Lowfields – new homes not ready for occupation until next year

This Lowfields site will include 140 mixed tenure homes of which 56 will be affordable homes. The contractor has been on site since December 2019 and the Council says that it is “progressing well” with significant progress on “infrastructure work along with substructures”.

However the first 34 homes are now not due to be completed until early in 2021.

The Council decided to develop the site itself at a meeting held in July 2018

It later formed a company called Shape homes and said it would recruit staff to work with it. The latest financial report suggest that this had not progressed by the end of the financial year with over £1.2 million of the available budget slipping into the current year.

The Council also failed to invest £1.9 million of the budget that it set aside for the repair and modernisation of existing homes.

Football pitches

Meanwhile the football pitch project on Sim Balk Lane has stalled. The pitches were nominally supposed to replace those lost at Lowfields as a result of development, albeit they are 3 miles away. The land near London Bridge became waterlogged over the winter and is only now beginning to grass over.This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is New-football-pitches-Sim-Balk-Lane-4-4th-Aug-2019-858x1024.jpg

The biggest problem though is the expensive “pavilion” which incorporates changing rooms.

A report to a meeting being held today says, “The construction of the pavilion / changing rooms has been put on hold due to the Covid-19 restrictions and it is not known when the work will be able to restart. The final procurement for the access road has also been put on hold”.

We wish that project well, but would have preferred to see some of the £850,000 cost (to taxpayers) invested in outdoor sports/leisure facilities in the Westfield area.

Huge £1.8 million overspend by Council on James House project

The conversion of James House from offices to 57 self-contained apartments for temporary homeless accommodation was completed on 14th April 2020, fifteen months behind schedule.

The Council says, “For homeless households the self-contained apartments will offer safe, secure and comfortable accommodation before permanent housing can be found for them. James House was open to residents in June 2020”.

The Council now admits that, as well as being 15 months behind schedule, the final costs are currently £1.782m above the agreed budget of £12.4m.

The council says that they have appointed independent experts to review the programming, delay, and quantity surveying aspects of the project.

British Sugar Site

Much of the British Sugar development site on Boroughbridge Road has now been levelled. It remains unclear when construction of the long delayed homes will start.

In the meantime one resident has commented that some of the trees on the site – scheduled for retention because they provide a wildlife habitat – seem to have disappeared. The Council has been asked to investigate.

The old Manor school site does not seem to have been affected,.

Extraordinary U Turn by York Council

A Council official has nullified the controversial decision taken by Green Councillor who agreed to spend over £1 million bringing 8 Council houses up to ENerPhit standard and around 30 homes up to EPC ‘C’. click for report.

Cllr Craghill turned down an alternative which would have seen 66 properties benefit from a similar investment. Overall this scheme would have produced greater CO2 savings, and lower energy bills, for many more tenants. It was better value for money and had a bigger impact on the environment.

Not surprisingly the seemingly perverse decision was due to be “called in” for further explanation. Tory, Independent and Labour Councillors backed the call in. Privately some LibDem Councillors are understood to have expressed similar concerns.

Now a Council official has decided to bin the decision.

The Councils – increasingly controversial – “monitoring officer”, Janie Berry, says that

” I have concerns in relation to the legal, finance and equalities implications cited within the original report, in that I do not believe they provided Cllr Craghill with the sufficient details she required to assist her in making a proper fully informed decision”.

“In my capacity as the Monitoring Officer I have revoked the original decision made by Cllr Craghill and have instructed the Housing Department to re-draft a  report in respect of this issue and re-present a revised report to a future meeting of the  Executive Member Decision Session.  Members will still be able to call-in any future report in respect of the Energy Accelerator”.

Now whatever you may think of the decision – and it was a strange one – officers overruling Councillors, without democratic endorsement, sets a dangerous precedent. It is as close to a local coup as you are likely to witness.

Reports normally go through a series of checks before being made public. These checks certainly are aimed at ensuring proposals are affordable, legal and fair.

Something has gone seriously wrong in this case. Taxpayers will want to know how this could happen.

The delegation scheme – where individuals can spend very large sums of money – has always been controversial. The blunder will add weight to those advocating a return to all party committee decision making.

In the meantime, the controlling coalition needs to find some internal mechanism where extreme or perverse proposals can be moderated before they become public.

If such a process were in place then some recent transport decisions might also have never seen the light of day.

Prompt response from York Council

Cornlands Road/Askham Lane

A York Council manager has responded promptly to reports of Epicormic (lower trunk) growth on some trees in the Cornlands Road/Tudor Road area.

Such growth can cause sight line problems for drivers.

The manager says the branches will be trimmed.

Dumping is a problem at some empty properties.

We’ve reported a similar issue with a tree at the junction of Cornlands Road and Askham Lane.

We also received a prompt response from Cllr Demise Craghill who has executive responsibility for housing in the City.

She was sympathetic to our complaints about delays in bringing empty Council houses back into use and promised to pursue two long standing issues in the Foxwood Lane area.

Morrell Court

Lack of action to level potholes on the Morrell Court access road has now been registered as a formal complaint with the Council. The defects were first reported 6 months ago.

Elsewhere black bags have been left next to the recycling bins at the Acomb Wood Drive shopping area.

We have asked for them to be removed.

Acomb Wood Drive shopping area

Housing reform proposals get mixed response in York

The government have published proposals which could see significant changes in the way that homes are planned and delivered in York. click

Government paper March 2020

The proposals include plans to make better use of brownfield (previously developed) land and a requirement for all local authorities to have an approved Local Plan.

One aspect, that has attracted local criticism, is the paragraph covering the introduction of “new rules to encourage building upwards, increasing density in line with local character and make the most of local infrastructure”. Permitted development rights (PDR) would be extended to allow residential blocks to be increased by up to two storeys. Some have claimed that this might affect views of The Minster. Indeed, it might, particularly if the proposals are applied to conservation areas and local PDRs have not already been restricted by the local Council.

That does need to be clarified before changes are published later in the year.

But the White Paper also includes some positive messages.

March 2020
Barbican development site

As well as plans to make better use of brownfield land, the paper says it will ensure land allocated for housing is built on. That will ring a bell with some who regularly walk past derelict sites like that next the Barbican. It has had planning permission for homes for over 5 years.

Many will also feel sympathy for the proposal to improve security for tenants by abolishing the use of ‘no fault evictions’. The papers says, “that tenants can put down roots in their communities and plan for their long-term future”.

Local amenity organisations will surely welcome proposals to revise the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to embed the principles of good design and placemaking – “this will make clear that high-quality buildings and places must be considered throughout the planning process”?

Another commitment is for urban tree planting and giving communities a greater opportunity to influence design standards in their area. “This will put tree lined streets at the centre of future plans, so that they become the norm not the exception”

The government plans to give local authorities the ability to ensure that new homes conform to “local residents’ ideas of beauty” through the planning system. “Using the National Model Design Code, we will set out clear parameters for promoting the design and style of homes and neighbourhoods local people want to see. We will ask local places to produce their own design guides and codes, informed by listening to local people and considering local context”.

There is more than a whiff of centralised control about the paper and, of course, the actual implementation of ideas often proves illusive.

The world and the City may in any event look very different in 6 months time.

But there is still something to be positive about in the White Paper

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

Comparisons
Reasons property unoccupied

Major housing plans in York set to get go ahead next week

Proposals to develop two long term empty sites in York will be before the planning committee next week. Together the development of the sites could provide nearly 700 new homes in the City.

 Gas works site, Heworth Green

The proposal is for the erection of a maximum of 625 residential apartments, 130 sqm of retail or community use floorspace.

Two gas governor compounds will be retained, and the site will be remediated with the old gasholder removed and gas pipes relocated underground.

The plans cover associated access, car parking, amenity space and landscaping after demolition of existing pipework, structures and telephone mast.

The brownfield site is allocated for housing in the revised York Local Plan. The site is no longer classified as contaminated.

The plans would see 370 one bed, 194 two bed and 61 three bed apartments built.

The report suggests that 20 social rent houses will be provided (off site) as part of the plans. In addition around 130 of the on-site apartments will be available for private rent, discounted by 30%.

There have been concerns registered about inadequate car parking arrangements and the York Civic Trust has said that the plans are an “overdevelopment”.

The development will cost £154 million. It is recommended for approval by Council officials.

Ashbank Shipton Road

Ashbank – scheduled to be converted into flats since 2013

Another long term empty property badly in need of redevelopment are the former Council offices at Ashbank. The building has been empty for over 8 years and is still owned by the York Council.

The application involves the demolition of Barleyfields and erection of 54 assisted living apartments and communal facilities. The modern extensions to Ashbank would be demolished and the building converted into 4 assisted living apartments. There would be changes to parking and landscaping arrangements.

Planning permission was previously granted for four 2½ storey dwellings to the rear of Ashbank with conversion of the villa to 5 apartments. This permission has not been implemented.

12 of the new units will be “affordable”

There have been 12 objections registered some connected with the loss of tree cover (although replacement planting is proposed) and building height

The site is classified as “brownfield”

Officials are recommending approval of the plans

New bungalows wait for tenants

Five new Council bungalows in Cheltenham Court (off Newbury Avenue) are ready for occupation.

The attractive homes have allocated disabled spaces and an electric vehicle charging point. Aimed at older or disabled tenants, they are also close to the number 4 bus route and the Lidl store. .

Completion was behind schedule so we hope that the York Council will get on and allocate the tenancies quickly

Controversy over plan to turn elderly persons flat into office

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 Community Centre).

Gale Farm Court. Plan to convert flat into office

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 site.

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.

Lincoln Court building progress

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.

Lincoln Court expansion plans 2018

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. 

Disabled centre in foreground. Lincoln Court to rear

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” .

This claim is being viewed with some scepticism