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

Scepticism over York Council house prices at Lowfields

Average house prices in Dijon Avenue – next to the new “Lowfields Green development – are around £191,000. A 3 bedroomed semi is estimated to be worth between £188,000 and £208,000 according to the Zoopla web site. Prices are similar in nearby Lowfields Drive.

The announcement that the new “Clover” three bed, 94 sq. mtr, semi would cost £295,000 raised many eyebrows. With average salaries of £26,000 a year in York, that means a working couple would be able to borrow a maximum of £234,000 with repayments set at £1109 per month. They would also need a deposit of £60,000.

So we can safely say that the houses aren’t aimed at first time buyers.

Shape homes are offering a “shared ownership” option on some smaller properties. Two 2-bedroomed semi-detached houses (The Burdock) are for sale for between 25%-75% of the whole sale price of £225,000 (for example, a 30% share would cost £67,500). The Council have already completed deals elsewhere in the City for about 30 shared ownership homes. In most of those cases the prospective occupant identified a propriety that was available on the open market and asked the Council to buy half. The occupiers then pay part mortgage and part rent.

Finally seven “social rent” properties will be available.  Two are 2-bedroomed semi-detached houses and there are five 2-bedroomed semi-detached bungalows. Rent levels for the properties have not been revealed, although they will be much less than the £800 pm commercial rents being asked for similar properties in the area. Applicants will need to be on the housing waiting list although it is possible that preference will be given to Council tenants seeking to downsize from larger properties (freeing them, in turn, for family occupation).

Old Bowling Green semi

By way of comparison, a new 3 bed semi on the prestigious Old Bowling Green site on Front Street is listed for sale at £310,000  It has 90 sq. metres of floorspace and is arguably better located than the houses at “Lowfields Green”. Building work on the site will also conclude shortly.

Quite how the £295,000 price for the Lowfields semi has been arrived at was not made clear in the business case figures published by the Council.

It can only serve to stoke house price inflation at a time when many are feeling the pressures arising from the health crisis.

Some cross subsidy of the rented units was expected across the whole site.But that doesn’t explain the £50,000 premium apparently now being sought.

The Council may also point to high standards of thermal efficiency, but it would take over 100 years to repay the extra “up-front” costs through energy bill savings.

New homes at Lowfields on sale from Monday

The Council will start the sale of homes at Lowfields on Monday.

They say that the first phase is of “30 high quality, low energy, spacious homes” which will be ready for their new residents to move in “early in 2021”. 

Of this phase, 18 are available for outright sale at market rates and six of the homes are for sale through a shared ownership scheme.

Seven homes will be allocated for social rent.

More details on the Save Lowfields Playing Field Facebook page. (click)

First homes released for sale at Lowfield Green: The Burdock 2-bed semi

Lowfields – new homes not ready for occupation until next year

This Lowfields site will include 140 mixed tenure homes of which 56 will be affordable homes. The contractor has been on site since December 2019 and the Council says that it is “progressing well” with significant progress on “infrastructure work along with substructures”.

However the first 34 homes are now not due to be completed until early in 2021.

The Council decided to develop the site itself at a meeting held in July 2018

It later formed a company called Shape homes and said it would recruit staff to work with it. The latest financial report suggest that this had not progressed by the end of the financial year with over £1.2 million of the available budget slipping into the current year.

The Council also failed to invest £1.9 million of the budget that it set aside for the repair and modernisation of existing homes.

Football pitches

Meanwhile the football pitch project on Sim Balk Lane has stalled. The pitches were nominally supposed to replace those lost at Lowfields as a result of development, albeit they are 3 miles away. The land near London Bridge became waterlogged over the winter and is only now beginning to grass over.This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is New-football-pitches-Sim-Balk-Lane-4-4th-Aug-2019-858x1024.jpg

The biggest problem though is the expensive “pavilion” which incorporates changing rooms.

A report to a meeting being held today says, “The construction of the pavilion / changing rooms has been put on hold due to the Covid-19 restrictions and it is not known when the work will be able to restart. The final procurement for the access road has also been put on hold”.

We wish that project well, but would have preferred to see some of the £850,000 cost (to taxpayers) invested in outdoor sports/leisure facilities in the Westfield area.

Huge £1.8 million overspend by Council on James House project

The conversion of James House from offices to 57 self-contained apartments for temporary homeless accommodation was completed on 14th April 2020, fifteen months behind schedule.

The Council says, “For homeless households the self-contained apartments will offer safe, secure and comfortable accommodation before permanent housing can be found for them. James House was open to residents in June 2020”.

The Council now admits that, as well as being 15 months behind schedule, the final costs are currently £1.782m above the agreed budget of £12.4m.

The council says that they have appointed independent experts to review the programming, delay, and quantity surveying aspects of the project.

Ascot Way disabled centre to open “in October”

Disabled centre on Ascot Way

The Council has changed its forecast completion date for the Centre of Excellence for Disabled Children which is currently being built on Ascot Way. They originally forecast an (unlikely) opening date of June. They have now revised this to October.

The Council says that the facility “will provide short breaks for young people with disabilities in a purpose built facility and also expand the service support offer in the community and assist in reducing the need for out of authority placements by providing much more flexible provision in the city

Lincoln Court

Work on upgrading the adjacent Lincoln Court sheltered accommodation units had stalled during the Coronavirus lock-down. No opening date has been given for reoccupation of the building although this may be influenced by the continuing work on the adjacent site. The refurbishment involves the creation of 15 new fully wheelchair accessible properties and 20 fully refurbished apartments.

We are still waiting to hear when work on the replacement for the all weather play area (MUGA) will start!

Lowfields development complaints increase as Council confirms that Yorspace have failed to purchase land allocated for them.

Completion delays forecast

Yorspace plans 2017

The York Council has confirmed that the Yorspace communal housing project has failed to purchase the development plot allocated for them nearly 3 years ago.

Although the 19 home site wasn’t as controversial as some other parts of the development, neighbours had been assured that a prompt start would be made on site. This was considered to be  essential if a maximum 3 year site build was to be achieved as promised by the Council  It is understood that the area which is allocated as a play area, will first be used as a building compound for the Yorspace development.

The Yorspace development became controversial when it was revealed in January 2019 that no conditions had been attached to the sale which required occupiers to be in housing need, have low incomes or, indeed, even be York residents. There was some scepticism about the sale price of £300,000 as a similar nearby plot had been sold for 50% more than that figure.

A Council official, at a private meeting held in August 2017, had agreed an “exclusivity agreement” to sell the land to what was then styled as a  “Mutual Home Ownership Society”

Planning permission was granted in March 2019 despite concerns about lack of parking provision and the absence of “affordable housing”. Yorspace was forced last year to extend its funding appeal deadline for investors, although it later announced that it had reached its income target. This should have allowed funds to be transferred to the Council but a Freedom of Information response has today confirmed that this did not happen.

With other elements of the development also now in delay – there is no sign of the “self build” homes, elderly persons sheltered housing or community buildings being started – the development timetable is likely to stetch to 5 years or more.

This is bad news for some neighbours who have complained bitterly on the Save Lowfields Playing Field Facebook page about noise, dust and the disruption and damage being caused by plant & supplies accessing the site. Residents claim to have complained to the Council and the local MP without a response.

Verges and roads in Dijon Avenue have been damaged.

The adjacent “self build” plots are also stalled. A year ago the Council agreed to market the plots through “Custom Build Homes”. Buyers were supposed to start construction “within 12 months” and have completed all works “within 2 years”.

The Council needs to get a grip on what is happening at Lowfields. Work is continuing on constructing the speculative housing development although whether the Chancellor’s recent decision on reduced stamp duty will prompt a queue of buyers remains to be seen.

The Council must put a clear deadline by which work on the other sections of the site must be completed. Residents don’t want o spend half their lives living on, or adjacent to, a building site.

If Yorspace or others can’t complete then the parcels of land should be sold to those who are able to get on and provide additional housing quickly.

Extraordinary U Turn by York Council

A Council official has nullified the controversial decision taken by Green Councillor who agreed to spend over £1 million bringing 8 Council houses up to ENerPhit standard and around 30 homes up to EPC ‘C’. click for report.

Cllr Craghill turned down an alternative which would have seen 66 properties benefit from a similar investment. Overall this scheme would have produced greater CO2 savings, and lower energy bills, for many more tenants. It was better value for money and had a bigger impact on the environment.

Not surprisingly the seemingly perverse decision was due to be “called in” for further explanation. Tory, Independent and Labour Councillors backed the call in. Privately some LibDem Councillors are understood to have expressed similar concerns.

Now a Council official has decided to bin the decision.

The Councils – increasingly controversial – “monitoring officer”, Janie Berry, says that

” I have concerns in relation to the legal, finance and equalities implications cited within the original report, in that I do not believe they provided Cllr Craghill with the sufficient details she required to assist her in making a proper fully informed decision”.

“In my capacity as the Monitoring Officer I have revoked the original decision made by Cllr Craghill and have instructed the Housing Department to re-draft a  report in respect of this issue and re-present a revised report to a future meeting of the  Executive Member Decision Session.  Members will still be able to call-in any future report in respect of the Energy Accelerator”.

Now whatever you may think of the decision – and it was a strange one – officers overruling Councillors, without democratic endorsement, sets a dangerous precedent. It is as close to a local coup as you are likely to witness.

Reports normally go through a series of checks before being made public. These checks certainly are aimed at ensuring proposals are affordable, legal and fair.

Something has gone seriously wrong in this case. Taxpayers will want to know how this could happen.

The delegation scheme – where individuals can spend very large sums of money – has always been controversial. The blunder will add weight to those advocating a return to all party committee decision making.

In the meantime, the controlling coalition needs to find some internal mechanism where extreme or perverse proposals can be moderated before they become public.

If such a process were in place then some recent transport decisions might also have never seen the light of day.

House building numbers published

A report on the number of additional homes provided in the City last year has been published. There has been no public consideration of the figures

There were 560 net completions in 2019/20

In addition, the report reveals that there were a total of 3,466 housing planning consents given. This is by far the largest single year number of permissions recorded in the last 10 years. However the total depends heavily on the approval of 2500 homes at the York central site

It is estimated that around 550 additional homes are required each year to meet internally generated demand (Excess of births over deaths in the City plus a continuing drift towards smaller households).

Higher Local Plan figures rest on attracting more inward migrants to the City which in turn is driven by the job numbers generated by high economic growth forecasts.

These forecasts were pre COVID and are unlikely to become a reality in the near future.

Nevertheless, the City now does have sufficient planning permission identified to take the pressure off development greenfield land.

NB. There will always be around 100 “windfall” approvals for small housing sites each year which need to be added to the completion numbers.

Prompt response from York Council

Cornlands Road/Askham Lane

A York Council manager has responded promptly to reports of Epicormic (lower trunk) growth on some trees in the Cornlands Road/Tudor Road area.

Such growth can cause sight line problems for drivers.

The manager says the branches will be trimmed.

Dumping is a problem at some empty properties.

We’ve reported a similar issue with a tree at the junction of Cornlands Road and Askham Lane.

We also received a prompt response from Cllr Demise Craghill who has executive responsibility for housing in the City.

She was sympathetic to our complaints about delays in bringing empty Council houses back into use and promised to pursue two long standing issues in the Foxwood Lane area.

Morrell Court

Lack of action to level potholes on the Morrell Court access road has now been registered as a formal complaint with the Council. The defects were first reported 6 months ago.

Elsewhere black bags have been left next to the recycling bins at the Acomb Wood Drive shopping area.

We have asked for them to be removed.

Acomb Wood Drive shopping area

Concern about housing in York

As lock-down eases, concerns about the condition of some housing estates are starting to emerge.

The Council’s lettings and void repairs staff have made slow progress on getting empty properties back into use. As a result some long term empty properties have deteriorated. No management information has been published by the Council recently so the scale of the problem is unclear.

Even some “prime” site bungalows (usually very attractive to those on the waiting list for homes) have been empty for 6 months or longer.

Dumping and vandalism at empty council houses.

While cleansing standards have generally improved during lockdown (fewer people around and individual staff members focused on local areas) there have been problems with dumping. Scheduled skip visits, funded through ward committees, didn’t happen and replacement visits have yet to be scheduled.

Dumping on communal areas still a problem
Drying area vandalised
We’ve escalated problems with filling in potholes like these on the Morrell Court access road
Broken branch in Dickson Park reported. Several trees were damaged during Friday’s gales.
We’ve reported several more hedges in the Thoresby Road and Tudor Road area which are now impeding public footpaths
Holgate (Hob Moor) beck was flowing yesterday following heavy rain. It is still, however, obstructed by vegetation
We’ve asked for hardcore to be put under this kissing gate access to Hob Moor. Access for the elderly and disabled is currently very difficult.
We’ve asked for the Tithe Close/Tedder Road snicket to be tidied up.