Council officials are recommending to a Planning committee meeting next week, that a flat in the Gale Farm Court sheltered accommodation building – which is provided for the use of elderly residents – be converted into a housing office.
Officials claim that it is the only “rent free” option available
them in Acomb. Currently they rent a room at the Gateway Centre (and the Foxwood
Acomb lost its housing office about 8 years ago. That was a bad move, which prompted a divide between housing managers and the largest concentration of social tenants in the City.
It had been intended to
provide a replacement as part of a “one stop shop” extension to the Acomb library
but that project stalled. Land to the rear of the library had been purchased by
the Council but has remained derelict for over 10 years.
Officials have promised to revive the Acomb Library plan as part of a £2 million refurbishment project. However senior managers ion the housing department say they can’t wait for that work to be competed
At a time when the largest number of people on the housing waiting
list are those requiring one bedroomed accommodation, it seems illogical to
take an existing home out of use.
The office could be in use 12 hours a day and it could prove
to be a difficult neighbour for the several dozen elderly people who live on the
There is also a concern about car parking. Official calm
that users will walk to the office but experience elsewhere suggests that this may
not be the case.
Cllr Andrew Waller is the local Councillor leading the call for
a rethink. He is right to do so.
There is empty property In the Front Street pedestrian area which
could be rented until a permanent new location for a Council office can be
found. Any increase in footfall in the main shopping area would be welcomed by
both traders and residents.
Appropriating scarce residential accommodation is not the
right solution for the Councils office problem.
York Council says good progress being made on the modernisation and extension of Lincoln Court
“City of York Council is celebrating a milestone with contractor Sewell Construction to mark the start of the final phase of the £1.9 million improvement and extension of its popular Lincoln Court Independent Living Scheme.
The accommodation is being extended from 26 accommodation units to 35 high quality apartments. Much-improved communal facilities and low-energy measures are being added too, with a view to the scheme reopening this summer.
This is the council’s first independent living scheme extension to be developed specifically to meet the needs of wheelchair users. With a better location identified for the energy efficient heating system for the apartments, tenants will also benefit from new double glazed windows and from photovoltaic cells on the roof which will reduce communal utility costs.
A larger, brighter and more central communal lounge area will bring together residents of the new and existing elements of the building. An extra meeting room and additional office space will enable the scheme to be used as a hub for more services to be provided in the local community. The addition of a guest suite for visiting family and friends of residents will help maintain family links.
Listening to feedback from former tenants, we broadened the extension project to include the full refurbishment and re-roofing of the existing properties. In addition, they told us they would prefer that the existing flats are modernised with new heating systems, rewiring, new kitchens and bathrooms at the same time as the construction to avoid further disruption. This is underway”.
In a report last week (above) the Council also claimed that the new Centre of Excellence for Disable Young People, which will occupy the site next to Lincoln Court on Ascot Way, would be “completed in May 2020” .
The Council is writing to vulnerable tenants telling them that they will continue to get their hedges and lawns trimmed for at least another year.
Earlier in the week, officials had told tenants that they would lose the long standing service, with some being offered £200 compensation in lieu.
Now the housing director has apologised to those affected and confirmed that a more considered review of the service will take place over the next few months. Any changes will be delayed until 2021 at the earliest.
The new letter to tenants still has a patronising tone. It talks about helping the elderly to “enjoy” their gardens. “Volunteers” are still seen as the solution to most problems although many will feel that that particular resource is in danger of becoming overwhelmed.
The letter rather confirms our view that the housing department needs new leadership and with it a commitment to be more open and to consult properly before making decisions.
The key first step is for executive councillors to exert more control over the department and for communication channels with residents associations to be restored.
The garden service is funded from Council house rents. The rent account has a large surplus.
Following on from yesterday’s revelation that the Council is abandoning its garden care scheme for vulnerable tenants, a Councillor has claimed that contractors were charging “£80” to cut a lawn.
Apparently it was this that led to the announcement that the most disabled tenants would instead be offered £200 as compensation for the loss of the service.
Lawns are cut 10 times a year so how far the £200 will go remains to be seen. In addition hedges are normally trimmed on three occasions.
No financial figures have been released by the Council and no equalities impact assessment has been published
It appears that options like tendering for the service in smaller packages (to minimise unnecessary travel) have not been considered nor has the employment of Council staff to undertake the work. (there are numerous other jobs that such staff could usefully do in the winter period).
The Councillor responsible for housing+ (Denise Craghill) has now tweeted “Nobody who needs support will be left without it. Contract was a hugely inefficient use of public money. Budget still same to improve support for tenants to enjoy their gardens. Everyone is being visited. Those conversations will feed into a decision session in April”.
This doesn’t explain how letters came to be sent to tenants ahead of any decision being taken.
Cllr Nigel Ayre claims on “twitter” that the “communications issue is unfortunate but errors happen “.
Copies of the draft letters to affected tenants (copied to Councillors yesterday) can be downloaded from these links
UPDATE The Council now seems to BE back tracking. It says that the communication it issued earlier today was “only the first step in consultation”. The following is an extract from that the earlier communication. Make you own mind up whether you think it sounds like consultation
The cost of the scheme was extremely high and unsustainable, so we are exploring other ways to provide a service to the most vulnerable in future, in partnership with charities and volunteers. Unfortunately, this won’t be in place this year so as an interim measure we will be providing the most vulnerable tenants with a payment of £200 that they can use to contribute towards the cost of maintaining the garden this year.
From information we have on Housing Management systems, we have filtered customers into those we believe would not meet the new criteria and those that would with the appropriate letter going to these customers. Housing Management Officers will be visiting all customers that as part of the Health and Wellbeing visits, to ensure that all tenants who genuinely have no option than that provided by The Council. Once HMO’s have confirmed eligibility the payment will be arrange to be made early in the new financial year.
The Council is now saying the proposal will go to a decision meeting in April
The Council has, however, admitted that it has already posted the letters to tenants!
EARLIER It looks like the Council will refuse to help elderly tenants who are unable to maintain their own gardens. Until this year elderly and disabled tenants had received help in cutting hedges and lawns through a garden help scheme.
Now a housing official has said that the garden help scheme has been abandoned.
The proposal to abandon the tenants has not yet been considered by the Councils’ Executive.
Only last week the Council announced that it would make a surplus of over £3 million on its council housing rent account this year. It holds an accumulated surplus on the account of over £20 million with a rent increase pending.
The garden care scheme has been in existence for several decades. It provides a basic gardening service for those on limited means who are unable to do heavy work themselves and who do not have anyone else that they can turn to for help.
Now the official has said that the scheme is being scrapped with immediate effect. The most seriously disabled will be offered a payment of £200 which the Council says can be used to employ someone to undertake gardening work.
The Council also talks loftily of setting up a scheme of “volunteer gardeners” to assist. They accept that this is not yet in place.
As well as the welfare of sick and elderly people, another concern is the effect that overgrown hedges will have on local neighbourhoods. There are already complaints about lack of maintenance in some estates.
There has been no consultation with residents or tenants organisations in the City.
Whereas previous attempts to jettison the service were initiated by Tory Councillors, the latest proposal comes under the stewardship of Green Party Councillor Denise Craghill. To what extent she has been party to the plan is unclear.
Liberal Democrat Councillors in wards like Westfield, which has a high proportion of Council tenancies, are likely to be put under extreme pressure to block any changes until alternative arrangements can be put in place.
The next stage of designing York’s 600 new homes is underway, and residents are invited to get involved in helping shape the planning application for Ordnance Lane on 22 February.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The design and project teams from architects Mikhail Riches and City of York Council met some 120 residents in November last year, who shared their ideas, priorities and local knowledge about the site which includes Ordnance Lane and part of Hospital Fields Road. This is one of eight sites forming part of the council’s Housing Delivery Programme*.
Now, residents are invited to the second consultation phase for this site: a detailed, hands-on workshop with lunch provided. A project briefing and site visit will set the scene before the design team will share early layout ideas for the site. Participants are then invited to work with the team using 3D models to explore the emerging plans and improve them.
The workshop is on Saturday 22 February, 9:45am-5pm, at York Steiner School, 25 Fulford Cross, York YO10 4PB. Spaces are limited, so please book your place at: https://ordnancelane.eventbrite.com
Anyone not able to join the workshop or anyone who wants to keep fully involved, are also invited to a public briefing session to learn about the design work to date on Thursday 5 March, 6:30-8pm, at Cycle Heaven, 31 Hospital Fields Road, York YO10 4FS.
David Mikhail, founding director of our architects Mikhail Riches and design director for the council’s Housing Delivery Programme, said: “Our design team and City of York Council are eager to learn from the people who live, work or study in the area.
“We believe in co-design. We also know that collaborating with people on our projects helps us to design and build a better place: a new place that belongs to the neighbourhood right from the start.”
Cllr Denise Craghill, Executive Member for Housing and Safer Neighbourhoods said: “Guided by our housing design manual (www.york.gov.uk/housingdesignmanual), residents are invited to help design beautiful, low-energy homes in a thriving new community.
“Each site has a three-stage engagement process, which means that as many people as possible can help create the homes and settings that they want to see and where present and future generations of York residents will live.”
The Lowfields Playing Field Action Group Facebook page is reporting that the York Council is dithering over a decision on the elderly persons accommodation planned for Lowfields and for Oakhaven.
The group says,
“A new report has been published today. It concerns the use of the plot at Lowfields (and a similar site at Oakhaven) which was reserved for an elderly person home. The Council sought tenders from developers and operators for the sites but were unable to find anyone prepared to undertake the project.
The Council is now agonising about what to do next.
The obvious answer is to market the plot (which is brownfield land) with the only use restriction being that any development should be aimed at older people. There are a lot of elders living in large properties who are seeking to “downsize” and both sites are ideally located near amenities.
We might then get back to the Hartrigg Oaks type of development which was the preferred choice for the Lowfield site when first discussed in 2010.
If the Council continues to be indecisive, the residents can expect building works on the site to continue long after the three year target completion date”.
The York Council is set to increase its total debt as it embarks on a programme of new Council house building. Existing tenants will bear the brunt of the interest payments on the new borrowing with rents set to increase.
After the early peak total debt levels will reduce unless new projects are approved.
The figures are revealed in a new Housing Revenue Account strategy being discussed on Thursday.
While the new strategy recognises the need to continue to modernise existing Council houses only modest investment is planned for improvements to public services on Council estates.
The housing department has been criticised in recent years for losing contact with with tenants. This was exacerbated a few years ago when several tenants representative organisations were wound up.
The Councils own, very selective figures, show a steady decline in tenant satisfaction levels
By the end of the 30 year plan period, tenants will be paying £13 million a year to service the debt (interest and principal repayments).