Housing reform proposals get mixed response in York

The government have published proposals which could see significant changes in the way that homes are planned and delivered in York. click

Government paper March 2020

The proposals include plans to make better use of brownfield (previously developed) land and a requirement for all local authorities to have an approved Local Plan.

One aspect, that has attracted local criticism, is the paragraph covering the introduction of “new rules to encourage building upwards, increasing density in line with local character and make the most of local infrastructure”. Permitted development rights (PDR) would be extended to allow residential blocks to be increased by up to two storeys. Some have claimed that this might affect views of The Minster. Indeed, it might, particularly if the proposals are applied to conservation areas and local PDRs have not already been restricted by the local Council.

That does need to be clarified before changes are published later in the year.

But the White Paper also includes some positive messages.

March 2020
Barbican development site

As well as plans to make better use of brownfield land, the paper says it will ensure land allocated for housing is built on. That will ring a bell with some who regularly walk past derelict sites like that next the Barbican. It has had planning permission for homes for over 5 years.

Many will also feel sympathy for the proposal to improve security for tenants by abolishing the use of ‘no fault evictions’. The papers says, “that tenants can put down roots in their communities and plan for their long-term future”.

Local amenity organisations will surely welcome proposals to revise the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to embed the principles of good design and placemaking – “this will make clear that high-quality buildings and places must be considered throughout the planning process”?

Another commitment is for urban tree planting and giving communities a greater opportunity to influence design standards in their area. “This will put tree lined streets at the centre of future plans, so that they become the norm not the exception”

The government plans to give local authorities the ability to ensure that new homes conform to “local residents’ ideas of beauty” through the planning system. “Using the National Model Design Code, we will set out clear parameters for promoting the design and style of homes and neighbourhoods local people want to see. We will ask local places to produce their own design guides and codes, informed by listening to local people and considering local context”.

There is more than a whiff of centralised control about the paper and, of course, the actual implementation of ideas often proves illusive.

The world and the City may in any event look very different in 6 months time.

But there is still something to be positive about in the White Paper

New care home in Burnholme York nears completion

A significant milestone is being celebrated in the development of a new state-of-the-art care home.

The new care home is set to provide older people in York with high quality residential, nursing and memory care.

A topping out event and naming ceremony took place at the 80-bed home in Burnholme, which will officially be called Mossdale Residence, to mark the beginning of the final phase of construction.

The facility was secured by City of York Council and is being brought forward by Morgan Sindall Later Living alongside development partners Pacy & Wheatley and Rider Levett Bucknall. Leading care home provider HC-One has been appointed to operate the care home.

Due to open this autumn, Mossdale Residence is an important part of York’s older persons’ accommodation programme which is working to ensure the city’s growing population of older people have access to a wide range of modern accommodation.

The care home will be part of a multi-million-pound health and wellbeing campus planned for the former Burnholme Community College site which will deliver care, health, library, community, a newly opened sports centre as well as new homes.

Burnholme Care Home was also recognised as part of the Government Property Profession awards, of which the Burnholme development was one of three shortlisted for Project of the Year.

York Council’s longest empty property Ashbank set to be sold.

Council report on empty property avoids any comment on its own poor performance

The planning committee yesterday approved plans which would see the former Council offices at Ashbank on Shipton Road converted into apartments.

Ashbank has been empty since 2013.

The news comes a few days before a report on empty property in the City is due to be discussed by the Council’s Executive.

It follows claims in 2018 that the City had a relatively large number of empty properties. At the time that seemed – given local land and property prices – unlikely but the Council agreed to review the issue. The review wasn’t aimed at bringing unused space (e.g. floors above shops) into use but rather focused on those properties where empty property tax relief was being claimed.

Last September the Council increased the Council Tax liability on long term empty homes to 300%.

National statistics confirm that York has the second lowest level of empty homes in the country (after Oxford).

The Council claims that it has helped to bring back in to use 45 long term empty properties, through advice and assistance, since April 2017.

An audit of properties shown as empty on the Council tax database found that 43% of those visited so far are either occupied or about to be occupied.

Only 150 (27%) of properties visited were found to be empty. Nearly half of these empty homes were undergoing refurbishment, currently up for sale or let or awaiting site redevelopment.

 In only 10% of the cases (15 properties) the owner appeared to have no immediate plans to bring the property back in to use.

One unintended consequence of the audit may be that some owners, who have been claiming empty property tax relief, may find that they now receive a substantial bill.

The report pointedly fails to mention the Councils own housing stock. Leaving aside delays in re-letting Council houses, the list of empty properties owned by the Council – which includes some residential homes – clearly merits further investigation.

Whether the Council’s Executive will order a probe into their own performance will become clear at next Thursday’s meeting

Comparisons
Reasons property unoccupied

Council U-Turn on Lowfields care home confirmed

As previously reported, the York Council has abandoned its plans to build a care and nursing home on the Lowfields site. It had been unable to find a development partner for its scheme.

A meeting next week will hear that the plot (on the old school footprint) will be offered for sale to private developers with the condition that they construct “extra care” independent living units there.

The Council expects to receive around £450,000 for the site.

Independent living homes are aimed at the elderly. The scheme has similarities to the Hartrigg Oaks neighbourhood on the other side of the City.

This proposal effectively takes us back to 2010 when the original plans for the site – although much smaller and retaining a large amount of green space – envisaged its use as a “care village”. The site is ideally placed for easy access to a full range of services on Front Street.

Homes would be offered on a leasehold basis and would be ideal for homeowners seeking to “downsize”.

“Communal social facilities” would be included and might be also be made available to over 55’s living in the flats and bungalows which are currently being constructed.

The Council (rightly) claims that older people want to retain their independence and that there is a general trend away for care institutions. The Council has been closing its existing elderly persons homes over recent years. Closures have included Oakhaven on York Road although this site has also been unused now for over 4 years.

Planned Lowfields Care Village 2010

The Volte-face at Lowfields will inevitably mean more delays. The Wates development is expected to be complete in 2022. Work on the independent living unit would not start until 2021.  It could be another 3 years (or longer) before construction traffic finally moves off the site.

The new plan – which is welcome if very belated – comes a few days after residents complained about the current contractors leaving generators running during the through night period. It took some time to resolve the issue.

On 24th March (7:00pm) residents are due to hear an update on the project when local Councillors hold a meeting in the Acomb Methodist Hall on Front Street. The future of the communal housing, self-build, playground, police station and doctor’s surgery parts of the plan are likely to be under considerable scrutiny.

Details of the care home report can be found by clicking here

York Council report extract March 2020

Major housing plans in York set to get go ahead next week

Proposals to develop two long term empty sites in York will be before the planning committee next week. Together the development of the sites could provide nearly 700 new homes in the City.

 Gas works site, Heworth Green

The proposal is for the erection of a maximum of 625 residential apartments, 130 sqm of retail or community use floorspace.

Two gas governor compounds will be retained, and the site will be remediated with the old gasholder removed and gas pipes relocated underground.

The plans cover associated access, car parking, amenity space and landscaping after demolition of existing pipework, structures and telephone mast.

The brownfield site is allocated for housing in the revised York Local Plan. The site is no longer classified as contaminated.

The plans would see 370 one bed, 194 two bed and 61 three bed apartments built.

The report suggests that 20 social rent houses will be provided (off site) as part of the plans. In addition around 130 of the on-site apartments will be available for private rent, discounted by 30%.

There have been concerns registered about inadequate car parking arrangements and the York Civic Trust has said that the plans are an “overdevelopment”.

The development will cost £154 million. It is recommended for approval by Council officials.

Ashbank Shipton Road

Ashbank – scheduled to be converted into flats since 2013

Another long term empty property badly in need of redevelopment are the former Council offices at Ashbank. The building has been empty for over 8 years and is still owned by the York Council.

The application involves the demolition of Barleyfields and erection of 54 assisted living apartments and communal facilities. The modern extensions to Ashbank would be demolished and the building converted into 4 assisted living apartments. There would be changes to parking and landscaping arrangements.

Planning permission was previously granted for four 2½ storey dwellings to the rear of Ashbank with conversion of the villa to 5 apartments. This permission has not been implemented.

12 of the new units will be “affordable”

There have been 12 objections registered some connected with the loss of tree cover (although replacement planting is proposed) and building height

The site is classified as “brownfield”

Officials are recommending approval of the plans

£500,000 grant for York communal housing group

The York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) was today asked to grant £1/2 million to the Yorspace communal housing group.  The group claimed that their £4 million scheme would create 50 jobs in the construction sector and would be built to uniquely high levels of sustainability.

A report to the decision meeting held today says “This project is a departure from what the Local Growth Fund has supported to date”

LEPs were set up to “support growth, create new jobs and businesses

Although Yorspace identify 50 new jobs in the construction sector and high insulation standards in the homes, these are far from unique outcomes.

The developer claims it will build “19 low carbon homes….constructed on the Lowfield Green site using biobased sustainable construction materials….sourced locally….and have low embodied carbon, create low energy healthy homes and produce zero waste“.  LEP officials observe that it is unclear what this actually means

The alternative of developing the land for Council housing would have produced the same outcomes. The Council has agreed that all its new build properties will be to “Passivhaus” environmental standards.

The LEPs independent appraiser identified a few weaknesses such as unclear aspects of  procurement, state aid and match funding.

Yorspace is a communal housing cooperative in which house occupiers buy a stake. Originally it was thought that the group would provide homes for the less well off but that seems to be less clear now. Their pitch now seems to be based on the use of ultra sustainable building materials

When the York Council offered to sell a plot for the 19 homes on the Lowfields site it did not impose conditions which would have required the units to be occupied by the less well off, by those on the housing waiting list or even to those currently living in York or North Yorkshire.

No groups such as “key workers” are targeted for the occupation of the units

The project has already been offered a cheap land deal at Lowfields by the York Council and hopes to attract £855,000 from Homes England. Yorspace and its partner the “Lowfield Green Housing Cooperative” currently have joint assets of around £5000. They recently ran a “crowd funding” appeal.

The LEP are clearly concerned that other house builders might regard any state subsidy as unfair. The report says,  “State Aid: The most appropriate applicant – Yorspace or the Lowfield Green Housing Co-operative – needs to be identified, then the State Aid position clarified in the light of this. This also needs to address potential objections from other housebuilders when any LEP grant is publicised”.

The LEP report concludes “In recommending provisional approval it is in recognition that this is an unusual but innovative project that needs further support and assistance and may in the end not be able to be funded”.

The York Council has not debated their approach to this latest application for a taxpayer funded subsidy.

LEP papers are published on their web site but are not easy to find. Meetings attract little advanced publicity.

The meeting report can be downloaded by clicking here

Grant application to LEP

Bus stop blocked by building works

The bus stop on Ascot Way, which has already been moved once to facilitate building works at the new disabled centre, is currently unusable

It is unclear how long the stop will be out of use, although the final plans for the development show the bus stop returning to its original location

Centre Of Excellence for Disabled Children 26th February 2020

Meanwhile the disabled centre building is getting its first layer of insulation. We remain sceptical about whether it will be completed by the promised date in May.

New bungalows wait for tenants

Five new Council bungalows in Cheltenham Court (off Newbury Avenue) are ready for occupation.

The attractive homes have allocated disabled spaces and an electric vehicle charging point. Aimed at older or disabled tenants, they are also close to the number 4 bus route and the Lidl store. .

Completion was behind schedule so we hope that the York Council will get on and allocate the tenancies quickly

Controversy over plan to turn elderly persons flat into office

Council officials are recommending to a Planning committee meeting next week, that a flat in the Gale Farm Court sheltered accommodation building – which is provided for the use of elderly residents – be converted into a housing office.

Officials claim that it is the only “rent free” option available them in Acomb. Currently they rent a room at the Gateway Centre (and the Foxwood Community Centre).

Gale Farm Court. Plan to convert flat into office

Acomb lost its housing office about 8 years ago. That was a bad move, which prompted a divide between housing managers and the largest concentration of social tenants in the City.

 It had been intended to provide a replacement as part of a “one stop shop” extension to the Acomb library but that project stalled. Land to the rear of the library had been purchased by the Council but has remained derelict for over 10 years.

Officials have promised to revive the Acomb Library plan as part of a £2 million refurbishment project. However senior managers ion the housing department say they can’t wait for that work to be competed

At a time when the largest number of people on the housing waiting list are those requiring one bedroomed accommodation, it seems illogical to take an existing home out of use.

The office could be in use 12 hours a day and it could prove to be a difficult neighbour for the several dozen elderly people who live on the site.

There is also a concern about car parking. Official calm that users will walk to the office but experience elsewhere suggests that this may not be the case.

Cllr Andrew Waller is the local Councillor leading the call for a rethink. He is right to do so.

There is empty property In the Front Street pedestrian area which could be rented until a permanent new location for a Council office can be found. Any increase in footfall in the main shopping area would be welcomed by both traders and residents.  

Appropriating scarce residential accommodation is not the right solution for the Councils office problem.

Lincoln Court building progress

York Council says good progress being made on the modernisation and extension of Lincoln Court

“City of York Council is celebrating a milestone with contractor Sewell Construction to mark the start of the final phase of the £1.9 million improvement and extension of its popular Lincoln Court Independent Living Scheme.

Lincoln Court expansion plans 2018

The accommodation is being extended from 26 accommodation units to 35 high quality apartments. Much-improved communal facilities and low-energy measures are being added too, with a view to the scheme reopening this summer.

This is the council’s first independent living scheme extension to be developed specifically to meet the needs of wheelchair users. With a better location identified for the energy efficient heating system for the apartments, tenants will also benefit from new double glazed windows and from photovoltaic cells on the roof which will reduce communal utility costs. 

Disabled centre in foreground. Lincoln Court to rear

A larger, brighter and more central communal lounge area will bring together residents of the new and existing elements of the building. An extra meeting room and additional office space will enable the scheme to be used as a hub for more services to be provided in the local community. The addition of a guest suite for visiting family and friends of residents will help maintain family links.

Listening to feedback from former tenants, we broadened the extension project to include the full refurbishment and re-roofing of the existing properties. In addition, they told us they would prefer that the existing flats are modernised with new heating systems, rewiring, new kitchens and bathrooms at the same time as the construction to avoid further disruption. This is underway”.

In a report last week (above)  the Council also claimed that the new Centre of Excellence for Disable Young People, which will occupy the site next to Lincoln Court on Ascot Way, would be completed in May 2020” .

This claim is being viewed with some scepticism