Mandatory energy efficiency target for new homes to be considered by York Council

The York Council is set to ask the government to set high standards of insulation for new home built over the next decade. A meeting on 6th January will consider proposed changes to building regulations for new homes.

York Council report

The government sees a choice between either a 20% or 31% reduction in carbon emissions from new homes. Both options would see higher thermal insulation  standards linked typically with triple glazing and minimal heat loss from walls, ceilings and roofs, plus a waste water heat recovery system.  

The higher standard is achieved by mandating the installation of Photovoltaic cells on roofs (They convert sunlight to electricity).

Strangely both options being presented by Council officials involve the use of gas boilers. Gas boilers are the largest source of carbon currently emitted in the City.

The major benefits would come from heat pumps, a waste water heat recovery system, triple glazing and minimum standards for walls, floors and roofs that significantly limit any heat loss.

The report fails to provide any background financial information. The higher specifications will significantly increase building costs.

In turn that will knock on into purchase or rent costs.

The expectation is that energy costs will also reduce. Maintenance costs for the equipment are not fully tested (the achilles heel of some of the micro wind powered micro generators that were popular a few years ago).

Sadly, without a frank assessment of financial implications and the beginning of a campaign aimed at selling the options to future house purchasers, progress in getting public support for the plans  is likely to be harder than it otherwise might have been the case.

Still credit to the Council for at least putting their likely responses to this government consultation into the public domain.

Building work starting at Lowfields

Building work has started on the controversial Lowfield housing development.

The houses are being built on a playing field without any accessible alternative facility being made available by the York Council.

It has also been revealed that Yorspace has still not completed the purchase of the “communal housing” development site which is located near little Tudor Road.

The purchase from the Council was due to take place in September according to an EIR/FOI response (ref. IGF/16163) published by the York Council in August. There had been some controversy over the sale, as the purchase price agreed by the Council (£300,000) was pitched at a level well below the amount being asked for other building land in the same area.

Despite this, officials say that the sale is still “with solicitors”.

NB. The Council owned access to the site from little Tudor Road is currently blocked by what appears to be an abandoned mini bus.

Rough sleepers in York fell from nine to seven people in 2019 confirms Council

Following our story yesterday, the Council has now confirmed that the problems with rough sleeping in the City have eased a little over the last 12 months.

In a media release issued today they say, “After another year of prevention and giving tailored support to people sleeping rough in the city, more people have been helped into safer more stable accommodation.

The official, annual rough sleeper count in York showed seven people were sleeping on the street in 2019: down from nine in 2018.

The annual official count of rough sleepers takes place nationally at the same time. This year, City of York Council decided to do its count earlier than in previous years and before the additional winter beds open, to create a more accurate picture.

For two months before the count, information was gathered from statutory and non-statutory organisations, and it was established who was believed to be rough sleeping and who was confirmed to have accommodation. Information about where people often slept was collated from StreetLink reports, information from members of the public and from findings by the regular street walks.

On 30 October 2019 from 3.30am, officers from the council, the Salvation Army, North Yorkshire Police and local charities walked the streets of York looking for people sleeping out, and visited places known to be used by rough sleepers.

Seven rough sleepers were found and this number was verified independently by Homeless Link based on both the findings of the overnight count on 30 October and information gathered previously.

The number of people sleeping rough in York in 2019 is two fewer than in 2018. In 2017, the official number was 29, in 2016 and 2015 it was 18. Work continues to reduce this number further and help more people off the streets into safer, more stable lives.

Cllr Denise Craghill, executive member for housing and safer neighbourhoods, said: “While rough sleeping reduces average life expectancy from 83 to 47 years and we would rather no-one slept out at all, it is encouraging to know that fewer people are sleeping on the streets in York this year.

“While numbers of people sleeping out fluctuates throughout the year, this reduction shows the impact of our partnerships and our personalised work to help this people into the right kind of supported accommodation.

“I would like to thank our dedicated homelessness team and all our partners for their hard work and continued commitment to encourage more people off the streets.”

Cllr Keith Aspden, leader of the council, said: “This is welcome news. Sleeping on the streets is an indignity that no-one should face and the council is taking steps to support rough sleepers off the streets.

“Our homelessness prevention work has secured an extra £400,000 to help rough sleepers with more personalised support and to tackle complex mental health issues. The council and its partners have also opened 11 extra emergency beds this year, in order to ensure we can offer rough sleepers a safe place to sleep.”

Anyone who sees a person sleeping rough can ring Streetlink on 0300 500 0194 who will us to visit the location and offer support. Also, there are many ways to help people off the streets at www.york.gov.uk/roughsleeping .

We and our partner charities encourage people not to give cash direct to those appearing to beg, but to give to York Street Aid at www.tworidingscf.org.uk/yorkstreetaid/ . Money raised goes directly towards helping homeless people in York in personalised ways, such as buying clothing for interviews, a bike to get to work or paying rent on an allotment.

1444 on housing waiting list in York

There are currently 1444 people registered on the housing waiting list in York.

3 of these have been given an emergency classification with a further 204 in the top urgency category (Gold).

The York Council is leaving the North Yorkshire pooled “home choice” system next November (2020). It will then implement its own housing allocations policies.

There are currently 7512 Council homes in York. Around 600 a year of these become available for reletting. Since 2014, 522 additional homes have been added to the pool although this has been offset by 324 “right to buy” sales.

The Council hopes to build an additional 600 new homes across York over the next few years.

One major issue facing York is the demand for elderly persons accommodation. York has an estimated shortage of independent living and extra care properties which is forecast to be over 1100 independent living properties and almost 500 extra care properties by 2039.

68% of York’s’ housing is owner occupied. Average house prices have risen by 25% over the last 4 years to £235,000. That is nearly 9 times the average wage.  In the same period rents on private 2 bed properties have risen by 11.5% to £725 a month.

For those living on benefits, there is a major gulf between income and monthly private sector rents.

Housing affordability in York

Unfortunately, the Council has no influence on the terms of “Right to Buy” sales, so must try to bridge the gap with new build.

Homeless pressures easing a little in York?

Shelter the UK housing charity is claiming that “42 children in York” are homeless or living in temporary accommodation each day. The claims are difficult to reconcile with official figures published by the York Council earlier this week

According to the York Council, 29 beds are available for single homeless people facing rough sleeping.

The number of rough sleepers has reduced from 29 to 7.

Couples with children are given priority access to council house vacancies. 37 households with children were given priority housing last year.

In 63 cases this year couples were housed in temporary accommodation for a short time.  Families are not normally accommodated in “Bed and Breakfast” accommodation in York.

The figures reveal that the major cause of homelessness in the City was “family and friends no longer willing to accommodate the households”.

263 of the 684 homeless acceptances gave that as the reason for their predicament.

The next highest reason for homelessness was the end of a private rented tenancy.

A report to a meeting taking place later this week,says that the City of York Council is currently in a partnership with other organisations across York, under the guidance of the Homelessness Strategy 2018- 2023 Preventing Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Together. “This partnership has been well established for many years and continues to attempt to rise to the challenges of tackling all forms of homelessness”.

The report does however also observe that “We still have a strong street culture which remains difficult for people (especially those with addiction issues) to break away from, the camaraderie and financial gain made from begging remain strong contributing factors. This often results in members of the public assuming that rough sleeping numbers are higher than the actual number of people rough sleeping”.

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.