Homeless problems – still too many long term empty Council houses in York

The was some surprise a few days ago when a scheduled report on homeless problems in the City was pulled.

The Council failed to explain why the report was abandoned and it remains unclear what the report contained.

It may be that the Council is embarrassed by the seeming increase in the number of empty homes that it owns.

Two on Foxwood Lane have been empty for over 6 months (i.e. from before the pandemic caused delays) . Both properties are bungalows which are always popular with “downsizers”, so finding new tenants shouldn’t have been a problem.

On the basis of the last published stats, there were 22 homeless households with dependent children in living in temporary accommodation in York.

According to the Councils own figures, the average number of days to re-let empty properties has risen from 27 days to 37 days during the last couple of years.

There are 1597 people registered on the York housing waiting list.

Risks, delays & cost increases as York Council struggles to manage its commercial portfolio

York Guildhall

Yesterday’s announcement that more than £15 million of infrastructure schemes had been secured in North Yorkshire over the next 18 months – with £300,000 of funding going towards the York Guildhall offices project – will have been welcomed by many.

The money comes from the Government’s “Getting Building Fund” which “aims to boost economic recovery from Covid-19”.

According to a Council spokesman, the funding will now be used “for internal fit-out works” on the business club which will occupy much of the building.

That will come as a surprise to those who thought that the agreed £20.18 million budget included all costs.  Indeed, the option approved by the Council in February 2019, specifically identified £300,000 for “fixtures, fittings and furniture”.

Council report 2019. Option 1 was agreed

It seems that the only change is that this expenditure will now be funded from general taxation.

Even with this subsidy, and assuming that all offices and the on site restaurant, are all occupied, York Council taxpayers still face an annual bill of over £500,000.

An Executive meeting which took place last week was told in an update on the Guildhall project that “additional delays have meant that it is presently considered that these additional costs cannot be contained within the agreed contingency”.

The scale of the over expenditure was not revealed.

The Guildhall is not the only commercial portfolio project to come under scrutiny.

Some independent commentators are sceptical about the timing of the Councils £2.8 million acquisition of 25/27 Coney Street. Rent levels are now dropping and with them property valuations in some high streets. Coney Street is struggling more than most.

Meanwhile large numbers of Council owned properties remain empty and unused.

These include Ashbank (empty for 8 years), 29 Castlegate (3 years), Oakhaven (4 years) and Willow House (4 years 6 months).

Willow House stands abandoned with no sign of redevelopment work starting.

We now understand that Willow House – which was advertised for sale with Sanderson Weatherall – has been withdrawn from the market. The Council turned down a £3 million offer for the prime site shortly after it became available.

None of these properties are accommodating anyone.

All are incurring maintenance and security costs for taxpayers, while at the same time attracting no Business Rates or rent income.

At a time when local authorities are on their knees financially, poor resource management is  a matter of concern.

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

Shocking list of empty Council owned properties in York

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.

January 2020

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.

York Council debts set to increase by 31% over next 5 years.

19% of Council Tax income will go on servicing interest and repayment charges.

Under current plans, the debts of the York Council are set to increase from £293 million to £384 million by 2023.

The high repayment requirement means that less will be available to spend on basic public services in the City.

That represents a burden of £539 for every York resident.

Although the figures are within the legal limit placed on Council borrowing, several of the projects being funded have risks which could increase net expenditure.

The figures are included in a report to a meeting taking place next week.

Separately, the Council is being recommended to find £2.85 million to fund the purchase of an unnamed City Centre property. This is being described as a “Strategic Commercial Property Acquisition”.

While it is true to say that, in the long term, investments in City Centre land and buildings by the Council has in the past proved to be of positive value for taxpayers, the Councils recent record on asset management has left much to be desired.

The Willow House former elderly persons home building has been empty for several years while the high profile property at 29 Castlegate is in a similar position.

The Councils executive Councillors stubbornly refuse to consider, in public, asset management issues of this sort.

Willow House Elderly Persons Home still empty

The former Willow House Elderly Persons Home on Long Close Lane is still empty.
Willow House today

It is nearly 3 years since residents were moved out of the home and the Council put the site on the open market.

In a £3 million deal, the site was set to be sold for a 126 bed student accommodation development.

However there was a controversy regarding public access to land which had been used for occasional leisure purposes. Labour blocked the plans in November 2017.

A year earlier it had been decided to close the home.

Willow House sales particulars

Lack of progress in developing what is a prime site next to the City walls was criticised last October when there was no progress to be seen behind the security railings.

No planning application has been submitted for the redevelopment of the site which is registered with estate agents Sanderson Weatherall. The agents say that their clients would prefer an “unconditional offer”.

The area being offered for sale includes the disputed “informal leisure” land

The building and surrounding land is now becoming something of an eyesore.

This is unfortunate as it is visible fro the City walls.

Only a few hundred metres away, on the other side of the inner ring road, the vacant site next to the Barbican has become an even bigger eyesore.

Area of land available for sale

Empty property fraud alert from York Police


North Yorkshire Police would like to make you aware of a national increase in organised criminal groups currently targeting empty properties in the UK to apply for loans, duping mortgage providers and causing further distress to members of the public.
Criminal networks are identifying empty properties using names on published obituaries and carrying out further research on the Land Registry. Once a suitable property has been discovered the criminal group then organise for fake documentation to be produced, registering on the electoral role and with utility companies. They meticulously work through the legal hurdles until the finances are released by the unsuspecting organisation. The rights to the property actually belong to a completely innocent party who have no idea the crime has taken place until a much later point.


There is an increased risk of fraud when:
• a property is empty or has been bought-to-let
• the owner is spending time abroad or is absent
• the owner is infirm or in a nursing or care home
• a relationship breaks down between the property owners/dwellers
• a property has no mortgage

Protect yourself against property fraud:
• Be very wary of mail solicitations claiming great returns, no matter how good they look. Check out the company first. For example, does it have a legitimate street address and landline number?
• If a deal seems too good to be true, then it probably is.
• Owners who are concerned their property might be subject to a fraudulent sale or mortgage can quickly alert the Land Registry and speak to specially trained staff for practical guidance about what to do next by calling the Property Fraud Line on 0300 006 7030. The line is open from 8.30am to 5pm Monday to Friday.
• If you have been affected by this, or any other fraud, report it to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040, or visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk

Poor deal for York taxpayers

The new owners of the Haymarket car park site have announced the name of the hotel which will be built there. Vastinct Hospitality has bought part of the site from Hiscox and will build a 120 bedroomed economy “Moxy” hotel there.

Hiscox new York HQ. Ready for occupation before the end of the year

Hiscox new York HQ. Ready for occupation before the end of the year

No financial details of the deal have been revealed but it is bound to reignite the indignation felt by many taxpayers in 2012 when the Council sold off the site on the cheap.  Then, in the depth of the recession, the Labour Council accepted an offer of a little over £2 million for the site – far below the current £5 million valuation.

Critically the Council failed to include a condition in the sale agreement which would have seen Council taxpayers benefit from any  subsequent increase in the sites value. As well as the Haymarket car park (which produced an income of £300,000 a year for the Council) the site included the Peasholme hostel and adjacent ambulance station.

York police station empty and boarded up

York police station empty and boarded up

Now existing hotels in the City face competition from a new arrival which may have benefited from slack Council accounting 3 years ago.

The new Council and its auditors should review the 2012 deal and ensure that no further errors are made.

There is a lesson for the public sector more generally here.

Some vacant sites are an eyesore. The old Fire station on Clifford Street and the adjacent police station need to be brought back into use quickly.

There is a boom in the residential market at present and City Centre sites are fetching high prices. While the adjacent magistrates court building is listed, this should not prevent the reuse of the rest of the site.  

It is the optimum time to market empty City centre properties.

In respect of these two properties the public authorities concerned should get a move on.


Boyes to take over empty superdrug store in Acomb

Boyes have announced they are moving into Acomb, taking over the former Superdrug building which has been vacant for a number of years.

11-15 Front Street

11-15 Front Street

Sue Hunter, who is Chair of the local trader’s group Acomb Alive! established to help local businesses work together, develop the area and support one another, added: “The position of the building close to both Morrison’s and the junctions of Green Lane and Front Street has long cast a blight on the good work we are all doing in the area, particularly the events staged by the smaller, independent traders.

“Having this shop open and doing business again will provide a boost for Acomb in terms of both confidence and footfall. We are all looking forward to working with Boyes and involving them in the activities we are developing for Acomb for the year ahead”.

Andrew Boyes, Director of the Company said: “We are delighted to be moving into Acomb and becoming part of the business community. We have known Acomb well for many years and have made a long-term investment in the building and the area. Boyes is here to stay and we are very much looking forward to becoming a key brand and offering excellent service to local people while attracting additional trade to the area.”

Boyes are planning to renovate their new store over the coming months and are expecting to open their new Acomb premises in Spring 2015.

Empty Council property in York

A number of commercial properties, owned by the York Council, remain empty.

They include 1 Shipton Road (Ashbank), 17/21 Piccadilly, Clementhorpe Maltings (Lower Darnborough St), ,former Railway Canteen (Holgate Rd) and the Parkside Commercial Centre.

Some are being actively marketed but it seems that the Railway Canteen may simply be demolished. It was originally purchased, many years ago, for possible use as a community centre.

The Parkside Commercial Centre has also been empty for several years. Its sale was agreed in 2010 but little progress has been made since. Guildhall sources blame planning delays. Planning permission for a 3 storey office building was granted in July 2013.

Foxwood Lane

Foxwood Lane

Meanwhile York’s longest void Council house remains unoccupied. 102 Foxwood Lane has been empty since sewage problems were discovered. The Council blames Yorkshire Water for the delays in bringing the 2 bedroomed bungalow back into use.

It is something of a mystery why they haven’t taken legal action to have the drainage problems resolved.

This section of Foxwood Lane has a record of flooding issues. They are one of the reasons why residents have opposed building on Acomb Moor which is located further up the Lane.