Delays dog new Newbury Avenue bungalows

The five new bungalows being built by the York Council on Newbury Avenue are now several weeks late. The contract was supposed to be completed in early September.

Work still going on at the bungalow site on Newbury Avenue

The contract at the site has a value of £3/4 million.

The development was a controversial one because the Council declined to make adequate alternative off street parking space available for the former renters of the garages which used to occupy the site.

The development was delayed last year following a mix up over the relocation of a telecoms cabinet.

Extra funding for faster rough sleeper support in York

Nearly £400,000 extra funding has been secured by the council to help more people off the streets and into accommodation and support more quickly.

£253,000 has been awarded for 2019/20 from the Rough Sleeping Initiative to try and offer each individual sleeping on the streets the tailored support they need to help them into lasting accommodation.

In addition, £139,000 Rapid Rehousing Pathway funding has been secured to help people into accommodation and support. This is done by a specialist team of workers, known as Rough Sleeper Housing Navigators, enhancing current support by reacting rapidly to any reports of people sleeping rough as well as providing ongoing intensive support to rough sleepers.

People’s life expectancy plummets from 83 to 47 years when they live on the streets, so this funding will be used to support ongoing work to prevent people resorting to sleeping outdoors while developing new ways of addressing the individual needs of each person.

Whether it’s mental health support, dealing with drug or alcohol abuse, relationship breakdown or poverty, the right support at the right pace is given to try and help each individual into suitable accommodation and services. Once working with us and our partners in the city, we can look to address each person’s needs including getting benefits in place, training for work, money and tenancy management, before helping them into stable accommodation.

“It also complements the additional resource we invested in extending the Housing First model. This provides high levels of support to help people with complex needs such as substance abuse and mental ill health to live independently and to avoid them ending up back on the street.

“We have also provided more 24/7 supported housing which is actually what some people need. The council invested £130,000 in July in developing this new programme, working with health service partners.”

Anyone able and wanting to support this and our partners’ work by giving their time or sharing their skills with people going through resettlement, can contact For more information, please visit www.york.gov.uk/roughsleeping.

If you see someone sleeping outdoors, please call the StreetLink national rough sleeper reporting line on 0300 5000 914. They will notify us so we can offer help.

Cllr Denise Craghill, executive member for housing and safer communities said: “We are doing everything we can to develop new ways of getting people in off the streets and this is a welcome addition to our continuing work to prevent homelessness in the first place and to help more people out of rough sleeping. It reflects the team helping more people into accommodation and reducing the number of rough sleepers in the city from 29 in 2017 to nine in 2018.

Litter a growing problem on some Council estates

Litter is left for weeks without being swept.

Keeping estates clean and tidy until recently was the responsibility of estate workers. There was one in each major neighbourhood. They were sometimes styled as estate “handymen” and part of their duties was to repair minor items of street furniture. They were funded from rents.

They helped to keep neighbourhoods in good condition and would often be seen in the area proactively dealing with issues.

The Council recently decided to get rid of the role with responsibilities transferred to a mobile team.  Since the change, there has been a noticeable drop in standards. This seems mainly to be due to the fact that, rather than routinely patrol areas looking to address issues before they were widely noticed, the new approach is mainly “reactive”.

That is the staff respond to complaints.

Many will remember fondly the last decade when the Council, for a time, employed “lengthsmen” to give local roads that extra bit of care. They achieved more in improving standards than mechanical sweeping alone could provide.

That sadly also is a now thing of the past.

The drop in standards has been an increasing concern for residents associations. The issue has been drawn to the attention of Executive Councillors who have responsibility for service quality. There has been little response so far.

Unless the Council publishes an acceptable service standard contract for activities like these – the core of its work as a public authority – then it is likely that volunteer efforts will tail off.

That would be a great shame as whole communities would suffer.

Litter levels increasing

No takers for Care Home contract at Lowfields

Care home site

According to a notice published earlier today, the York Council has received
no suitable tenders for the provision of a care home at its Lowfields site.

The Council has already invested heavily in providing infrastructure,
including roads, at the site. They promised a 30-month building timetable in  response to concerns expressed by residents in 2016 who feared that the nuisance caused by building works could drag on for a decade.

The failure to find a development partner for the care home, together with
delays on the communal housing section, means that there is no end in sight for the development work.

The delay  notice says, ” This item has been withdrawn because, following a tender process, officers have been unable to appoint a developer. Officers need to consult the market and consider the options before the Executive can make a decision”.

According to the Councils Elderly Care programme, which was last discussed in 2018, work on building the care home was due to start next month. Officials at that they said that they were confident on getting a good deal for the site following “soft market” testing. 

Now a delay on the start of building work on the home of over 12 months  seems inevitable.

There have been similar delays at Oakhaven on York Road where work is now over 3 years behind schedule.

Delays also dog the Haxby Hall redevelopment site on the other side of the
City.

Despite the delays in providing new care homes, existing facilities have
been closed. Some like Willow House next to the Bar walls remain empty.

Ironically, the original plan to provide a, mainly private sector funded,
care village on the site of the Lowfield’s school had been developed in 2010 to the point where work was scheduled to start. The scheme was shelved by the incoming Labour Council and 9 years later there is little to show but some “roads to nowhere” and large spoil heaps.

The site is now has little security. It is attracting children who want to play
on the dangerous spoil heaps.

The football pitches have long gone so alternative children’s play facilities
are non existent.

Even the Kingsway multi user games area has been turned into a building
compound for another development..

Lowfields plans in 2016

Call me Mr Shape

The Council is to adopt a pseudonym when it tries to sell any new homes that it builds in York. The decision comes in the wake of research which suggests that many potential buyers regard the Council as a provider of cheap, lower specification homes.

So, the Council will in future market itself as “Shape Homes York”. The revelation comes in a report being considered later this week

The Council’s poor image on housing is easy to understand given the litter and weed infested state of many Council estates. Unnecessary cuts to maintenance regimes have led to a fall in tenants’ satisfaction. This has affected the Councils image more generally.

The report also reveals what is claimed to be a new approach to design and public consultation on the sites that it will develop over the next few years. Around 600 new homes are planned.

Major mistakes were made at Lowfields where bogus promises of a new health centre and police station were included in marketing material. It later turned out that neither was likely to materialise while a proposed elderly persns home has been delayed. Residents became even more hostile towards the council when it was revealed that “replacement” sports pitches (those at Lowfield are being built on) would be provided at a site located some 3 miles away and lacking a public transport link.

The Council plans developments at Askham Bar, Burnholme, Duncombe Barracks, the former Manor School, the former Clifton Without School, and the former Woolnough House sites.

The brownfield (and unused) Askham bar car park site is being slipped down the priority list to allow for early work at Ordnance Lane and Hospital Fields Road.

The Council expects around 40% of the properties it builds to be “affordable”. They will be cross subsidised by market sales by the new “Shape Homes” front organisation. The Council has set up a new department to manage the programme and has recruited a large number of additional administrative staff. The overall cost of the programme is £154 million.

The Council has also published a design manual which they claim indicates how its new homes will look. It includes some high efficiency homes which will have low running costs (Passivhaus)

As the, currently stalled, Lowfield development has revealed, Council propaganda rarely these days accords with reality.

In setting up its own housing building operation, we think that the Council may be overextending itself. 

It is still trying to bring to a conclusion the £42 million Community Stadium project, it announced last week that £20 million would be spent on redeveloping a business club at the Guildhall while the first tranche of work on the £1 billion York Central site is due to start later in the year.

& all that from a local authority which doesn’t even have a permanent Chief Executive working for it at present.

Contract awarded to begin shaping the York Central site.

A road, access bridge and rail link essential to the development of York Central have moved a step closer with the announcement that City of York Council has selected John Sisk & Son as construction partner to deliver infrastructure to open up the site.

York central

The contract, the first to be awarded, is for a detailed design review which will lead to a Reserved Matters planning application, due later this financial year.

The approved plans for the York Central site include proposals to build up to 2,500 homes, and a commercial quarter creating up to 6,500 jobs adding a £1.16 billion boost to the economy.

John Sisk & Son will work with the council and partners to refine and finalise the design of the first phase of essential infrastructure for the access bridge, the spine road and the NRM rail link. This will inform a decision by Executive to proceed with a costed construction programme for York Central enabling infrastructure.

Cllr Keith Aspden, Leader of the council, said; “The delivery of York Central is a once in a lifetime opportunity to build much needed affordable homes and new public spaces, attract better paid jobs, and create sustainable transport links for the city.

“We look forward to working with the York Central Partnership to secure further improvements to the scheme and with Sisk to begin this essential first phase of work in preparing the York Central site for development.”

Ian Gray, Homes England on behalf of York Central Partnership, said: “This is a really exciting and important milestone towards the delivery of our ambitious plans at York Central. 

“A lot of hard work has been put in by York Central Partnership to get this far and this contract demonstrates our commitment to delivering the ambition and vision for the site.”

Paul Brown, Managing Director, UK Civils at John Sisk & Son, said:

“We are delighted to have been selected by the City of York Council to work with the stakeholders on this exciting project and to progress the design of some of the key enabling infrastructure. This is a project of huge ambition which will transform underused land in the centre of York into vibrant and distinctive residential neighbourhoods, cultural spaces and a high-quality commercial quarter. We are really excited to be able to bring our broad range of experience and commitment to a collaborative approach to the project.”

The budget necessary to commission this work was agreed by Executive in July 2019.

The York Central Partnership (YCP) members, Homes England, Network Rail, the National Railway Museum and City of York Council, have been working collaboratively for the past four years to develop proposals to unlock the potential of the brownfield site.

The partnership has secured planning approval, subject to the finalisation of the S106 agreement, for its outline planning application and assembled a potential £155m funding package for infrastructure works.

This includes £23.5m of a total of £37.2m from the West Yorkshire-plus Transport Fund and Leeds City Region Growth Deal, which will also fund the ambitious plans to transform the front of the railway station.

The West Yorkshire-plus Transport Fund has been part-funded through the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Growth Deal, a £1 billion package of Government funding to drive growth and job creation across the Leeds City Region. The aim is to create around 20,000 new jobs and add £2.4 billion a year to the economy by the mid-2030s.

City of York Council has also received a Local Growth Fund contribution of £3.1m, from York, North Yorkshire and East Riding LEP and has agreed to borrow £35m to be repaid using retained business rates from the York Central Enterprise Zone.

The council’s £77.1m bid for the government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund is at an advanced stage, with a decision expected in the autumn.

£66,676 spent on temps at York Council contact centre

A Freedom of information response has revealed that the City of York Council’s contact centre spent £66,676.88 on temporary agency 
staff between 3rd September 2018 to 1st September 2019

The staff were recruited using City of  York Trading Limited as the  preferred supplier.  They are a wholly owned Council subsidiary.   

The information has come to light as questions are being asked about the effectiveness of the issue reporting systems at the Council.

On two occasion recently the contact centre has claimed that litter reports concerned “private” land, for which the Council had no responsibility.

It turned out that the cases concerned garage forecourt areas which are in the ownership of the Councils own housing department!

Council claims garage areas are “private”

New contractors appointed to modernise Council houses in York

New contracts have been signed by City of York Council to help improve and maintain the 7,520 homes of their tenants.

The Council have still not published a work programme for the current financial year

Until recently the York Council used to published a programme of housing modernisation works before a new financial year started. It indicated which streets would receive attention, and what work would be completed, during the subsequent 12 months. It appears to be something else that the Council is now keeping secret.

“Following a rigorous procurement process, seven contractors have been secured to deliver ongoing work to repair and prevent damp in the homes, the Tenants’ Choice programme and external painting”.

To support the £2.5 million investment underway to repair and prevent damage being done to homes by standing water, two new contractors have been appointed. Engie and G Sanders Builder Ltd will work on homes affected by poorly-drained clay soil, present in some areas of York, and which can create damp conditions.

Their target is to complete work on 60 homes per year as part of a rolling programme. Tenants whose homes are due for this work will receive letters at least two months before it is due to start, to organise surveys with the contractor. Depending on what the survey finds, the work is agreed with the tenant to resolve the symptoms and underlying causes of the damage. Where appropriate, Tenants’ Choice refurbishments may also be carried out at the same time.

The Tenants’ Choice contracts are to modernise tenants’ kitchens and/or bathrooms as well as re-wiring properties. Over the next four years this will be delivered by BM Services York and by Engie across some 1,000 homes. All tenants on next year’s programme will receive a letter in the spring time to organise surveys and to invite them to an exhibition event to see the choices available to them.

External painting of tenants’ homes will be done by three firms; Bagnalls Group, Novus Solutions and Bell Group. For the four-year duration of the contracts, they will paint external wooden areas including fascia boards, garden gates and external doors.

Repair work needed outside these programmes of work should continue to be reported as usual at or by calling 01904 551550 (option 4, option 1).

Forged tenancy agreements used in council tax fraud

An investigation into a council tax fraud involving forged tenancy agreements has been uncovered and successfully prosecuted by City of York Council.

Joanne Smith (aged 39 previously of Howden Lane, Crockey Hill), provided the council with three forged private tenancy agreements for properties within the York area between 2017 and 2018.

The agreements stated that she was the sole tenant at each property, when in fact she had an additional adult living with her. This meant she was not entitled to the £1,202.43 council tax reduction nor the £618.34 single person discount that she claimed.

An investigation into the authenticity of these tenancy agreements was conducted by Veritau, the council’s fraud investigation service. Veritau were notified of the fraud following concerns that the documents Miss Smith had provided were false and were an attempt to obtain a reduction to her council tax that she was not entitled to.

During the course of the investigation, Miss Smith was interviewed under caution by Veritau officers and admitted to forging one of the tenancy agreements, and that she had provided it to the council to obtain a reduction to her council tax.

The investigation concluded with Miss Smith pleading guilty to one charge of fraud and six charges of forgery and counterfeiting at York Magistrates Court on Monday 29 July 2019.

On Tuesday 20 August 2019, Miss Smith was sentenced by York Magistrates to a 14-month custodial sentence suspended for 18 months and 20 days of rehabilitation activity. She was also ordered to repay £1,820.77 which is the full amount of council tax reduction and single person discount, and to pay a victim surcharge of £115.

In her defence, the mitigating circumstances offered were that she and her children have health issues and that she had suffered a family bereavement in 2017.

Councillor Nigel Ayre, City of York Council’s Executive Member for Finance and Performance, said: “This is a case of fraud against the authority, made all the more serious by involving forged documents.

“The actions in this case were an attempt to defraud the public purse. We encourage anyone with any information on suspected fraudulent activity to phone the fraud hotline on 0800 9179 247 or email fraud@york.gov.uk .”

Troubled York Council land sale – more details

More details of the York Council’s controversial decision to sell land to the Yorspace community housing group are emerging. In response to a Freedom of Information request the Council has provided a copy of the independent valuation that it obtained for the land at Lowfields.

Yorspace Lowfield development

The valuation states that the site may be sold to a community housing group for £300,000 which “represents a 20% discount on market value”. However, the valuation report is based on the construction of 10 semi-detached homes on the land.

The Yorspace proposal envisages a 19 unit, high density, development.

So the scale of the taxpayer subsidy remains obscure. The only way to test the financial assumptions would be to market the site, comparing offers for social housing with a commercial alternative.

While Section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972 does allow Local Authorities to sell, in certain circumstances, land at below market value and without seeking competitive bids, that discretion is not unfettered.

The Council constitution requires a reason for such a sale to be minuted. There is no such reason given in the record of the officer decision taken on 18th January 2019

Construction of roads at Lowfields is almost complete.

The record of the meeting says, The Mutual Home Ownership Society housing model they use is designed as such that they will be economically accessible to lower income families and the affordability of the homes is maintained in perpetuity”.

The council has not, so far, chosen to include, in the terms of the proposed sale, a requirement that occupiers MUST be lower income families and/or that they should currently be registered on the home choice/housing waiting list..

As the development has NOT been classified as “affordable housing” in the Local Plan, the Council must legally provide a specific reason for giving preferential treatment to a particular group.

Valuation report published

The reason might be, for example, to create local jobs, to provide accessible leisure facilities, to provide homes for those on the waiting list or whatever.

However, an auditable rationale is a legal requirement.

The sale to Yorspace has not been completed yet but is expected next month. A further report to a council committee on the scheme is expected on 26th September.

Meanwhile it has emerged that no progress has been made in selling any “self-build“ plots at Lowfield

The Council says that marketing material for the plots is being prepared by the Community and Self-Build Officer, in conjunction with Custom Build Homes, who are the sale agent for the plots.

Self build homes are likely to be worth more than the construction cost.

 “A promotional event was held last year, and it is planned that another event will be held at the start of the marketing launch”.

 Plots will be promoted through the council, the Custom Build Homes website and Rightmove. Plots will go on sale this Autumn.

The buyers must have started construction work within 12 months of purchase and have completed all works within 2 years”.