Community “Hubs” set to expand in York

The Foxwood Community Hub is popular

Councillors will consider next week a report outlining the achievements of several “community hubs” that were established in the City in 2017.

The hubs are located at Sanderson Court Community House, Foxwood Community Centre, Red Tower and Tang Hall Community Centre. There were similar initiatives in Clifton and Bell Farm.

More recently the Westfield school has announced it is opening a Hub and similar ventures have been promoted by JRHT and local churches.

The aim of the Hubs was primarily to promote financial inclusion. The project also delivered job fairs, volunteer development programmes and training and support for residents.

The project claims that the numbers attending a Hub are in the order of 200 a week. It is known that some residents attend more than one Hub. The Hubs are mainly serviced by, hardworking, volunteers.

The project claims to have served 9,000 meals, shared 5,460kg of food from supermarkets and redistributed up to 6 crates of apples and pears a week made available through “Abundance York”.

The CAB says it has directed 200 clients to an additional £210,000 worth of benefits.

The report sets out a bewildering proposal for “accreditation” for new centres. It seems to be a bureaucratic approach to an issue which requires flexibility. We doubt that this part of the plan will be welcomed by many of the volunteers.

The Council could also usefully provide a list of Hubs – with opening hours and facilities available – on their web site. Better use of social media to promote the initiative would be welcomed by many.

The report doesn’t give many clues as to what proportion of the target group has participated. It also singularly fails to mention that the City’s poorest area (Windsor Garth) has no Hub although there is a school building nearby.

Nevertheless, in a modest way – and particularly by providing a safety net for those suffering food poverty – the Hubs have proved to be a success and deserve continuing Council support.

Ironically the amount being spent on the Hubs is still less in total than was routinely provided to support Community Centres prior to the Labour Councils grant cuts introduced 8 years ago.

Possible good news about tree maintenance in York

We’ve been unhappy with tree management in York for several years. A new Council policy adopted in 2016 failed to address the issue while budget cut backs let only a minimal tree maintenance work taking place.

On streets like Wetherby Road and Green Lane a combination the poor historical choice of species type coupled with trees being planted too close to the highway, meant that lopping happened only by attrition. Branches grew until they reached the point where a high sided vehicle knocked them off.

Tree disease is also a problem in the City and this is taking away a lot of the available maintenance resources. Safety is of course of paramount importance.

We were, however, disappointed to have to report a few days ago that a self seeded tree on Balfour Street, reported for attention some 2 years ago, was still causing damage to the adjacent railings and footpath. Council officials claimed that they could not use their budget to appoint a contractor to remove the tree and plant a replacement a few metres away in a more suitable location.

Now there seems to have been a change of heart.

Officials are saying that they will arrange for the work to be done within the next few weeks. A accumulation of leaves on nearby paths will also be swept up

Balfour Street

Issues in Albemarle Road area need tackling

Earlier in the week some parked cars on Albemarle Road were broken into. It seems that handbrakes were also released and vehicles allowed to crash into a wall.

Solid parking along the whole length of Almemarle Road. Yellow lines almost worn away.

Parking and traffic issues on the road are not new. Some at least arises out of he lack of parking controls (it is not yet a ResPark area). Today a delivery wagon had to reverse for nearly 1/4 mile to avoid on coming traffic. A dangerous manoeuvre. With some of the parking down to commuters, the introduction of ResPark – coupled to the provision of additional “passing places” – would seem to be in everyone’s interests.

The area is also blighted by graffiti
Back lanes in the area are covered in weed and leaf fall with some also overgrown by hedges
Another area where Council bus shelters are showing their age. This one on Queen Victoria Street has a loose electrical connection.

Latest poverty figures hide York shame

There has been some smug comments from  some politicians fallowing the release of the latest government figures on poverty levels. Known as the index of multiple deprivation, the figures give a clue to which are the most well off neighbourhoods and which the worst.

Government poverty figures

Overall York has fared well over the last couple of years. The York Outer constituency is now ranked 530 out of 533; the same as it was 4 years ago.

York Central has improved its relative position from 339 to 364. (High number is good). This largely reflects the “gentrification” of parts of the City and relatively high employment rates..

However, the overall figures disguise the level of poverty that is concentrated in some parts of the City.

The worst ranked neighbourhood (LSOA E01013443) is the Kingsway West area which includes Windsor Garth.

Kingsway neighbourhood. Officially the most deprived in York

It is the only York neighbourhood to rank in the bottom 20% in the country.

It fares particularly badly on health, employment and income indicators.

This neighbourhood is in the Westfield ward which itself is rated as the most deprived in the City.

The revelation should come as no surprise to the York Council. Campaigners have been pointing out for the last three or four years that the area was not only being neglected but that key services were being run down.

Kingsway ranks poorly on 8 individual indices and is the worst overall. Scores are out of 10 with low being poor.

The local multi user games area (MUGA) was recently closed down and a promised replacement has not materialised. Nearby the Lowfield’s playing field is also being built on while a bowling green has also been lost. The residents association folded a few years ago following complaints that its views were ignored by Councillors.

The neighbourhood does have a disproportionately high number of older people. This can drive down average income levels. It is also true to say that residents are mostly philosophical about their neighbourhood which still retains a good sense of community pride

However, it high time that the authorities – both local and national – made an commitment to regenerate public services for Kingsway residents.

Council Plan

The York Council are set to adopt a new “Council Plan” on Thursday. Although a significant document, it is likely to attract little comment. This is partly because much of its content is anodyne and partly because it is linked to impenetrable bureaucratic processes and documentation Only 353 residents responded to the initial consultation on the document.

Council Plans are rarely a “good read”

This plan though does have one major setback. It fails to react to the decline in street level public service standards that have been seen in recent months.

The KPIs suggested are essentially those that have been carried over from previous plans. They have the merit of a good historic database making trends easier to judge and they are generally easy to collect, but they offer little for those seeking “smart” targets.

Nor has the Council addressed the issue of service level agreements. This exercise presented an opportunity to update and reissue what used to be known as “Customer Contracts” but it seems that taxpayers will remain largely in ignorance of what their payments are buying.

There are a range of day to day services which residents depend on. They therefore legitimately might expect to have access to stats which, for example, tell them

  • How many potholes are reported and how quickly they are fixed?
  • How much litter there is on our streets?
  • How many streets are 98% clear of weed growth?
  • How many reports there have been of obstructions to public paths and how quickly those obstructions are removed?
  • How many bins are not emptied as scheduled each week?
  • How reliable local bus services are?
  • How many streetlights are working?
  • Satisfaction with Council estates (communal areas)?
  • Time taken to resolve issue reports by different channels (on line, email, telephone, personal visit)?

All would give residents a clearer picture of Council performance than some of those suggested.

Carbon emission sources in York revealed

It appears that a meeting held 2 days ago was given a table showing estimated carbon emission levels for various activities in York.

The table has only today been published to residents by the York Council.

As it turns out the latest figures available are from 2016. The world has changed a lot in the last 3 years.

The table reveals that the biggest source of CO2 emissions in the City is domestic heating. This will hearten those who have supported the adoption of “Passivhaus” high insulation standards in homes.

There is an opportunity for the Council to make a real difference here as improved home insulation also disproportionately benefits poorer residents by reducing energy bills. We look forward to seeing a project plan with identified milestones.

A Press article today highlighted diesel trains as an emissions threat. In reality, they account for less than 1% of all local emissions.

CO2 emissions, per capita, substantially reduced in York during the 11 years that were monitored.

How will York tackle weed growth in the future?

The long awaited report, into the collapse of weed control activities in the City this summer, has now been published.
Key routes into the City were disfigured

The report lists several actions which might be undertaken to prevent a repetition of the problems.

It was clear as long ago as June that something was seriously amiss with the Council contract.

A contract has been let which had omitted several key roads like the A59, as well as many back lanes and paths. Gutters and paths rapidly become overgrown. In some cases, because of restricted sight lines or trip hazards, there was an unnecessary risk to public safety.

Amongst the worst affected were major entry points into the City which gave visitors an early impression of neglect (It became clear later, that former trunk roads were amongst these omitted from the contract)

The Councils reaction to the problems was highly complacent. It was two months before they admitted that the list of streets to be treated by the contractor was out of date. They blamed the weather (too much rain) and turned a blind eye to the fact that the “quad bike” contractors were missing out large areas altogether. Treatment, where undertaken, proved to be ineffective.

It was Septembers before the failings were finally acknowledged. Contractors were asked to add a blue dye to the chemical so it would be clear which areas they had treated.

To this day, residents continue to search for the illusive blue dye trail.

Another problem was the choice of weed killer. Glyphosate, which is a contact weed killer, has no residual effect, so it only kills weeds present at the time of application. It is an industry standard product, but it failed to act on deep rooted weeds. Alternatives were available but not used.

The Council claims to have “deployed additional resource to focus on removing detritus which collects in kerb lines, particularly on the offside of traffic islands where sweeping is more difficult and less effective. The detritus build up is greater when weeds are present”.

The report doesn’t analyse how the Council came to issue an incorrect contract specification, doesn’t reveal the results of supervisory checks on the contractor, offers no update on the September recovery programme and fails to review “difficult to reach” locations such as bridge parapets, snickets, back lanes and garage forecourts.

The contract required certain outputs to be achieved. These included a 98% weed free appearance on treated areas.

No KPIs are quoted.

The Council has however listed 10 initiatives (see right) that it could take to improve the appearance and safety of the City.

 All, and more, will be required next year if the reputation of the City is not to be further damaged.

Missed bin collections Wednesday

Recycling was not collected in part of Dringhouses today (“vehicle capacity issue”) and garden waste wasn’t collected from Muncaster (“vehicle breakdown”).

The Council also hasn’t caught up with delayed bin emptying from earlier in the week in Osbaldwick and Woodthorpe

It appears that the Council hasn’t yet placed an order for new vehicles to replace its chronically unreliable existing fleet.

According to a notice published today, a decision on a new “waste collection methodology” won’t be taken until 24th October. Even then it is likely to be several months before the Council actually joins the year long queue for new vehicles.

While refinements to waste management arrangements are needed if we are to recycle more, a greater sense of urgency from the Council leadership, in addressing current unreliability issues, is an essential first step.

York cycle paths still obstructed

The Council’s PR department is saying that mechanical means may be used in future to remove weeds from footpaths and gullies in the City.

That can’t happen soon enough for most residents following the collapse of his years – chemical – treatment programme.

More of the cycle network is now subject to obstruction from overgrowing vegetation. It is a problem on Bishopthorpe Road near the Racecourse while the Naburn Lane path is impeded by nettles.

Naburn Lane path impeded by nettles