Praise for new housing schemes in York but reality on the ground is different.

‘We’re going above and beyond’ … CGI of Burnholme View.
New estate design at Duncombe barracks

An article in The Guardian has highlighted some of the new housing schemes being progressed by the York Council. It praises new Passivhaus low-energy standard designs. Plans for low energy estates on the Duncombe Barracks and Burnholme sites are being discussed today by the Councils executive.

Unfortunately both the article, and today’s Council report, fail to recognise the downsides of this type of building programme.

Two years into the controversial development of the Lowfields site, fewer than half the homes being built in the first phase have been reserved.  Not entirely surprising you might say, with an average size 3 bed semi priced at nearly £300,000. Sure, you can expect lower energy consumption bills but what good is that if you can’t afford a mortgage?

Being told that a communal “cargo bike” is available for hire is unlikely to provide much solace

Communications by the Council’s own “Shape” development company with neighbours are poor and promised regular bulletins have not materialised.

Lowfield building site slow progress

All six of the “self build” plots on the site have been allocated but we seem to be no closer to seeing the “Yorspace” communal housing group complete the purchase their allocated site. That process has dragged on for nearly 2 years now.  Surely the time has come to use this plot for other purposes – most obviously to extend the space available for self-build units?

There is an element of urgency.

Neighbours were promised that the site would be fully developed within 3 years. The inevitable disruption, noise, dust and mud associated with building works would then come to an end and community cohesion could begin to re-establish itself.

The Council claimed that the neighbourhood in general would benefit from a new “health centre”. A police station was mentioned. A new playground would form part of a new “village green”. A care home would provide a boost for older people.

None of these seem likely to happen in the foreseeable future.  None are mentioned in the Councils progress report, which limits itself to reporting on progress on Bishopthorpe FC’s expensive pavilion which is in part funded from sales at Lowfields. (The pavilion and football pitches are almost complete but the promised improvement work on the adjacent cycle track has not started)

Football club pavillion

The Council’s housing department is leaderless and lacking in direction. Like much of the rest of the authority, responsible Councillors seem to be focussed on the next “photo op”.

The hard work involved in  forcing up public service standards seems to be of no interest to them.

If it was, then they would ensure that unused council houses – some of which have been empty for months and, in some cases, years – are brought back into use quickly.  

But then  “Council House Let” is unlikely to be a headline that you will see in The Guardian.

Lincoln Court independent living apartments completed

A development of 35 apartments on Ascot Way has now officially been completed by the council. It offers older residents “high-quality apartments where they can live independently and well”.

Nominations invited for new Lincoln Court apartments

Opening Lincoln Court is the latest phase of City of York Council’s Older Persons Accommodation Programme and the apartments are available for new and returning tenants. The council will be operating a local lettings system which will enable tenants in the west of the city to downsize into these bright modern homes.

The £3.4 million project offers 15 new build and 20 completely refurbished one-bedroomed apartments.

All the generously-sized homes are available for social rent by eligible people aged 60 and over or who have a specific need for this type of accommodation. This is the council’s first independent living community extension designed specifically to meet the needs of wheelchair users.

The development has a large communal lounge, meeting rooms and a salon which people living in or outside the scheme can use, and it has a communal kitchen where residents can prepare meals and enjoy them in company if they choose. A new guest suite for visiting family and friends of tenants will help maintain family links. All of these facilities will be available along with a range of social activities once restrictions on their use and socialising in groups are lifted.

Facilities include two on-site laundries and a buggy store, there is a good choice of shops, cafes, health facilities and parks nearby. Lincoln Court’s newly landscaped gardens are next to the open spaces of historic Hob Moor nature reserve which is overlooked by the new balconies on the first and second floors.

The apartments can be bid for via North Yorkshire Home Choice at www.northyorkshirehomechoice.org.uk/.

You can find out more about independent living with City of York Council at www.york.gov.uk/IndependentLiving

Please contact one of our friendly advisers for more information by email at ILCextracare@york.gov.uk or phone at 01904 554095. 
 

Building site on Ascot Way being wound down

It seems that completion of work at both the new disabled centre and a remodelled Lincoln Court will shortly be competed. The builders equipment is being removed and the compound on the school land and the MUGA are almost clear.

New Lincoln Court entrance is imposing
Despite being largely clear of equipment, it seems unlikely that public use of the games area will be allowed.
This is the replacement site on Thanet Road slated to be the home of the new games area. However discussions about the project have dragged on for nearly 2 years.

The has been no recent update from the York Council on when they expect the communal housing, self build, health centre, older persons accommodation, public buildings and community facilities on their Lowfield development to be completed (or even in most cases started!)

Green Homes Grant applications welcomed

An illustration of a row of houses includes one house which is wearing a fluffy winter hat. The wording above it reads wrap up your home with a green homes grant of up to five thousand pounds
Wrap up your home with a Green Homes Grant of up to £5000

Eligible homeowners and landlords can now apply for a grant to help pay for energy saving measures to keep homes warmer and reduce fuel bills.

The Government’s new Green Homes Grant scheme allows homeowners to apply for grants of up to £5,000 for making certain improvements including fitting insulation. Householders with lower incomes could receive up to £10,000. Home owners and private sector landlords can apply.

“Successful applicants for the Green Homes Grant will be sent a voucher of up to £5,000 to cover up to two-thirds of the cost of energy efficiency and low carbon heat improvements to homes. Bigger grants are available for homeowners if they or a member of their household receives one of the qualifying benefits, and the grant will cover 100% of the cost of the improvements up to £10,000.”

Applicants will need to:

“As the winter months approach, people will be spending more time indoors which will impact both the cost of heating and the accompanying carbon emissions. I urge those eligible for the grant to apply and take this opportunity to transition to a cheaper and more sustainable home heating and insulation.

For queries about the scheme please call the Simple Energy Advice line on 0800 444202 from 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday and Saturday to Sunday 9am to 5pm or find out more at www.gov.uk/apply-green-homes-grant.

Private rental properties will be expected to meet a ‘C’ energy efficiency performance certification (EPC) by 2035. As such, now is the time for landlords to start improving their properties’ EPC rating and apply for a grant of up to £5,000 for energy efficiency improvements.

Green Homes Grant installers must be TrustMark accredited and customers can check installers at: www.trustmark.org.uk/ .  The Green Homes Grant scheme will never send official representatives to your property uninvited or cold calling on the phone to encourage you to join the scheme.

Housing delays in York

As well as the much-publicised delays in re-letting empty Council homes, it seems that the pandemic has also resulted in delays in modernisation plans.

 The “tenants’ choice” programme (bathrooms, kitchens etc.) was to have seen 294 properties upgraded this year. The Councils contractors were confident they could achieve that number.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a larger than expected  number of tenants are currently declining to have  the work done. According to a Council report tenants are declining the work due to” nervousness relating to the pandemic, ill health, or their inability to be able to cope with the disturbance such works would inevitably cause”.

Rooms at the refurbished Lincoln Court sheltered housing scheme are now ready for letting. 3 former residents are understood to be among those moving back into the building.

More worrying news; work on fire safety improvements has halted. £2.2 million scheduled to be invested this year is being slipped into next year.

On a more positive note, the Councils shared ownership programme is going well.  34 properties have been acquired with several now being occupied by “key workers”. This is the project where residents identify a property available for sale which is then jointly purchased. The occupants then pay rent on part of the property while it remains in Council ownership.

 Some of the 79 homes on which work has started at Lowfields, have been taken up on a shared ownership basis.

Over £7 million which was to have been invested in social housing in the City during the current year is being slipped into 21/22.

Council house rent arrears increasing by £20,000 a week

Rent arrears for Tenants - How to avoid them - Slater & Brandley

The Council is considering making further help available to Council tenants who find themselves in financial difficulty as a result of the heath crisis.

 A report to a meeting next week says, “Along with a sympathetic and supportive approach to rent and arrears collecting the hardship fund will enable substantial (up to £500 in most cases) help to individuals and families that most need it.

 The cumulative impact of reduced public spending and welfare reform including the roll out of Universal Credit has seen an increase in rent arrears in York over the last few years.

The impact of the CV19 pandemic has exacerbated this with arrears rising at £20k per week.

 As lockdown restrictions are lifted it is expected that many will return to work and obtain financial stability. There has been an increase in Universal Credit claims and delays of up to 8 weeks in processing these.

The hardship fund – which will be paid for out of the housing revenue account – will cost £80,000.

The council has already refunded the first 13 weeks of the annual rent increase for 2020 / 2021 to anyone who did not have this covered by increases in welfare benefit.

Details of the fund can be found by clicking here

Only 2 rough sleepers in York

The report into homelessness in York – which slightly mysteriously disappeared from a recent meeting agenda – has finally been published.

The report covers the last financial year. It reveals that the number of rough sleepers had reduced from 9 to 7 when the annual census was completed last November. However, the new COVID measures meant that that number had reduced further  to 2 by the end of March.

Housing performance and demands stats

The number of households leaving in temporary accommodation also reduced from 66 to 62 while none had been accommodated in Bed and Breakfast accommodation for over 6 weeks.  The numbers presenting to the Council as homeless increased from 61 to 99.

There were 1597 households on the housing waiting list at the end of the year. The numbers have remained static for several years.

A copy of the full report can be read by clicking here

It markedly fails to mention the number of empty Council properties in the City or what is being done to reduce void times.  286 homes became available for re-letting last year compared to 284 the previous year.

The number of new build affordable houses also increased (see table)

Homelessness is likely to increase in the City as unemployment increases in the wake of the health crisis. This may be exacerbated as the rent freeze also comes to an end.

Storage improvements for Cornlands Road flats

Last year the Council agreed to provide external lockers for the flats on Cornlands Road. The flats have limited internal storage and the lockers would provide an opportunity to safely leave bicycles etc.

Initially it had been expected that the lockers would be located to the side or rear of the properties.

Hard-standing has now been provided to the front of the flats but it remains unclear when the lockers will be fitted.

In the meantime the hard-surfacing is being used to accommodate wheelie bins at some blocks

Homeless problems – still too many long term empty Council houses in York

The was some surprise a few days ago when a scheduled report on homeless problems in the City was pulled.

The Council failed to explain why the report was abandoned and it remains unclear what the report contained.

It may be that the Council is embarrassed by the seeming increase in the number of empty homes that it owns.

Two on Foxwood Lane have been empty for over 6 months (i.e. from before the pandemic caused delays) . Both properties are bungalows which are always popular with “downsizers”, so finding new tenants shouldn’t have been a problem.

On the basis of the last published stats, there were 22 homeless households with dependent children in living in temporary accommodation in York.

According to the Councils own figures, the average number of days to re-let empty properties has risen from 27 days to 37 days during the last couple of years.

There are 1597 people registered on the York housing waiting list.

More delays at Lowfields

The Yorkshire Water’s work on Tudor Road, which is intended to provide services to the Lowfields development, continues to make slow progress.

Tudor Road site entrance has been blocked for 2 months

Tudor Road and the public footpath were blocked for a couple of weeks from 15th June. Work on the main carriageway continued until early July. It was expected that delivery lorries to the Lowfields development site – which had been using Dijon Avenue – would then return to using the authorised Tudor Road entrance.

The Dijon Avenue site entrance is being heavily used

That hasn’t proved to be the case with lorries still trundling down Dijon Avenue each day. It seems the 2 month duration will pass before there is any relief.

Little Tudor Road communal housing site is now covered by a spoil heap

Meanwhile the section of the site reserved for the Yorspace communal housing scheme has been taken over by Wates builders. They have established a spoil heap there and are also storing other materials on the site. Apparently the cooperative still haven’t actually completed the purchase of the land and it remains unclear whether the promised homes will ever actually get built.

Communal housing site – foreground – remains derelict