Council snubbed by government in York Central funding deal

Illustrative York Central Masterplan approved in 2019

The council’s “continued role” in unlocking a new generation of jobs, homes and cultural facilities in the York Central site will be considered by the Executive next Thursday, 22 April.

Funding to complete infrastructure works at the York central site (located behind the railway station) is being made direct to the landowners – led by Homes England – by the government.

It means that the Council’s role will be peripheral despite many millions having already been invested in the project. That may be good news for taxpayers who have seen projects like the Community Stadium and Guildhall refurbishment delayed and go over budget in recent years.

Now contract supervision and liability will rest mainly with Homes England.

Transparency isn’t a strong point for any of the “partners” involved in the York Central project (or the current York Council for that matter). We doubt if engagement will improve under the new governance arrangements.

The Council does remain the planning authority although that role could be undermined as they pursue “Enterprise Zone” status for the project. Planning rules are lax in such areas.

Council report April 2021

The Council is still set to spend nearly £50 million on the project and is dependent on the additional business rate income from Enterprise Zone new businesses to repay its borrowing.

The report being considered next week skates over the risks of this approach,. Those risks appear to have increased since the pandemic with office based developments likely to be less attractive for a while at least.

There are a number of significant planning issues still to be resolved.

These include the (bizarre) suggestion for making the Leeman Road tunnel one way, the absence of an attractive pedestrian/cycle access from the Wilton Rise area and continuing doubts about severing the existing Leeman Road footpath link near the Railway Museum

Last summer Labour Councillors even tried to ditch the project.

The Council has issued the following statement,

“Despite the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, the council has worked with York Central partners Network Rail, Homes England and National Railway Museum to maintain momentum and progress on the 42 hectare York Central site.

After partners finalised the £155 million funding, secured planning permission and started work on the infrastructure to unlock the site, which will deliver up to 2,500 homes and space for up to 6,500 jobs.

Executive will be asked to approve changes to the way the project will be delivered and managed.

This includes the main grant holder, Homes England, taking on the delivery of the bridges, footways, cycleways, roads and other infrastructure to open up the site.

The council will also receive £3.86 million from the government grant to cover the costs incurred advancing the infrastructure project”.

Muddled thinking on new Burnholme development?

A planning application for an 83-home development at Burnholme are set to be approved by the Council planning committee.  The application is from the Council itself. It is high density and has been criticised by the Council’s own highways team who believe that the layout will hinder waste collection activities and exacerbate parking problems across a wide area.

Other major criticisms relate to a lack of car parking space and security. There is less than one space per home although experience elsewhere suggests that, at least,  the 33 three and four bedroomed homes will house 2 or more car owners. Parking space permits would be allocated annually (maximum one per house).

Bizarrely only 4 of the parking spaces will have electric vehicle charging points although the development is supposed to be a model of self-sufficiency.

The terraced housing will have communal back lanes. Similar social experiments over the years have failed when occupants turned out to have different lifestyle choices than those envisaged by the scheme designers.

The homes are likely to be expensive to buy but have the advantage of low running costs due to high insulation standards.

At this development the Council seem to be edging towards supporting the option of  living hedge boundaries – a choice  their Shape housing company denies potential occupants of the Lowfields development.

Of the 83 homes 16 would be for Social Rent and 16 would be  Shared Ownership. There are 5 self-build plots.

Just how many people are actually prepared to pay £300,000 for a home incorporating a folksy requirement to shop using a cargo bike plus cheek by jowl living with near neighbours remains to  be seen.

New free ‘room in roof’ insulation for eligible homeowners

Image result for council house insulation images

A much-needed upgrade of insulation and improvements to York homes has been agreed to improve residents’ wellbeing and fuel bills and to meet our climate neutral ambitions.

In December 2020, Executive approved the improvement of energy performance in 60 council houses in York. This £1m retrofit will bring these homes up to an EPC C rating meaning greater insulation, less fuel burned and greater comfort. It will provide valuable lessons to support future works, boost the local supply chain, upskill tradespeople and housing staff, and support the green economy of the city.

To guide current and future investment in retrofitting homes, a new strategy is being developed to ensure a deeper understanding of the retrofit challenge in the city and bring forward proposed solutions for council housing and within the private sector.

A successful bid of £535,000 was secured by a York-led consortium in December 2020. This Government funding is to deliver energy efficiency measures for homeowners and private landlords to improve their homes in York, Harrogate, Selby and Craven.

In York, we are using our share of the funding to improve 40 homes with poorly insulated rooms in roof spaces. Next month, we will be initially targeting homes in the Clifton area where higher levels of fuel poverty and large numbers of rooms in poorly insulated roof spaces have been identified. The grant will pay for the full cost of works for eligible homeowners and up to 66% of works for private landlords.

In addition, across the four local authority areas, there will be an offer of free loft insulation and draught proofing to all fuel-poor householders with inadequate/no loft insulation.

Meanwhile, a further consortium bid led by York will be submitted this week. It aims to expand our work to insulate rooms in roofs and improve the fabric of 60 council houses including fitting solar photovoltaic panels on some 50 council houses.

Consultation on improving standards in private rented homes in York

Support for a new licensing scheme to further improve the quality and energy efficiency of some of York’s privately-rented homes could lead to a 10-week consultation.

The current Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) licencing scheme has raised standards in over 1,000 HMOs which are subject to the national HMO scheme.

A targeted additional HMO licensing scheme which focusses on the wards where there is the most evidence of poorer housing conditions and issues with poorer management, would aim to raise standards in another 2,000 HMOs.  Landlords would benefit from a level playing field, including being trained in property management which would also improve the quality and value of the property and encourage tenants to stay longer.

Introducing an additional licensing scheme for Homes in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) with three or four occupants, must be preceded by a consultation. This would target the wards of Hull Road, Guildhall, Clifton, Fishergate, Heworth, Micklegate, Osbaldwick and Derwent; and Fulford and Heslington where the most HMOs are in the city.

Council stages three on line consultations

Bootham/Gillygate

The promised consultation on changes to pedestrian priority arrangements at this junction started this week.

It asks whether changes could be made as part of a plan to modernise the traffic signals at the junction.

The survey can be found by clicking this link

Option1

This design replaces all signalling equipment at the junction whilst also making slight improvements for pedestrians crossing the junction.  Transport modelling of these revisions indicate that the impact to all vehicular traffic moving through the junction is negligible however the improvements to infrastructure at the site make future upgrades and revisions to operation easier.

* A full replacement of all on site traffic signalling technology

* Pedestrian Crossing width increased to 4 metres on the Bootham arm of the junction

* Pedestrian Crossing width increased to 6 metres on the Gillygate arm of the junction

* Tactile paving on the St Leonards Place arm of the crossing to be realigned meet current design standards.

Option 2

This design looks to reallocate space at the junction from road traffic to pedestrians whilst also replacing the required signalling equipment. 

Transport modelling of the redesign indicates that the changes would reduce the capacity of the junction by approximately 30%.  This would see significant increases in general traffic delay at the junction and a large increase in queues which would impact on adjacent junctions across the network. 

* A full replacement of all on site traffic signalling technology.

* Pedestrian Crossing widths increased to 4 metres across both the Gillygate and Bootham arms of the junction.

* Additional pedestrian crossing point introduced from the eastern corner of Gillygate to the western footway of St Leonards Place.

* Removal of the left turn lane from St Leonards Place reducing the highway into a single lane in both directions.

* Highway realigned to the East of Gillygate/St Leonards place to create a more straight ahead route for vehicles travelling from Gillygate into St Leonards Place and additional footway and pedestrian realm adjacent to Bootham Bar.

* Existing Pedestrian Island removed from St Leonards place and crossing realigned as a single stage crossing.

The consultation runs until 31st March.

Dropped kerbs

The Council is also consulting on a revised policy for approving dropped kerb – verge cross over plans.

Lack of on street parking space means that more residents will be likely to seek to make this change in the future. Installation of vehicle charging facilities as the internal combustion engine is phased out, may stimulate demand.

The new regulations are very proscriptive. They don’t permit the relocation of tree or street furniture which may obstruct access to a driveway.

A programme of providing dropped kerbs for Council owned premises has stalled over recent years meaning that verges in several streets are now badly damaged.

The draft policy can be found by clicking here

The consultation closes on 28th April

Homeshare York

The Council is also consulting on the future of its Homeshare services

“Currently Homeshare matches a homeowner aged 55+ who has a spare room and could benefit from some support and/or companionship (the ‘Householder’) with a younger person who will provide 10 hours of support a week in exchange for accommodation (the ‘Homesharer’). Homeshare is free to the Householder and the Homesharer pays £160 towards the running of the match as well as any contributions towards council tax increases. Homesharer’s are fully vetted including two references and a DBS check. Matches are made based on both parties’ personalities and interests and support is offered throughout the match. Matches are expected to last for a minimum of 6 months but can be ended early if a match is not working out. For more information you can visit our Homeshare webpage.

the Homeshare survey can be accessed here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/2DQNWN8

The survey runs until 22nd March

Council misled Lowfield residents

Two virtually identical planning applications were dealt with by Council officials last week.

Both concerned details of the current development taking place at Lowfield.

Both related to “alterations to bedrooms, house types, elevations, roof mounted PV, masterplan revisions, finished floor levels and boundary treatments”

2019 proposal was withdrawn on Tuesday. The 2021 proposal was approved on Wednesday

The second application additionally extended the permitted hours of working to include Saturday afternoons.

The first application (originally submitted in 2019) was withdrawn on Tuesday.

On Wednesday the new application was approved by officials using delegated powers.

The applications had been described as “non material amendments”. Given that the applicant, and the planning authority, were both the York Council, this give rise to claims of unfairness.

It is unlikely that affected neighbours understood what was going on behind closed doors.

Apart from the Saturday working proposal, the biggest concern relates to the the boundary fencing arrangement. Most residents had originally expected that the existing railings – which are in good condition and date from the time that the site was a school – would be retained.

The Council then proposed to remove the railings and substitute a close boarded fence.

Many neighbours feared that the removal of the railings would damage their adjacent gardens.

Rubbish accumulates between different fence layers

The latest plan involves the retention of the railings with a close boarded fence also being erected on the development side.

Double (or triple) fencing has not been a success elsewhere.

Maintenance is difficult.

Close boarded fences are an obstacle for wildlife.

They also squander the opportunity to use natural hedging which has environmental benefits.

The double fencing idea is, of course, also more expensive. Those facing a £295,000 bill for a three bedroomed semi might well have preferred the option to have a discount (and a boundary hedge).

Sadly this is another example of poor public relations on a controversial development which is now hopelessly behind schedule.

The damage to roads and verges in the existing Lowfield area is appalling while the noise nuisance now seem likely to extend into more of the weekend.

The issues are known to local Councillors.

The Lowfields Facebook page can be accessed by clicking here

Limited progress on pothole repairs

Of six highway defects reported on Saturday, the Council has agreed to address only two of them.

Further work is promised on Gladstone Street and School Street.

Elsewhere it seems there is no prospect of repairs on Walker Drive, Vincent Way, Hotham Avenue or Lowfields Drive

The Council seems to be no closer to bitmacing the small section of verge on Kingsway West, near Newbury Avenue, which has been subject to overrun damage for over 5 years now

We understand that the Council is considering using the little Green Lane garage area as a compound during housing modernisation works. A storage unit has already appeared there

Does high density development have a post pandemic future?

Hungate development plans

Developers have submitted their final proposals for building on the remaining plot on Hungate.

 The latest planning application would see an increase in the number of flats proposed from 169 to 226. No on-site parking will be provided. There will be some ground floor retail units.

The announcement comes hard on the heels of a planning application which would see 211 apartments constructed on Rougier Street.

While a lot of people will be pleased to see the Hungate  development – which started over  10 years ago – completed, there will be some scepticism about the number of apartments being provided on a relatively small site.

 The lockdown restrictions have highlighted the need for access to safe open space. Unfortunately land values – established during a very different economic climate – make the provision of the alternative to flats –  terraced homes with private gardens – financially challenging.

Barbican Road development site

This may be why the City center’s worst eyesore continues to lie empty and abused.

The site at the junction of Barbican Road and Paragon Street has been derelict for more than a decade. Originally intended for use as a student block, it has failed to attract serious developer interest.

Now it provides an embarrassing backdrop to the historic City Walls.

Perimeter hoardings now covered in graffiti.

Directly opposite – on the other side of the Walls – is the Willow House  former elderly persons home which has been unused for over 4 years. The Council has still not responded to calls for the building to be used as temporary accommodation for the homeless.

The York Council itself is planning to build hundreds of apartments on the York Central site as well as at Castle Mills.

The next year will tell us how many people want to occupy small flats in high density city centre developments.

Post pandemic, we suspect that the option might be losing some of its appeal.  

Lowfields virtual tour

The Council has issued a media release saying that prospective house buyers at the Lowfields development can now take a “virtual tour”

The Council has not commented on the more controversial elements lf the development including the impact that the buildings works are having on neighbouring properties and roads.

Nor has any information been released on when work will start on the the promised community facilities or about the future of the “communal housing” plot, which is located in the south east corner of the site.

Significant changes to Lowfields Plans

Planning applications (see below) have been submitted which would see changes made to the Lowfields development. Many are relatively minor although some may cause concern for neighbours

Working hours

Saturday working until 3:00pm will be allowed on parts of the site. A Council official has already agreed to these changes which will permit work to continue on internal works, external paving and brick laying.

Officials say that the proposal is in line with government relaxations in the wake of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions.

The concession lasts until 2nd June 2021.

Proposed boundary arrangements
York Council Email
Boundaries

The perimeter railings are now to be retained. This proposal will be welcomed by many. The railings are generally in good condition and offer enhanced security protection.

Likely to be less welcome is a plan to install a 1.8 meter high closed boarded fence immediately behind the railings. While this may improve privacy, such arrangements have not proved to be successful elsewhere (Hob Stone, Cornlands Road/Redder Rad snicket).

The are maintenance problems for both sets of fences. Progress for mammals like hedgehogs is obstructed by close boarded fences, while an opportunity for compensatory planting is missed.

Undergrowth inevitably builds up between the two layers which is difficult to control.

We will be writing to the planning authorities to say that the inner fence should be replaced with screen planting, which would be better for both wildlife and for the environment.

Boundary treatments
Other changes

A complete list of changes is reproduced below.

The ridge and eves heights on the houses are being reduced while photovoltaic cells are being installed to generate power.

There still has been no statement from the Council about the future of the site reserved for “public buildings” or of the Yorspace communal living plots.