Consultation with Council tenants in York

Disappointing report from the York Council.

Its over 12 months since the York Residents’ Federation were forced to fold. They were the victims of an over officious approach by some Council staff. Their independent input never seemed to be welcomed by senior Councillors or officials.

As with any voluntary body, those involved needed to feel that their contribution is valued. Too often it clearly wasn’t by the York Council.

Some Councillors to their credit saw this as a backward step and the LibDem manifesto at the May local elections gave a pledge to revive citywide consultation arrangements.

A report on the subject of tenant consultation has now been published and will be considered by one of the Councils scrutiny committees next week. The report can be found by clicking here

Sadly there is little new in the report. It has apparently not even been run past the several successful residents associations which exist in the City

The Council needs to take consultation and tenant involvement much more seriously.

Extra funding for faster rough sleeper support in York

Nearly £400,000 extra funding has been secured by the council to help more people off the streets and into accommodation and support more quickly.

£253,000 has been awarded for 2019/20 from the Rough Sleeping Initiative to try and offer each individual sleeping on the streets the tailored support they need to help them into lasting accommodation.

In addition, £139,000 Rapid Rehousing Pathway funding has been secured to help people into accommodation and support. This is done by a specialist team of workers, known as Rough Sleeper Housing Navigators, enhancing current support by reacting rapidly to any reports of people sleeping rough as well as providing ongoing intensive support to rough sleepers.

People’s life expectancy plummets from 83 to 47 years when they live on the streets, so this funding will be used to support ongoing work to prevent people resorting to sleeping outdoors while developing new ways of addressing the individual needs of each person.

Whether it’s mental health support, dealing with drug or alcohol abuse, relationship breakdown or poverty, the right support at the right pace is given to try and help each individual into suitable accommodation and services. Once working with us and our partners in the city, we can look to address each person’s needs including getting benefits in place, training for work, money and tenancy management, before helping them into stable accommodation.

“It also complements the additional resource we invested in extending the Housing First model. This provides high levels of support to help people with complex needs such as substance abuse and mental ill health to live independently and to avoid them ending up back on the street.

“We have also provided more 24/7 supported housing which is actually what some people need. The council invested £130,000 in July in developing this new programme, working with health service partners.”

Anyone able and wanting to support this and our partners’ work by giving their time or sharing their skills with people going through resettlement, can contact For more information, please visit www.york.gov.uk/roughsleeping.

If you see someone sleeping outdoors, please call the StreetLink national rough sleeper reporting line on 0300 5000 914. They will notify us so we can offer help.

Cllr Denise Craghill, executive member for housing and safer communities said: “We are doing everything we can to develop new ways of getting people in off the streets and this is a welcome addition to our continuing work to prevent homelessness in the first place and to help more people out of rough sleeping. It reflects the team helping more people into accommodation and reducing the number of rough sleepers in the city from 29 in 2017 to nine in 2018.

Litter a growing problem on some Council estates

Litter is left for weeks without being swept.

Keeping estates clean and tidy until recently was the responsibility of estate workers. There was one in each major neighbourhood. They were sometimes styled as estate “handymen” and part of their duties was to repair minor items of street furniture. They were funded from rents.

They helped to keep neighbourhoods in good condition and would often be seen in the area proactively dealing with issues.

The Council recently decided to get rid of the role with responsibilities transferred to a mobile team.  Since the change, there has been a noticeable drop in standards. This seems mainly to be due to the fact that, rather than routinely patrol areas looking to address issues before they were widely noticed, the new approach is mainly “reactive”.

That is the staff respond to complaints.

Many will remember fondly the last decade when the Council, for a time, employed “lengthsmen” to give local roads that extra bit of care. They achieved more in improving standards than mechanical sweeping alone could provide.

That sadly also is a now thing of the past.

The drop in standards has been an increasing concern for residents associations. The issue has been drawn to the attention of Executive Councillors who have responsibility for service quality. There has been little response so far.

Unless the Council publishes an acceptable service standard contract for activities like these – the core of its work as a public authority – then it is likely that volunteer efforts will tail off.

That would be a great shame as whole communities would suffer.

Litter levels increasing

Call me Mr Shape

The Council is to adopt a pseudonym when it tries to sell any new homes that it builds in York. The decision comes in the wake of research which suggests that many potential buyers regard the Council as a provider of cheap, lower specification homes.

So, the Council will in future market itself as “Shape Homes York”. The revelation comes in a report being considered later this week

The Council’s poor image on housing is easy to understand given the litter and weed infested state of many Council estates. Unnecessary cuts to maintenance regimes have led to a fall in tenants’ satisfaction. This has affected the Councils image more generally.

The report also reveals what is claimed to be a new approach to design and public consultation on the sites that it will develop over the next few years. Around 600 new homes are planned.

Major mistakes were made at Lowfields where bogus promises of a new health centre and police station were included in marketing material. It later turned out that neither was likely to materialise while a proposed elderly persns home has been delayed. Residents became even more hostile towards the council when it was revealed that “replacement” sports pitches (those at Lowfield are being built on) would be provided at a site located some 3 miles away and lacking a public transport link.

The Council plans developments at Askham Bar, Burnholme, Duncombe Barracks, the former Manor School, the former Clifton Without School, and the former Woolnough House sites.

The brownfield (and unused) Askham bar car park site is being slipped down the priority list to allow for early work at Ordnance Lane and Hospital Fields Road.

The Council expects around 40% of the properties it builds to be “affordable”. They will be cross subsidised by market sales by the new “Shape Homes” front organisation. The Council has set up a new department to manage the programme and has recruited a large number of additional administrative staff. The overall cost of the programme is £154 million.

The Council has also published a design manual which they claim indicates how its new homes will look. It includes some high efficiency homes which will have low running costs (Passivhaus)

As the, currently stalled, Lowfield development has revealed, Council propaganda rarely these days accords with reality.

In setting up its own housing building operation, we think that the Council may be overextending itself. 

It is still trying to bring to a conclusion the £42 million Community Stadium project, it announced last week that £20 million would be spent on redeveloping a business club at the Guildhall while the first tranche of work on the £1 billion York Central site is due to start later in the year.

& all that from a local authority which doesn’t even have a permanent Chief Executive working for it at present.

Shared ownership in York

A report to a meeting taking place this week reveals that in quarter 1 (April – June 2019) “within the Shared Ownership Scheme, the Council has acquired one property and sold equity shares in three properties”.

The York Council is investing heavily in promoting shared ownership homes in the City

The target is to purchase 23 properties by the end of 2019/20 and sell the same amount.

“Capital receipts from the equity sales are to be reinvested into the shared ownership programme, as such the budget is to be increased by £289k at quarter 1 and the same amount is to be re-profiled to 2020/21 for future purchases”.

The report comes a few days after it was revealed that the Council has completed only 10 shared ownership deals in the 3 years leading up to April 2019

This week’s report fails to identify any open market purchase of properties which could be added to the Council Housing pool.

Community build and self-build housing under spotlight

More questions on Lowfields Plans

For the first time in nearly 3 years, the Councils Executive will review what is happening with the “Yorspace” communal housing project at Lowfield. A meeting, being held on 26th September, will consider “Progress and Opportunities for Self and Community Build Housing” in the City.

Development site

The report comes in the wake of concerns being expressed about a large discount being agreed, by a Council official, for the transfer of a building plot to the Yorspace  “Community Benefit” Society .

Although Yorspace haven’t endeared themselves to the existing local community in Westfield, because of their trenchant support for the development of the playing field which is adjacent to their site, the main concern relates to the “affordability” of the homes that they hope to construct.

A Council official, at a private meeting held in August 2017, agreed an “exclusivity agreement” to sell the land to what was then styled as a  “Mutual Home Ownership Society”. The official decided that a discount could be offered because individuals would not benefit financially from the deal. Homeowners would buy shares in the Co-op in return for the leasehold of a property. When they move on, they can sell the shares.

No alternative proposals for the land were considered, there was no analysis of the advantages of communal ownership compared to those offered by the construction of (say) more Council houses on the land or indeed the possibility of an open market sale with the proceeds being used to quickly increase the availability of social housing in the City.

The report in 2017 gave an estimate of the value of the site. That figure remains confidential.  Another “behind closed doors” meeting held in January of this year valued the land – after discount – at £300,000.

Another, smaller, site at Lowfields recently sold for over £400,000.

 The Council justified its decision by quoting Section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972 which allow authorities to dispose of land other than at its full value.

However, that power is heavily constrained.

The issue with this sale relates to the absence of an “end occupier” agreement. Council officials confirmed, when considering amendments to the Local Plan, that this development would not be classified as “affordable”. This is because there is currently no requirement for the shareholder in the Co-op to be in housing need.

The Council could have insisted that, in return for any discount, the homes must be occupied by low income families or, at least, by transferring existing social tenants.

They did neither, as was confirmed in a response to a Freedom of Information enquiry a few months ago.

In effect, taxpayers may be subsidising the housing costs of relatively wealthy individuals.

Hopefully, the new report will candidly address these issues.

When the land sale was approved, Yorspace agreed to complete their development within 3 years. No work has started there or on the adjacent “self-build” plots. No construction timetables have been published.

NB. We have submitted a FOI request for information on the Council’s “shared ownership” programme. The last report (to another “behind closed doors” meeting held last year) suggested that such a model would not be of interest to existing social tenants or those on the waiting list. The Councils Executive has yet to review progress on this scheme (which accounts for a significant proportion of new build plans for the City)

Housing – Is the Councils policy working?

Statistics for the last available quarter (Jan – Mar) reveal that the number of house building starts in York fell.

Those attending a recent housing scrutiny committee, will have  witnessed a mundane exchange about obstacles to increasing the amount of social housing in the City. Most comment centred on the lack of skilled labour in the sector, with a joint plan with York College the only idea cited to address the issue. Historically, of course, such skills have been imported from other parts of the country, and indeed Europe, to meet peaks in the house building programme.

Other questions remain unanswered.

While the Council policy of purchasing empty homes on the open market – to add to the Council housing pool – has been a limited success, other “innovations” have stalled.

There are around 200 people on the “self-build” register in the City. Plots were allocated for their use at the new Lowfields development. It turns out that the Council has made no progress in finding buyers for the plots. This is another worrying factor on this controversial development where neighbouring residents have given a high priority to having the site development completed quickly. Self build is one of the slowest ways of providing a house, so hopes that the builders would leave Lowfields within 3 years are fading.

Nearby the future of the Yorspace communal living experiment remains in doubt. The Councils decision to sell a plot to them at a discount is likely to face a further challenge if and when contracts are exchanged.

These are both relatively small initiatives, though, compared to the Council’s decision to go big on shared ownership programmes.

Shared ownership allows people to buy a share of between 25% and 75% of a home from a landlord, usually the council or a housing association, and rent the remaining share at a reduced rent. Of the 600 affordable housing units the Council expects to build over the next few years, almost half will be designated as “shared ownership”.

Support for shared ownership came mainly from former Conservative Councillors at the authority (mostly not re-elected in May). Ironically they argued that the scheme would avoid the pitfall of “right to buy” applications which could impact on the rental availability of any new Council houses built, almost as soon as they were completed.

But the early signs are that there is only a very limited market for shared ownership tenure in York. Few of the 1700 or so who are on the housing waiting list seem to see this as a solution to their problems. (Many are older people seeking to “downsize”)

The Council offers to help individuals (with incomes of less than £80,000 a year) to buy homes on the open market and then allocate them to shared ownership. It has not published any figures which show how many have taken up this offer.

The Council also has some new build and conversion properties which it markets itself as shared ownership. It says on its web site that it does not have any such properties available at present. Nevertheless, it continues to advertise properties on Cemetery Road.

Again, no performance stats have been published by the Council. Councillors need to question how the shared ownership programme is impacting on the housing waiting list.

They may also wish to question further whether the Council is right to set up its own development and sales arm.

Local estate agents are better qualified to find buyers and renters.

Poll on older peoples accommodation in York

Residents across York are being asked for their views on how and where they, or their loved ones, want to live and be supported as they age in a city wide consultation this month.

City of York Council wants to hear the views of all residents, regardless of their age, about the different accommodation options and what can be done to support life long independence.

The survey forms part of York’s Older People’s Accommodation Programme which aims to ensure that older people’s accommodation needs are met now and in the future.

The survey is available online now at https://www.york.gov.uk/consultations and in paper copy Explore Library Learning Centres. The council will also be running consultations directly with key stakeholders and community groups. The closing date for the consultation is 11 August.

The Tackling Fuel Poverty scheme received £5.7 million from the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP), delivered in partnership with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, through the Leeds City Region Growth Deal – a £1 billion package of Government investment to accelerate growth and create jobs across Leeds City Region.S

Independent report into housing in York published

Local Government Association (LGA) report says the house-building rate in York is comparable to rest of the country.

The net new supply in York increased the existing housing stock by 1.5% during 2017/18.

This is much higher than the England average of 0.9%, suggesting the level of local supply is unlikely to be an issue. The Government’s national target of 300,000 homes per year is equivalent to 1.3%.

Population growth in York is set to average 686 people per year from 2020 to 2041, with projected average annual household growth of 430 households over the same period. This is significantly lower that the Council is forecasting in its draft Local Plan

According to the report, which was published this week, the average house price in York in 2018 was £254,000. The median ratio of house prices to local earnings is 8.8. This is higher than the England average of 8.0, suggesting high house prices are likely to be an issue for some

Private rents in York in the 12 months to September 2018 ranged from £565 per month for a lower quartile one bed to £2,058 for an upper quartile four (or more) bed property. The overall median private rent was £745, which is approximately the same as the England average of £690, suggesting that high private rents may also be an issue.

House prices in York in December 2018 are higher than their 2007/08 peak by 25.4%, compared with England at +27.3%.

Employment in York improved from 75.3% in 2014/15 to 78.7% in 2017/18; unemployment changed from 3.6% to 3.1%; and economic inactivity changed from 21.7% to 19.4%.

Gross domestic household income in York was £18,070 per person per year in 2016, compared with £14,133 in 2006. By comparison the figure for England changed from £15,349 to £19,878 over the same period.

The overall population in York changed by +0.6% due to migration in the 12 months to June 2017: +0.2% from domestic sources and +0.4% from international.

By age, the largest single contribution to growth was from 19-year olds.

The average life expectancy for people born in 2015-17 in York is 80.2 years for men and 83.5 years for women.

The equivalent national figures are 79.6 and 83.1 respectively.

The report confirms that second home ownership, empty homes and inward migration numbers are not significant issues for the City compared to the rest of the country.

The full report can be read by clicking here

Labour wants to plunge York further into debt

£75,000 salary for “Children’s Commissioner”

A huge increase in borrowing is proposed in a Labour party amendment to the York Councils budget plans.

£2.5 million extra will be borrowed with more being taken from reserves currently earmarked to provide additional social housing.

They say, most of the extra money will be spent on reducing “damp” in Council housing. The Council had already let a contract for £2 million to address this issue on 11th May.

The Council has record debt levels with over 22% of what a resident pays in Council Tax set to be spent on interest charges by 2022.

Plans for a “Children’s Commissioner” on a fat cat £75k salary, appear to be equally misguided. The Council has a well-paid Executive Councillor with responsibilities in the same area.

Labour also plans to cut £1/4 million from the “safer communities” crime reduction budget. This is an extraordinary misjudgement of the problems that exist in parts of the City with anti-social behaviour, drug misuse, graffiti and vandalism on the increase.

Instead money would be spent on two additional talking shops; a “Human Rights Commission” and a “Carbon Neutral City Citizens Assembly” are proposed.

The only part of the Labour plan which might gain some support is a proposed investment of £40,000 in reducing, to one day, the target time taken to remove “fly tipping”. Some may, however, feel that the first step should be to improve bulky waste collection arrangements and reintroduce regular visits by “skips” to key estates.

The Council’s revised budget proposals will be debated tomorrow (Wednesday)