer to securing nearly £70m government-funding to unlock up to 3,300 new homes in the city.

The Housing Secretary Sajid Javid today announced that both York’s bids to the Housing Infrastructure Fund, which would speed up major developments at York Central and a new garden village at Clifton Gate, have been approved to move to the final co-development stage of the competitive process.

The council has bid for £57m towards the complex infrastructure and access road which will open up the delivery of up to 2,500 homes on the York Central development. It would supplement the West Yorkshire Transport Fund money to deliver the bridge, spine road, and improvements in connectivity for vehicles, cycles and pedestrians.

At Clifton Gate, nearly £10m of funding would be used for vital access works and improvements, including an upgrade to Clifton Moor roundabout, new access roads tot he site, a subway for pedestrians and cyclists, and a pedestrian bridge. This would allow quicker delivery of the 1300 home site.

The Housing Infrastructure Fund is there to help deliver infrastructure projects which are essential to building significant numbers of new homes.  City of York Council will now work with the Ministry for Housing  Communities and Local Government and the developers on a detailed business case which will be assessed in the autumn before a final funding decision is made.
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