One law for……

Perhaps the actions that have attracted the most criticism during lockdown nationally have been those where politicians and senior officials have been seen to break their own rules. Several have been forced to resign although, at least, one has famously not.

Not surprisingly the words and actions of their local counterparts are also now under increasing scrutiny. Tomorrow some schools will reopen while those that have carried on educating the children of Key Workers can expect an influx of additional pupils. Opinions are mixed about the timing of this move and, indeed,  the return of more people to their workplaces.

MPs have returned to Westminster albeit in a “social distancing” respecting way.

So why have the City’s democratic institutions not been revived? Apart from a couple of anaemic virtual Q & A sessions, local leaders seem to have preferred to issue the occasional policy edict.

They have seemed reluctant to submit to scrutiny.

The Councils scrutiny and audit functions – led by opposition Councillors – have been ineffective for many years, with participants trying to score political points while exploring their own self interest obsessions.

Never has there been a greater need for challenge than now when residents have so many real concerns about what has happened and what might happen if a second wave of COVID infections hits the City. Other areas are already making preparations

It seems extraordinary that City bosses can order teachers and children back to the classroom while they themselves hide behind the safety of virtual reality meetings. While the need for full scale Council meetings may be small at the present time, there is an urgent requirement for all decisions to be preceded with  good quality, informed reports. Residents should be able to hear the arguments for and against controversial decisions like the Bishopthorpe Road contraflow cycle lane.

Many paths are now obstructed

Some Council services have actually improved during lockdown.

Street cleaning standards are high and pothole reports are being dealt with more quickly. This, though, has tended to highlight the awful state of many carriageways and paths – in itself the most likely reason (together with path obstructions) why many, who have taken up walking and cycling  in  their leisure times, may now return to their cars.

Some empty council houses have attracted dumping

There has also been an increase in the number of long term empty Council houses with some homes having become dumping grounds. The repair and re-letting service needs to get into gear. They can follow the lead of  those estate agents who have successfully adapted to incorporate social distancing into their processes.

Whether some Councillors actually “get this” is unclear. They recently publish a letter saying that they estimated “that there would be over 700 (coronavirus) deaths in the City by October”.

So far there have been 126 deaths at York hospital, with a similar total in the local community. 

If another 500 deaths are expected, why on earth are we relaxing the lockdown?

More problems at Lowfield building site

Residents have complained bitterly on the “Save Lowfields Playing Field” Facebook page as contractors Wates step up their activities. The main complaints concern noise and dust although the parking of plant on public highways has also been an issue.

Promised repairs to verges have not been completed.

Council has written to local residents

It appears that more disruption is in prospect as a two week closure of the Tudor Road entrance to the site is due to start on Saturday 13th June. Apparently a full closure of Tudor Road will be in place for two weeks during which time a sewer will be diverted from the school site.

Tudor Road will be closed for at least two weeks in June

From Monday 29th June for one week there will be a partial road closure with one lane closed and the road controlled by traffic lights. The closure will affect access particularly to 100-108 Tudor Road. The bus service will be diverted although First York haven’t yet confirmed their diverted route.

During this period heavy plant and deliveries will revert to using the Dijon Avenue access to the site.

The Council has let down the people of Lowfield very badly on this project. They should not be building on playing fields. Any development of the former built footprint of the school, should have been scheduled for completion over a maximum of 24 months.

 Now timescales are stretching out with no progress being made on the health centre, “police station”, elderly persons accommodation, self-build, communal living plots or even in providing the promised additional off street parking spaces for Dijon Avenue residents. .

Dijon Avenue site access will be used during Tudor Road sewer works

Progress is being made on providing football pitches and a luxurious clubhouse near Sim Balk Lane – mainly funded by contributions from the Lowfields development.

There seems to be no prospect of the open space and playgrounds being provided at Lowfields unless and until the whole of the development is completed.

Verge damage has not been repaired

That could be 5 years or more away.

The health crisis will affect the housing market in ways that can only be guessed at. It seems possible that the Council may end up being unable to sell the bulk of the 140 homes that it is currently building. Their decision to set up an “in house” sales team already looks suspect (and expensive)

Altogether an ill judged, poorly managed project which reflects no credit on the City of York Council

Council officially opens Newbury Avenue bungalows 4 months after completion

Still waiting for alternative parking provision to be provided

New council bungalows at Cheltenham Court, Acomb

Residents living in new bungalows built by City of York Council, are delighted with their quality and being able to live independently in their own communities.

The five, one-bedroomed homes at Cheltenham Court, Acomb, are now finished and are being let to tenants at social rents. Designed and built with generous space and high levels of energy-saving measures, they offer lower fuel bills and higher levels of comfort. They are also able to be adapted to meet the tenants’ changing needs.

Julie and Jules Barber moved into their brand new bungalow just before the coronavirus lockdown started. Julie said:

Our occupational therapist referred us for one of these bungalows and moving here has been the best thing that could have happened to us.

“I’ve a number of health problems and was finding that the stairs in our old home were very difficult. Now, we’ve no stairs but we’ve got a wet room which is so much easier for me, we are just around the corner from where we lived for 26 years and I’ve no worries at all. It’s a beautiful bungalow: so peaceful and with lovely neighbours. I can’t thank the council enough.”

One of Julie’s neighbours who wished to remain anonymous, said:

I’ve not seen such high-quality design, build and interior finishes for years. This deserves an award.

“The bungalows have been designed really well. I can’t believe how spacious they are, the number of sockets fitted, and the storage: I’ve more here than I had in my old three-bedroomed house. The attention to detail carries on into the outside space with high-quality raised beds and benches. This communal area creates a real feel-good factor which will help bring the community together. The council has raised the bar here.”

To support tenants with different needs, two of the bungalows are fully wheelchair-accessible, and have features including kitchen surfaces which can be raised or lowered and reinforced ceiling joists which can hold hoists if required.

The tenants are being offered technology to enable them to live independently and safely. Depending on their needs, this could include sensors which indicate activity and movement, levels of heat, noise and light in a home, and sensors to prevent falls or alert people if there is a medical emergency and support people in keeping safe at night. These systems can link directly to carers, or family or friends and offer reassurance for both the residents and the people who support them.

The bungalows have south-facing patios overlooking historic Hob Moor nature reserve and stray, and are built around an attractive new open space, landscaped with raised beds and benches for tenants to enjoy. A community event to introduce the new tenants to their neighbours at Newbury Avenue is being arranged when it is safe to do so.

Unfortunately the promise made by the York Council, when the garages that formerly occupied the site were demolished, to provide alternative off street parking space has so far not been honoured.

The broken promise joins a growing list of York Council “let downs” in west York which has seen a local football field, bowling green and an all weather sports area closed during the last 3 years.

James House accommodation for homeless opens its doors

Temporary homeless accommodation

​Families and couples experiencing homelessness are set to benefit from new apartments built by City of York Council.

An exciting new development of 57 apartments is now being furnished ready to give homeless households additional high quality accommodation and support to help them transition from becoming homeless to finding a new settled home.

Families and couples experiencing homelessness will benefit from the self-contained apartments together with its staff offices and flexible training spaces. All of the spacious apartments have separate bedrooms and living space, plus a shower room and generous stle can be safely and comfortably accommodated at this city-centre location which is owned and managed by City of York Council.

The apartments will be allocated to people who the council has been unable to prevent becoming homeless. They will then be found more settled accommodation, usually in social housing or suitable private rented accommodation. For the duration of the coronavirus emergency, existing temporary accommodation at Ordnance Lane, Crombie House and Howe Hill Hostel will also continue to be used to support homeless households.

The council is continuing to run services for people who are concerned about becoming homeless and need advice on their options. This is being done online or by telephone on 01904 554500.

Work to support our tenants also includes halting the first three months of this year’s annual housing rent increase. This is in addition to ongoing work to help people avoid homelessness through, for example, financial hardship, relationship breakdown or issues with private landlords. We’re also working with landlords across the city to support them and minimise evictions.

We’re prioritising our building services’ work to prepare empty council homes for re-letting and plan to continue working with hotels and bed and breakfasts for the duration of the lockdown to keep people safely accommodated until they are allocated more permanent housing.

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

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