Enhanced homeless scheme secures £2.4m grant

Two extra new apartments and replacement windows are among the enhancements to what is now a 57-unit temporary accommodation building in central York, for which the council has secured an additional £2.4m funding.The updated plans have factored in conditions attached to a £2.365m grant from Homes England (HE). This funding adds to a £10.5m budget already agreed by the council for the purchase and redevelopment of James House on James Street, as well as costs associated with closing and relocating existing temporary accommodation for homeless households.

This extra funding means a saving of £500,000 to the council. Senior councillors are being asked to approve the revised budget for James House of £12.4m, financed by £2.451m from Homes England and £9.949m from the Housing Revenue Account.

The specification of the conversion has increased. Two additional flats will be created, making a total of 57, and some others will be increased in size to meet national requirements and the criteria of the HE grant. In addition, an access road will be built and windows on the scheme will be renewed with double glazing and improved sound insulation.

Following approval by senior councillors on 16 March 2017, James House on James Street was bought and planning permission was submitted in early November 2017.

The self-contained flats will be owned and managed by City of York Council. James Street consolidates into one building much of the temporary accommodation for homeless people currently scattered across the city. It will also replace the accommodation at Ordnance Lane.

Housing hyperbole helps no one.

Call by MP for York Local Plan to be rejected was irresponsible and poorly researched

Claims by Rachel Maskell MP that people do not live in high-value, luxury apartments built in the City Centre, and that the homes were purchased as “an investment, or they are used just for holidays and race days or weekends”, don’t seem to be rooted in fact.

Maskell also claimed the push for more City centre accommodation is “an experiment in social cleansing”, relying entirely on anecdotal evidence to support her assertion.

She repeated her claims last week 

 Publicly available statistics confirm that,of the 1036 homes built in the first 6 months of the current financial year, 637 were aimed at students. Student needs reflect in both housing targets and outturns.  Most of the flats were built on Lawrence Street. They are hardly “luxurious” or “expensive” but they do not count as affordable housing (because it is tied accommodation)

Provision of specialist accommodation of this type reduces the pressure to convert family accommodation into student lets.

Between April 2017 and September 2017 planning permission was also granted for 892 new homes. These included large developments at The Barbican, Nestle, and Hungate. (Only 3 were for student accommodation)

The emerging Local Plan provides for 867 new homes to be built each year. This compares to an average of 686 completed over the last 5 years. At least 20% will be “affordable”.

Historic figures (see below) reveal that there has been a spurt in house building in the City over the last 3 years.  Before that, five years of recession took a toll on house building numbers.

The housing waiting list has stabilised at 1200 (excluding those seeking a transfer) with people waiting on average for 12 months for a new home. The number of homeless, presenting to the Council, is now around 100 a year (down from a 10-year peak of 258).

Lack of land clearly is not an issue impacting on the granting of planning permission for new developments in the City.

The Council might be criticised for not releasing funding to buy properties on the open market to increase the social rent pool. It had run a surplus of over £20 million on its housing account for over 6 years (although very recently it agreed to release some of the surplus to ease social housing demands).

In addition, the total amount of unspent payments in lieu of affordable housing that the council currently holds is £4.325m.

There are issues to be addressed. The apparent spike in “rough sleeping“ has previously been highlighted.

Over the last few months the Council has guaranteed a hostel bed for anyone found sleeping on the streets. It is an initiative that seems to have worked during the recent period of cold weather.

York desperately needs a Local Plan.

Funding the endless revisions has debilitated the Council’s budget with an estimate of £10 million already having been devoted to the process.

Arguing that the current proposals should be abandoned is both reckless and shortsighted.

Some revisions to the text might be expected, but the basic thrust of the document is right and, most importantly, deliverable.

York Council criticised for Lowfields decisions

Lowfields Green – Unimaginative layout

The “Save Lowfields Playing Field Action Group” are rightly unhappy this morning. https://www.facebook.com/LowfieldsActionGroup/

They have criticised the quality of analysis which preceded the councils decision yesterday to form a development company which may be used to build on the Lowfields playing fields.

The Council also decided to back financially the provision of football pitches at Bishopthorpe although these are too far away to be relevant to the leisure needs that already exist and those of the 350 new residents that the Lowfields development will attract.

Many of the  pkanned hiomes will be for private rent. They will not be added to the Councils housing revenue account and so will not be subject to “right to buy”. However private rent levels are high.

Typically a 3 bedroomed house in the Lowfields area would cost around £800 a month in rent payments. 

The Action Group rightly point out that the decision is not only risky for taxpayers but also premature because the planning application for the site has not yet been considered.

The Lowfields scheme has been criticised by local residents for providing an inadequate amount of open space and for the cramped and unimaginative layout design.

NB. Both Liberal Democrat and Labour candidates in the 20-15 Council elections promised to conserve the Lowfields playing fields and restricted development to the built footprint of the old school.



Elderly in York to be hit as Tories plan to cut garden assistance scheme

Over a year ago, the York Council notified elderly and disabled people that it planned to scrap its garden assistance scheme. The scheme employs contractors to cut the hedges and lawns of elderly and disabled residents.

The plans produced a barrage of complaints and the threat was withdrawn

Now a report has revealed that a Tory Councillor is again planning to slash entitlement to the service. About 50% of current users will be told to make other arrangements.

It appears that some people aged over 70 with severe disabilities may continue to get the service from an estate “handymen”, but many others will miss out.

Story last year

The cuts are expected to save the Council around £40,000 a year.

The Tories claim that this cut is essential to balance the books. They forget that last week a review of the Housing Revenue Account revealed that it will have an average credit balance of over £30 million in each of the next 30 years.

This partly arises from the expected 1% per annum real terms increases in rents.

As well as kicking existing users off the programme, the report talks of establishing a “waiting list” for people who need the service.

The Councillor responsible for the proposal is Sam Lyle a youth who recently graduated from University. Quite what he knows about the challenges faced by many older residents will no doubt become clear over the next few days.

Fortunately, as we have reported before (left), there are a lot of caring students at the York and St Johns Universities who hopefully will prove to be part of the solution to this shabby proposal

In the meantime, the Council’s website is down. Anyone trying to Email Councillors is referred to a web page apparently containing a list of contact telephone numbers. http://democracy.york.gov.uk/mgCommitteeMailingList.aspx?ID=0

That web page is also currently unavailable!


York Labour housing building plans questioned

A Labour leaflet advocating large scale housing building plans on greenfield sites has been criticised by the Liberal Democrats.

The Labour plans would see many playing fields and green belt sites developed. They are similar to those promoted by the party in its 2014 Local Plan which failed to secure government approval

Now the Liberal Democrats have hit back with some home truths


Muddle, confusion and fabrication – York Council approach to Lowfields planning application

Many residents living in the Lowfields area were surprised to get a letter last week from the Councils Housing Directorate. The letter told them that two planning applications had been submitted which would lead to the development of the whole of the Lowfields site.

The letter quoted reference numbers. 17/02428/FUL, covering roads and housing, and 17/02429/OUTM covering “the whole site including self-build, community housing, care home and health facilities”

It turns out that someone jumped the gun as these applications still do not appear on the “planning on line” web site  https://planningaccess.york.gov.uk/online-applications//

The letter claims that there have been changes made following the last consultation with residents in the summer. The Council fails to highlight what these changes are.

The housing department also claims that “landscaped green space will be open to the public for the first time” In practice the playing fields were open to the public until about 5 years ago when the Council tried to secure the boundaries. At the time, they said this could only be a for a few months.

The usable green space, on the plans that have been published so far, show an area of useable amenity land which is similar in size to the small area which lies at the junction of Dijon Avenue and Lowfield Drive.

The Council has blundered if it is canvassing for support – at taxpayers’ expense – for a scheme which is subject to a planning application. There is a long-standing protocol that, where a local authority is both the landowner and the planning authority, then it must behave in an impartial way. That principle has been breached already. It is likely to increase the pressure for the proposal to be called in by central government for determination.

Perhaps even more extraordinary, was a claim made by the Tory Councillor responsible for housing on Friday who said that the houses would be built by the Council. It would be the “biggest housing development by the Council since 1988”

It emerged today that no such decision has been taken.

The media release which led to the story in the media – and apparently issued by the Council – was not published on their web site 

Indeed, with only 20% of the properties likely to be affordable, there would be little incentive for the Council to take on the burden of appointing professional staff to project manage what would only be a 3-year project.

Private house builders have been subject to the 20% rule for over a decade and could produce homes more quickly and economically.

You only have to look at the delays dogging Council building projects (Mansion House, Guildhall, York Central, Community Stadium) to see why any entry into the speculative housing building market would be viewed with alarm by taxpayers.

York Council to sell Bootham Row car parking spaces

New threat to sell off Council housing land

Land at Bootham Row to be sold

The York Council’s Executive is being recommended to sell off 5 car parking spaces at Bootham Row car park. The land (see map) also accommodates motorcycle parking.

The Council is hoping to raise £155,000 from a local developer who hopes to remodel 27 Bootham.

The car parking spaces generate over £7000 a year for taxpayers

Coming at a time when pressure on City centre car parks is being blamed for the accelerating decline in the City centre retail economy, the plan is bound to raise eyebrows. It is reminiscent of the plan, hatched in 2011 by the then Labour led Council administration, which proposed to sell off the nearby Union Terrace car park. That idea collapsed after being heavily criticised by both residents and traders.

Housing land sale

More alarming is the publication of a lofty document which seeks to justify a new “Asset Management Strategy”. It is due to be discussed by the Council’s Executive on 28th September.

The report claims that the last strategy, launched in 2011, has been a success.

Amongst the credulous statements that Councillors are being asked to believe, are claims that that the York Central and Castle Gateway sites “have been made more economically active” (In fact very little progress has been made on either project over the last 6 years).

The report goes on to claim that older people’s accommodation has been improved. Again, the reality is that the project is running 4 years behind schedule.

Sanderson House community centre

Most bizarre is a claim that leasing community centres to local organisations  “have allowed voluntary groups to flourish, increase activity, improve outcomes and attract external funding”. The reality, at least at the two community centres in the Westfield area, is that volunteers have been given a crushing burden to handle with minimal Council support.  Most ad hoc leisure events at the centres have stopped with most bookings now being from third parties (which the management committees have to accept simply to pay for running costs)

The Council has similarly jettisoned its commitment to many local sports facilities.

The report talks vaguely of joint use arrangement with other public-sector providers such as GPs.

It seems likely that the Council intends to target staff who work in neighbourhood buildings potentially repeating the disastrous policy – from a customer service perspective – of closing facilities like the Acomb Housing office and the Beckfield Lane recycling centre.

Derelict site behind Acomb Explore Library

The report says that 5 (unidentified) Housing department owned sites will either be sold or freed up for redevelopment.

The report pointedly fails to identify the location of these sites.

There are of course pieces of Council owned land which are crying out for development.

These include the land to the rear of the Acomb Library, which was schedule as an extension providing “one stop shop” facilities – with residential accommodation above – over 8 years ago.

We are still waiting to see some progress.

New elderly persons homes planned for Clifton plus changes for services for adults with learning disabilities

Burton Stone community centre to be demolished

New community facilities and 33 new homes for older people could be built in Clifton.

The homes include the city’s first available to buy for shared ownership on a council-built care scheme. This proposed £6.667 million scheme will meet increasing need for extra care for the city’s growing number of older residents and replaces an existing community centre.

The 29 new extra care apartments and four two-bedroomed bungalows would be built as an annexe to the Marjorie Waite Court extra care scheme. Up to ten homes could be sold on a shared equity basis, helping older homeowners – 80% of whom own their own home in York – to move to more appropriate accommodation.

It forms part of the council’s programme to increase high quality accommodation with care for rising population of older people, as agreed in June 2015.

The scheme’s tenants, local residents and groups using the Burton Stone Community Centre site were consulted on and their feedback has helped shape the proposal.

Besides using the land currently occupied by Burton Stone Community Centre to extend the extra care scheme, new community facilities will be built to meet the needs of local people, groups and Marjorie Waite Court tenants. Some of the existing users of the Burton Stone centre will move to new facilities in Burnholme, Tang Hall.

City of York Council’s Executive will also be asked to give their consent for the council to go out to the market to procure support providers that will deliver services for adults and young people with learning disabilities when they meet on Thursday 31 August.

At their meeting Executive will be asked for their consent to go out to tender for two schemes, a day base at the Burnholme health and wellbeing campus and a short breaks service, currently at Flaxman Avenue.

If they agree, Executive will be asked to delegate the award of the tenders to the corporate director of health, housing and adult social care in consultation with the executive member for health, housing and adult social care.

If approved, the day base will be part of the new Burnholme health and wellbeing campus, where building work is currently ongoing. The site, as a whole, will see over £35m of public and private sector investment and provide care, health, community and sports facilities as well as new housing and is expected to be ready in 2018.

Secret land deal at “Lowfields Green”

The Council has revealed that it has done a deal to sell 0.74 acres of land to Yorspace at the Lowfield school site.

The land is located next to Tudor Road and is expected to accommodate a high-density development of 19 houses and flats. The communal living style model involves people purchasing shares in a “Mutual Home Ownership Society”.

A report, made public only after a decision had been taken says, “It is a high-density development, to reflect its sustainable objectives, and will also include a community building which can be used for events, as well as some shared outdoor communal areas and growing spaces. As part of the groups green objectives, they are aiming for around 1-1.5 parking spaces per house. The site will be constructed using a variety of environmentally friendly materials and processes, possibly including straw bale and solar”.

The report also says, “As part of the agreement they may also take on the management of the growing spaces and some green areas of the Lowfield site and will run them for the wider community’s benefit”.

The council is refusing to say how much the land will be sold for nor will it say what the market value of the land is.

It is clear that a substantial discount has been negotiated.

It appears that the Council is not stipulating that the plots should be reserved for use by  local people with a proven need for cheap accommodation (e.g. on the housing waiting list &/or key workers).

Yorspace plans

The Council has already changed its plans for the relocation of the football team which currently uses the Lowfields playing field.

In December, they were supposed to be relocated to Tadcaster Road. Last month the Council said they were considering fencing off Chesneys Field to accommodate them.

That announcement produced a barrage of opposition from the current users of Chesneys Field.

Residents opposed fencing the public open space by a ratio of 3:1 in a recent door to door survey.

The decision to sell off the land to Yorspace  was taken last week by the Councils Director of Health, Housing and Adult Social Care (Jon Stonehouse), at a private, behind closed doors, meeting.

There was no consultation with affected residents before the meeting was held.

Old Manor school buildings set to be demolished

York’s planning committee is being recommended to approve an application to demolish the old Manor School buildings on Low Poppleton Lane.

The planning application, which will be discussed at a meeting taking place on 17th August, also contains details of major changes to road junction arrangements in the area.

The changes are necessary to allow new access roads, to the former British Sugar site, to be constructed.

In turn, this will facilitate the erection of new housing in the area.

There have been relatively few objections to the plan although the Council is being recommended to provide mitigation measures to protect the well-being of the bats that live in the school building.