York Councillor Mark Warters has suggested that empty York Council owned properties should be cleared, cleaned and used to provide additional hospital space should it be necessary.
Available empty properties include the brand new James House (which was due to open this month), Oakhaven and Willow House. The latter are former care homes.
The properties could be used to supplement existing NHS hospitals. It is possible that additional space will be required for services such as pre and post illness infection testing.
Separately, it has been suggested that the Council be ready to reintroduce regular skip visits to local neighbourhoods. These would reduce the pressures on waste collection services where staffing levels are currently under pressure.
Skips visited many estates until about 5 years ago when the service stopped.
Their return could provide an alternative if uncollected waste causes a public health concern.
The Council are recruiting waste collection drivers and loaders now. Find out more by calling 01904 554234 or visiting www.workwithyork.co.uk/jobs
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.
Thursday can’t come soon enough for York taxpayers. On that day the City’s planning committee will decide whether to allow the Ashbank former social services building on Shipton Road to be converted into residential accommodation.
Ashbank has now been empty for a shocking 7 years.
Together with the Guildhall, it is the Councils most underused asset.
The above list was produced in response to a Freedom of Information request. The rates column indicates what the Council might have received if the properties had been let. To this must be added either the proceeds of a sale or lease income.
Several other valuable properties including Oakhaven in Acomb and the prime Willow House site next to the bar walls have also now been unused for over 3 years.
There are ongoing maintenance and security costs at each site.
The list does not include several brownfield sites which are suitable for development. These include the land to the rear of Acomb Library which was purchased 12 years ago but remains unused (currently it is a building compound).
Many years ago the Council used to have a Policy and Resources committee. One of its tasks was to challenge and optimise the use of the Councils portfolio. Sadly it was replaced by a “scrutiny” committee which rarely expresses any interest in the efficiency of the Councils processes.
Six monthly capital programme reports to the Councils Executive often fail to provide an update on long term unused assets. When they do get a mention it is restricted to a couple of anodyne sentences.
It is not just commercial properties that are a cause for concern.
The Councils housing department still often has a 10% vacancy rate on its garage blocks. There are waiting lists for garages in most parts of the City. Some of the garages are located in the City Centre where demand is high.
The housing department has been told to advertise all vacancies in order to maximise income. They have failed to do so.
They don’t even make full use of free social media channels.
The result is that the Council loses thousands of pounds of income each month while on street parking spaces becomes unnecessarily congested.
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”.
It was to be a good Spring mainly due to the efforts of volunteers across the community.
Volunteer efforts also helped to conserve key environmental sites like local woodland.
Crime levels rose with anti social behaviour once again the biggest source of complaint in sub urban areas.
Work progressed on a £4 million cycle/pedestrian footbridge linking the railway station to Bootham. Its opening later in the year was to highlight the fact that the City still had a long way to go before it had a comprehensive, and safe, cycle route network.
Another bridge over the Ouse attracted comment. Corrosion on Lendal Bridge served to emphasis the on going cost of maintaining the transport infrastructure in the City
By far the worst aspect of the transport system was the condition of roads and paths. Potholes became more pronounced in many streets. The maintenance budget was to be increased later in the year but by then frost had already taken its toll
There was little change in the recycling rate in York. There was no lack of enthusiasm from residents who regularly filled recycling banks to the point where some overflowed.
Some simple tasks seemed to confuse the York Council. A request for the goals posts on a local park to be repainted has been outstanding now for 2 years.
Another area of poor performance earlier in the year was the removal of graffiti. Following sustained criticism from residents, the Council was to completely change its graffiti removal service later in the year. Early results have been encouraging although there have been no recent prosecutions for graffiti (criminal damage).
A self seeded tree in Balfour Street had grown to the point where it was engulfing the adjacent railings and damaging the public footpath. This represented a safety hazard. It would be two years after the problem was first reported before the tree was felled. The felling provided space for two replacement trees to be planted.
The Council granted planning permission for the (privately owned) Acomb Bowling Club to be demolished and replaced with housing. The owners were required to make a Section 106 contribution towards replacement facilities but this money found its way into a club located in the Holgate area.
Meanwhile, without any consultation with residents, Council officials agreed that land earmarked for a library extension could be used as a site compound and spoil heap. This caused considerable annoyance to some neighbours.
The Council published details of the number of Council homes that were affected by “standing water” . The number had changed little over the years.
On a happier note, the highly successful, Knights Rugby community team organised community events during the Easter holidays.
With the local elections on the horizon the Council revealed the number of issues that had been recorded by Councillors during the previous 4 years. Mostly those who raised the most issues were the Councillors who got re-elected in May.
There was big choice of candidates in the local elections.
The election manifestos were more significant for what they didn’t say rather than what was proposed. The slow progress on the Community Stadium was air brushed from history, as was the escalating costs of repairing the Guildhall.
In the end, the results showed major gains for the, now 21 strong, LibDem Group who subsequently formed a partnership with the Greens to run the Council.
The Tories fell to their second worst election result ever while Labour made only modest gains.
A few weeks later the LibDems topped the poll in the Euro elections in the City beating off a challenge from the BREXIT party. It was to be a different picture though later in the year when views polarised during an unexpected General Election campaign.
The Council was criticised for the large number of commercial properties which it owned and which had been left empty. These included former elderly persons homes like Oakhaven & Willow House together with offices like those on Castlegate. The properties were costing taxpayers several hundreds of thousands of pounds each year in lost rent income and maintenance costs.
The Police and Crime Commissioner was criticised for an over reliance on income from speed camera vans. The 6 vans concentrated on trunk roads apparently because that was where the greatest number of offenders could be caught and fined. Critics said that accident and average speed trends on monitored roads should be published. This would allow the the success of the initiative to be judged
It wasn’t just the central Post Office that was under threat. The Woodthorpe sub Post Office closed suddenly.
A new neighbourhood plan covering the area around the Minster was published. It generally received a positive response.
By late May it had become clear that something was seriously amiss with street public service standards. Hedges and trees were obstructing paths. Weeds scared key entrances to the City. It would later become clear that the weed killing programme had simply not taken place on many roads. There would be some improvements towards the end of the year but several issues were never fully resolved.
It became clear that the new York Community Stadium would not be completed by the final, final deadline on June. A later Autumn opening date was also to pass with key Rugby matches having to be rescheduled to the Bootham Crescent ground.
There were also ongoing concerns about the viability of some of the facilities to be provided as part of the stadium deal. It seemed that the Council were now underwriting more of the risk on the commercial side of the development
Meanwhile, the cost of providing new football pitches for a Bishopthorpe based football team was revealed to be nearly £1.5 million
The cost included a high specification clubhouse.
Most of the funding was to come from taxpayers.
What annoyed some residents were claims by officials that the facility was a replacement for the playing fields being built on at Lowfields. It was pointed out that the new site (near the York College) was some 3 miles from Lowfields and lacked a direct public transport link.
It looks increasingly likely that the Council will abandon its attempt to find a developer who is prepared to provide and run an elderly persons care home on the Lowfields site.
Part of the old school building section of the site has been reserved for the provision of a new care home since 2010.
It was announced earlier in the year that no tenders had been received for provision of the home
The Councils own resources are tied up in other projects including the Lincoln Court redevelopment (see below).
A report to a meeting next week says that the greatest demand for older people is for independent living one bedroomed flats and bungalows. Some of these are already schedule to be built at Lowfields but it seems that more may now be provided on the reserved care home site.
Such a decision would be in line with the plans announced in 2010 but it is unlikely to impress those who have been affected by the indecision of the last 10 years. .
“The planning approval for the Lowfield Green development includes outline approval for an 80-bed care home. It had originally been envisioned that a care home developer would be procured to build on the site, with the Council buying 25 dementia and Nursing care beds back at the Council’s Actual Cost of Care rates.
A procurement exercise to deliver this failed to attract any compliant bids.
At a similar time, Officers were completing research with
our older residents about their accommodation preferences.
This research highlights residents desire to live independently with care and support available where needed. Officers have since been working to establish how best to develop Older Persons’ Accommodation on the site, which will support those with care needs and also complement the surrounding high-quality mixed tenure accommodation.
A report is expected to be presented to the executive in spring 2020”.
The change of approach is the latest in a series of reverses which have affected the controversial development. Residents strongly opposed building on the sports pitch at the site.
The Council responded by offering inducements including a local Police station and health centre. Neither materialised.
Plans for a “communal” housing development are also in delay.
Work on building houses on the sports pitch section of the site are expected to start in January, although its is now thought that building works, across the whole site, may continue for 5 years or longer.
We revealed yesterday that the Council is also set to abandon its plans to build a new care home on the Oakhaven site.
The York Councils decision to spend over £2 million adding
further properties to its investment portfolio has produced a backlash.
Critics have pointed to the ongoing delays in bring empty properties into use. Six months ago, a Freedom of information (FOI) request revealed a long list of under-used Council buildings. These included Oakhaven, Ashbank, Willow House, the Guildhall and, of course, 29 Castlegate.
The latter is one of the prime properties in the City centre and was valued at £575,000 in 2016. Since then there have been further increases in property prices in the City.
A further FOI tried to discover what progress has been made in selling the property following a decision by the York Civic Trust to pull out of a purchase deal 12 months ago. The FOI has been rejected (see right) on the grounds that there are ongoing commercial discussions taking place. It fails to reveal who is talking to whom about the empty property. No attempt has been made to let the property for temporary use in the busy Christmas period (it includes a frontage onto the Coppergate shopping centre).
At last week’s Executive meeting, Councillors were challenged
over their stewardship of the Council’s property estate.
They responded by claiming that the portfolio was “worth £335m
and produced an income of £5.8m a year”.
This claim has prompted a further FOI request. A local resident now wants to see a list of all Council owned commercial properties, their value and the net income that each produces.
This is the kind of information that should be routinely provided for the Councils “scrutiny” committee. A six monthly review of investment returns is the least that taxpayers would expect to be published for public review.
Sadly, this no longer happens at the York Council.
The delays in disposing of empty property is now a major issue for the authority. It some cases there may be good reasons for the delays but, if so, then there must be more transparency about the process*.
If the Council cannot effectively manage its estate, then there are companies in the City who would be delighted to help.
*The Council has agreed to receive a staffing report on a 6-monthly basis. The reports will cover FTE numbers, Equality Data, Absence and Well Being, Starters and Leavers, reasons for leaving (i.e. retirement, redundancy, dismissal, settlement agreement) and Agency staff numbers.
Looks like there will be more delays on the Lowfield project as the communal housing section of the scheme has failed to attract sufficient investors.
It could mean the project will take even longer to complete.
It is not clear whether the Council and Yorspace have exchanged contracts for the sale (at a discount value) of the land in question.
The Councils track record on asset use is being increasingly criticised on social media with a deals for the sale of Willow House and29 Castlegate (both empty for over 3 years) still not concluded
TheOakhavenbuilding in Acomb is also still unused.
Given the claims made by Council leaders about addressing housing need urgently, the dithering on these projects is difficult to justify.
The Council is providing little useful update information on their Lowfields overall development timetable.
. Westfield Ward Councillors have been asked to “call in” the proposal which would see the perimeter railings removed. The local Lowfields Action Group say they have had no response to their enquiries about the plan.
According to a notice published earlier today, the York Council has received no suitable tenders for the provision of a care home at its Lowfieldssite.
The Council has already invested heavily in providing infrastructure, including roads, at the site. They promised a 30-month building timetable inresponse 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 noticesays, ” 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..
Work has stared on building a new 80 bed care home at the Burnholme site.
When completed, the Council will have the right to fill 25 of the beds
Work is also proceeding on renovating sports facilities on the Burnholme site. A new library complex has already opened.
The care home being built on the Fordlands Road site (by Octopus
Health care) will be completed in the summer of 2020. A site for another home
has been reserved in the new York Central development.
The progress being made on these sites contrasts with other projects
aimed at addressing the needs of the City’s increasing elderly population on the
west of the City.
Tenders are only now being sought for the long awaited elderly persons facility on the Lowfields site. Other specialist homes on the west of the City, such as Windsor House and Lincoln Court have already been cleared of their elderly occupants.
One embarrassment for the Council, is the elderly persons home at Oakhaven. Residents were controversially movedfrom this building 3 years ago.
Despite some temporary uses, the building has remained largely unused ever since.
The Council has not been able to say when work on a replacement will start.
The Council says that it will start building houses at Lowfield
this summer. Many will be “shared ownership” although there seems to have been
little research done on the size of the market – among those on the waiting
list – for this type of tenure.
There is, however, a lot of demand from older people – currently occupying large council and housing association houses – who want to “downsize” to bungalows or flats.
While we remain critical of the Councils plan to build on the playing field at Lowfield, it also now seems that they may have got the mix of home types wrong.
There should have been more bungalows.
The issue of the Yorspace” communal housing development – which is not classified as “affordable” – has also still not been resolved.