This is going to annoy people living in Westfield

“Yorspace” – the organisation trying to build “communal homes” on the Lowfields site – have announced that they still haven’t achieved their fund raising target.

Doubtful if anyone thinks this is “great news”

For the second time in 6 months, they are extending the crowd funding deadline – this time to the end of January 2020.

This will add to the overall development timetable for the whole site.

There are concerns that the (minimal) play and open space provisions on the development will not be available when new residents move in.

The main Council development is not now expected to start on site until the new year.

The playground is scheduled to be used as a building compound by Yorspace – shades of the situation a few hundred metres away where the Kingsway all weather pitch has become a builder compound.

There are other similarities with Lowfields as at both sites sports facilities have been lost without adequate replacements being provided.

Further details of homes plans for Ordnance Lane, Duncombe Barracks & Burnholme

The York Council says that the next stage of it’s work with York residents to design the homes, streets and open spaces planned for the city is underway, and everyone is welcome to get involved.

The latest workshops will inform our architects of local priorities before they start work at the drawing boards, and are open to all residents to join in. The next phase of these engagement events will be for Ordnance Lane, Duncombe Barracks and Burnholme site.

Duncombe Barracks housing site

David Mikhail, is the founding director of our architect Mikhail Riches and is the design director for the sites coming forward in City of York Council’s Housing Delivery Programme. He said: “Our design team and City of York Council are eager to learn from the people who live, work or study in the area.

“We believe in co-design and know that collaborating with people on our projects helps us to design and build a better place: a new place that belongs to the neighbourhood right from the start.” 

Tom Brittain, assistant director of housing and safer communities, said: “The three-stage engagement events for the council-owned sites will be guided by our housing design manual (www.york.gov.uk/housingdesignmanual). We want to encourage as many people as possible to continue to support these sessions so that they can help create the homes and settings for them that they want to see.”

The event at Hospital Fields Road will be the first for this site and will start conversations between residents and our architects from Mikhail Riches. This will include asking residents about the area and what they want from the homes, streets and open spaces on the site, as has already been done for Duncombe Barracks and Burnholme.

The events at Duncombe Barracks and Burnholme will be detailed, one-day workshops, with lunch provided. At them, residents can hear the ideas and priorities voiced at the first workshops held in October. They can then create 3D models of how they’d like each site to look like.

The third events are scheduled for spring 2020 for the Duncombe Barracks and Burnholme sites. At these, plans of the proposals will be drawn up and feedback on them requested, as well as from on-line surveys, ahead of planning permission being submitted.

Everyone is welcome to these next meetings as we are very keen to hear your views. They will be:  

For more information, please visit www.york.gov.uk/HousingDeliveryProgramme

So what public service standards should we expect in each York neighbourhood?

One interesting side effect of the Council report, on improving graffiti removal processes across the City, has been the re-publication of the Service Level Agreement (SLA) or “Customer Contract” for Council estates. The agreement was last reviewed in 2013 and is one of several SLAs which were agreed for different public service areas across the City.

All references to them were removed from the Council web site several years ago.

Service Level Agreement page 1

The SLAs have never formally been abandoned by the Council, but even a casual glance at some of the requirements (above), reveals failings.

The Council promises to “Publicise the dates of estate inspections on our website” & “conduct an estate inspection every three months and to show you (the tenant) the actions identified and progress with it on our web site

 Tenants will search in vain for such information on the Councils web site.

The Council no longer even publishes the agendas & minutes of resident’s association meetings on its site. Lack of support from the Council, means that many of the listed residents associations have ceased to function.

Although the Council promises to “remove dumped rubbish within 7 days”, proactive cleansing no longer routinely takes place. A mobile “estate worker” reacts only to reported issues. This may explain the lamentable drop off in street cleansing standards in some estates this summer.

Service Level Agreement page 2

Customer satisfaction and KPI stats are not published at an estate level. Most are not routinely shared with residents’ associations.

Good environmental standards on estates require a lot more than litter removal, of course. Many complaints relate to poorly maintained roads, street furniture and anti-social behaviour.

Even when problems like overgrown trees and hedges are identified as an issue the Council fails to take effective action.

Little progress on estate improvements this year

 In Foxwood a list of streets where hedges needed cutting back from public footpaths was identified 6 months ago. The estate improvement budget was identified as a source of resources with action to be taken over the winter period, but the work has, apparently, yet to be authorised by ward Councillors.

The Council should review and republish all its SLAs. Performance against target should be reported frankly and regularly at least on social media channels.

That fresh approach needs to start now. It will need the committed and public support of senior managers and executive Councillors

Council estate issues in central part of York

Generally public service standards on Council housing estates in the centre of the City have been better than those experienced in the suburbs.

This is probably because core services (highway maintenance, street cleansing, grass cutting, graffiti removal etc) are more in the public eye. Consequently issues are more likely to be reported.

However there are exceptions. There is emerging evidence that service level agreement standards are not being met.

The Hope Street/Long Close Lane area has its fair share of issues. Principal among them is of course the long term empty Willow House building. Lack of progress by the Council in selling the building – which could provide housing for dozens of people – is shameful

As well as Wlllow House, damaged street signs, graffiti and weed growth are issues in the Hope Street area.

Elsewhere the Groves area also has its fair share of problems

Graffiti on Groves Lane
Litter near the shops on Lowther Street
Graffiti on garage door in St Thomas’ Place
A lot of potholes are emerging. They are particularity hazardous for cyclists. This one is on March Street (and has been reported)

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)