House sales buoyant in York but uncertain future

It seems that the unmet demand for new homes – which built up during lockdown – has resulted in high demand and rising prices in York. The City has been named as one of “the” places to live in a succession of media surveys and that is one of the reasons for some sections of the housing market – in some neighbourhoods – are seeing a lot of activity.

It is a market that the York Council may be eager to exploit. It has several new developments in the pipeline including the huge York Central site, Duncombe Barracks, Castle Mills, Lowfields and the Burnholme Hub.

The latter two illustrate some of the challenges.

Lowfields

Neighbours of the Lowfield Green site have never been happy with what they view as an overdevelopment. A sports field will be built on without any compensatory public open space being provided.

But it is the pace of development, which is one of the current major concerns.

An FOI response has revealed that the Yorspace communal housing group have still not completed the purchase of their allocated plot (located in the south east corner of the development).

The site was used as a location for a spoil heap for about six months and the subsequent removal of this remains the only work completed in the immediate area.

Residents were promised that – from start to completion – the project would take a maximum of 3 years. A long time to suffer the drone of nearby heavy plant and increased traffic, but nevertheless the promise provided light at the end of the tunnel for neighbours.

It is 18 months since the builders arrived. So far there has been no progress on providing any community facilities or the promised retirement home.

Prospective purchasers are likely to be discouraged by the prospect of living on a building site for several more years.

More information can be found on the residents action group Facebook page

Burnholme

See the source imageA similar situation could arise at Burnholme. As explained last week, a planning application for this development will be determined on Wednesday.

The background has changed over recent days with anti-social behaviour problems escalating at the nearby Derwenthorpe development and within the Burnholme Hub itself.

We understand that the library has been a recent target for vandals.

All in all, that suggests a rethink of security across the whole neighbourhood is needed.

Expecting new residents to park their cars at remote locations simply adds to the risks.

Consultation starts on licensing smaller Houses in Multiple Occupation

Following approval by the council’s executive, the council is starting a consultation on extending licensing to a further 2,000, smaller Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs).

See the source image

Views on this are being sought from tenants, landlords and partner organisations. Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) are shared homes, and include houses and flat shares, student homes and bedsits.

A 10-week consultation is starting on a new licensing scheme to improve the quality of some of York’s less well-managed privately-rented homes.

Extending licensing arrangements for HMOs with three or four occupants would ensure a safer, better-managed and even more professionally run private rented sector. This work would focus on Hull Road, Guildhall, Clifton, Fishergate, Heworth, Micklegate, Osbaldwick & Derwent; and Fulford & Heslington wards.  Landlords would benefit from a level playing field, and be offered additional training in property management which would improve the quality and value of the property and encourage tenants to stay longer.

The consultation will run from 16 April to 27 June 2021 at www.york.gov.uk/HMOConsultation

Muddled thinking on new Burnholme development?

A planning application for an 83-home development at Burnholme are set to be approved by the Council planning committee.  The application is from the Council itself. It is high density and has been criticised by the Council’s own highways team who believe that the layout will hinder waste collection activities and exacerbate parking problems across a wide area.

Other major criticisms relate to a lack of car parking space and security. There is less than one space per home although experience elsewhere suggests that, at least,  the 33 three and four bedroomed homes will house 2 or more car owners. Parking space permits would be allocated annually (maximum one per house).

Bizarrely only 4 of the parking spaces will have electric vehicle charging points although the development is supposed to be a model of self-sufficiency.

The terraced housing will have communal back lanes. Similar social experiments over the years have failed when occupants turned out to have different lifestyle choices than those envisaged by the scheme designers.

The homes are likely to be expensive to buy but have the advantage of low running costs due to high insulation standards.

At this development the Council seem to be edging towards supporting the option of  living hedge boundaries – a choice  their Shape housing company denies potential occupants of the Lowfields development.

Of the 83 homes 16 would be for Social Rent and 16 would be  Shared Ownership. There are 5 self-build plots.

Just how many people are actually prepared to pay £300,000 for a home incorporating a folksy requirement to shop using a cargo bike plus cheek by jowl living with near neighbours remains to  be seen.

Does high density development have a post pandemic future?

Hungate development plans

Developers have submitted their final proposals for building on the remaining plot on Hungate.

 The latest planning application would see an increase in the number of flats proposed from 169 to 226. No on-site parking will be provided. There will be some ground floor retail units.

The announcement comes hard on the heels of a planning application which would see 211 apartments constructed on Rougier Street.

While a lot of people will be pleased to see the Hungate  development – which started over  10 years ago – completed, there will be some scepticism about the number of apartments being provided on a relatively small site.

 The lockdown restrictions have highlighted the need for access to safe open space. Unfortunately land values – established during a very different economic climate – make the provision of the alternative to flats –  terraced homes with private gardens – financially challenging.

Barbican Road development site

This may be why the City center’s worst eyesore continues to lie empty and abused.

The site at the junction of Barbican Road and Paragon Street has been derelict for more than a decade. Originally intended for use as a student block, it has failed to attract serious developer interest.

Now it provides an embarrassing backdrop to the historic City Walls.

Perimeter hoardings now covered in graffiti.

Directly opposite – on the other side of the Walls – is the Willow House  former elderly persons home which has been unused for over 4 years. The Council has still not responded to calls for the building to be used as temporary accommodation for the homeless.

The York Council itself is planning to build hundreds of apartments on the York Central site as well as at Castle Mills.

The next year will tell us how many people want to occupy small flats in high density city centre developments.

Post pandemic, we suspect that the option might be losing some of its appeal.  

Housing management shambles in York

Standards seem to be slipping in the social housing sector in York with one JRHT tenant seeking crowd funding to repair damage caused by a leaking pipe.

The incident occurred on the Trusts flagship Derwenthorpe estate where the district heating system has proved to be problematic.

Crowd funding appeal following flooding damage

One local source says that the absence of isolating valves at some individual properties means that flooding problems have occurred which might have been avoided.

The incident perhaps points up a potential negative side for those in the forefront of adopting new technologies.

The York Council regards itself as an innovator and is spending huge sums on building “green” homes. While some features (insulation, solar power) are well established and beneficial, others have not been tested for long term durability in varying climatic conditions.

The rather wobbly logic behind the programme might in part be traced to a lack of professional leadership. The Council has not had anyone in charge of its housing operations since the beginning of the year.

A recent appointee to the post gave backword and it remains unclear where responsibility now lies for the day to day management of York’s 8000 strong council housing portfolio.

There are are growing problems in some estates.

In the Foxwood area, seven homes are currently empty. One bungalow was vacated by an older person when they went into a care home 3 years ago. The property has still not been relet even on a temporary basis.

Another bungalow has been undergoing repairs since it was vacated 9 months ago.

Bungalow empty for over 9 months

It also appears that the mistake made last year, of introducing a reactive cleansing service, has reappeared.

During the last lockdown the older “barrowman” approach was reintroduced . Cleaners were responsible for tidying a specific geographical area. There were notable improvements in cleanliness standards.

That system has now apparently been scrapped, with cleaners now only reacting to reports of issues.

Some estate manager posts are unfilled and the Council has failed to update its register of garages which are available to rent.

All in all, an area of concern.

House building moving ahead in Westfield

Work on two house building sites in the Westfield area is continuing despite the problems with COVID and, more recently, wet weather.

On Gale Lane the much delayed redevelopment of a site opposite the end of Cornlands Road is now underway. The site had been the subject of several different planning applications over the years.

61A Gale Lane

Elsewhere a further infill development is underway on Green Lane

Green Lane

The Green Lane site is close to the location of the bungalows which are due to be built on the Lowfields Site

Work on building bungalows on the Lowfields site has started.
The site reserved for “Yorspace” communal housing remains unoccupied.

Opportunities at first York Council meeting for 8 months look set to be squandered.

4 Tips For Hosting a Successful Virtual Event - FindSpark

The York Council will hold a “virtual” Council meeting on 29th October. It will be the first since the start of the pandemic.

Those hoping for glimpses of firm leadership and evidence of cross party cooperation will be disappointed.

The agenda is dominated by bureaucracy.

ian-floyd-city-york-council | YorkMix
Ian Floyd

A replacement for the long departed Chief Executive will be announced. Ian Floyd will be announced as “Chief Operating Officer” although apparently the Labour leader decided to boycott the interview process. Instead Trades Union officials observed the proceedings (and pronounced that they were satisfied with the process).

The ill-timed reorganisation of local government boundaries will take a step forward, “minor amendments” to the constitution (reducing still further accountability) will be tabled, and polling stations will be changed (and no there aren’t actually any elections scheduled).

The rest is mostly a ritual look backwards although Andy D’agorne has raised his head above the parapet on controversial transport initiatives such as the double resurfacing of Tadcaster Road, the failed Bishopthorpe Road closure and the underused Monk Bar taxi service.

Will anyone be able to nail these mistakes? We doubt that those using “Zoom” will manage to do so.

A report from the Executive member with responsibility for housing, completely fails to identify the problems with re-letting services and the growing number of empty properties.

It is not just under-used Council houses that are at issue.

Homeless people have tried to get access to long term empty properties like Willow House for temporary use, only to be “cold shouldered” by Councillors.

Willow House

No mention is made of the senior management level vacancies in the housing department which have contributed to the decline in standards.

Probably what takes the biscuit though,  for posturing and time wasting, is a contribution, in the form of a motion, from Labour.

It claims that it wants to see  Councillors “acting responsibly and collaboratively at all times”.

 It then proposes unilateral changes to delegated budgets. £100,000 would be sequestered from wards and allocated centrally in some unnamed way to “voluntary groups working with the vulnerable”. 

This is not a Marcus Rashford style attempt to ease the burdens of those hit by the pandemic.

Instead it would rob the least well-off wards like Westfield of the resources needed to identify and address local needs.

One of the successes, of the Councils approach, has been the local “hubs” which have provided neighbourhood level support over the last few months. They have been supplemented by other initiatives like surplus food giveaways some of which have had financial support from some ward budgets.

In addition, the Council allocated £1.25 million to a local hardship fund earlier in the year.

Zoom Meeting GIFs | Tenor

Perhaps if Labour Councillors want to build up another hardship fund then they might consider donating 20% of their pay?

That would put them on a par with many workers in the City who have suffered a similar – or higher – reduction in income. Councillors are, after all, attending fewer meetings these days and their costs are therefore much reduced.  Indeed, for some, this will be the first meeting they have “attended” since February.

A 20% reduction in pay across the board would produce a fund of over £100,000.

Likely to happen?

In New Zealand maybe?

In the UK, less so we suspect!

Praise for new housing schemes in York but reality on the ground is different.

‘We’re going above and beyond’ … CGI of Burnholme View.
New estate design at Duncombe barracks

An article in The Guardian has highlighted some of the new housing schemes being progressed by the York Council. It praises new Passivhaus low-energy standard designs. Plans for low energy estates on the Duncombe Barracks and Burnholme sites are being discussed today by the Councils executive.

Unfortunately both the article, and today’s Council report, fail to recognise the downsides of this type of building programme.

Two years into the controversial development of the Lowfields site, fewer than half the homes being built in the first phase have been reserved.  Not entirely surprising you might say, with an average size 3 bed semi priced at nearly £300,000. Sure, you can expect lower energy consumption bills but what good is that if you can’t afford a mortgage?

Being told that a communal “cargo bike” is available for hire is unlikely to provide much solace

Communications by the Council’s own “Shape” development company with neighbours are poor and promised regular bulletins have not materialised.

Lowfield building site slow progress

All six of the “self build” plots on the site have been allocated but we seem to be no closer to seeing the “Yorspace” communal housing group complete the purchase their allocated site. That process has dragged on for nearly 2 years now.  Surely the time has come to use this plot for other purposes – most obviously to extend the space available for self-build units?

There is an element of urgency.

Neighbours were promised that the site would be fully developed within 3 years. The inevitable disruption, noise, dust and mud associated with building works would then come to an end and community cohesion could begin to re-establish itself.

The Council claimed that the neighbourhood in general would benefit from a new “health centre”. A police station was mentioned. A new playground would form part of a new “village green”. A care home would provide a boost for older people.

None of these seem likely to happen in the foreseeable future.  None are mentioned in the Councils progress report, which limits itself to reporting on progress on Bishopthorpe FC’s expensive pavilion which is in part funded from sales at Lowfields. (The pavilion and football pitches are almost complete but the promised improvement work on the adjacent cycle track has not started)

Football club pavillion

The Council’s housing department is leaderless and lacking in direction. Like much of the rest of the authority, responsible Councillors seem to be focussed on the next “photo op”.

The hard work involved in  forcing up public service standards seems to be of no interest to them.

If it was, then they would ensure that unused council houses – some of which have been empty for months and, in some cases, years – are brought back into use quickly.  

But then  “Council House Let” is unlikely to be a headline that you will see in The Guardian.

Building site on Ascot Way being wound down

It seems that completion of work at both the new disabled centre and a remodelled Lincoln Court will shortly be competed. The builders equipment is being removed and the compound on the school land and the MUGA are almost clear.

New Lincoln Court entrance is imposing
Despite being largely clear of equipment, it seems unlikely that public use of the games area will be allowed.
This is the replacement site on Thanet Road slated to be the home of the new games area. However discussions about the project have dragged on for nearly 2 years.

The has been no recent update from the York Council on when they expect the communal housing, self build, health centre, older persons accommodation, public buildings and community facilities on their Lowfield development to be completed (or even in most cases started!)

Green Homes Grant applications welcomed

An illustration of a row of houses includes one house which is wearing a fluffy winter hat. The wording above it reads wrap up your home with a green homes grant of up to five thousand pounds
Wrap up your home with a Green Homes Grant of up to £5000

Eligible homeowners and landlords can now apply for a grant to help pay for energy saving measures to keep homes warmer and reduce fuel bills.

The Government’s new Green Homes Grant scheme allows homeowners to apply for grants of up to £5,000 for making certain improvements including fitting insulation. Householders with lower incomes could receive up to £10,000. Home owners and private sector landlords can apply.

“Successful applicants for the Green Homes Grant will be sent a voucher of up to £5,000 to cover up to two-thirds of the cost of energy efficiency and low carbon heat improvements to homes. Bigger grants are available for homeowners if they or a member of their household receives one of the qualifying benefits, and the grant will cover 100% of the cost of the improvements up to £10,000.”

Applicants will need to:

“As the winter months approach, people will be spending more time indoors which will impact both the cost of heating and the accompanying carbon emissions. I urge those eligible for the grant to apply and take this opportunity to transition to a cheaper and more sustainable home heating and insulation.

For queries about the scheme please call the Simple Energy Advice line on 0800 444202 from 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday and Saturday to Sunday 9am to 5pm or find out more at www.gov.uk/apply-green-homes-grant.

Private rental properties will be expected to meet a ‘C’ energy efficiency performance certification (EPC) by 2035. As such, now is the time for landlords to start improving their properties’ EPC rating and apply for a grant of up to £5,000 for energy efficiency improvements.

Green Homes Grant installers must be TrustMark accredited and customers can check installers at: www.trustmark.org.uk/ .  The Green Homes Grant scheme will never send official representatives to your property uninvited or cold calling on the phone to encourage you to join the scheme.