New ways to support rough sleepers year-round

 Big-hearted residents are being asked to consider year-round ways to support rough sleepers into safer more stable lifestyles.

The generosity of people to people sleeping outside at Christmas and this year’s snow has been overwhelming, say homeless charities and the council. This helped to continue work to ensure every rough sleeper is offered a bed and support into safer more stable lives. with the result that on 28 February, just five were sleeping outdoors.

The Salvation Army, Changing Lives, Carecent and Peasholme and other hostels have been flooded with donations of bedding, clothing, food, toiletries and gifts which have been given to people sleeping on the streets and to those who are setting up a new home.

Knowing that many people want to help people who are homeless year-round, the hostels and charities are suggesting some ideas to help support people off the streets:

Please offer your skills:

  • Volunteer with Changing Lives, Restore and Carecent or contact York CVS to offer your time and skills to help homeless people. Maybe you can cut hair or teach cookery, perhaps you could train someone in plumbing or teach guitar? Please contact the charities or York CVS at www.volunteeringyork.org.uk/, 15 Priory St, York, North Yorkshire YO1 6ET, tel: 01904 621 133

Please offer accommodation:

Please offer household goods:

  • Donate clean bedding, towels, toiletries and kitchen utensils to help people who are moving into accommodation. Please hand it in to Peasholme Centre, 4 Fishergate for distribution to York’s hostels.
  • Donate reusable furniture to York Furniture Store on 01904 426444, which helps homeless people furnish their homes. They’ll pick up items for free. http://communityfurniturestore.co.uk/wordpress/index.php?page_id=7
  • Donate food to York Foodbank tel or visit https://york.foodbank.org.uk/ or to Carecent call 01904 624244 or visit www.carecent.org.

Please offer to fundraise:

  • Fundraise or donate to recognised charities working with rough sleepers and homeless people. Changing Lives, Salvation Army,

Please help rough sleepers off the street:

  • Report the location of rough sleepers 24/7 to Streetlink on 0300 5000914 or www.streetlink.org.uk. Streetlink passes this information to The Salvation Army which regularly visits rough sleepers to help them into accommodation and safer, more stable lives.
  • Please urge them to go to our hostels. We will do our utmost to help them off the streets and into safer, more stable lives.

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Council bid for nearly £70m government housing fund moves a stage further

York Central

City of York Council has moved a step closer to securing nearly £70m government-funding to unlock up to 3,300 new homes in the city.

The Housing Secretary Sajid Javid today announced that both York’s bids to the Housing Infrastructure Fund, which would speed up major developments at York Central and a new garden village at Clifton Gate, have been approved to move to the final co-development stage of the competitive process.

The council has bid for £57m towards the complex infrastructure and access road which will open up the delivery of up to 2,500 homes on the York Central development. It would supplement the West Yorkshire Transport Fund money to deliver the bridge, spine road, and improvements in connectivity for vehicles, cycles and pedestrians.

At Clifton Gate, nearly £10m of funding would be used for vital access works and improvements, including an upgrade to Clifton Moor roundabout, new access roads tot he site, a subway for pedestrians and cyclists, and a pedestrian bridge. This would allow quicker delivery of the 1300 home site.

The Housing Infrastructure Fund is there to help deliver infrastructure projects which are essential to building significant numbers of new homes.  City of York Council will now work with the Ministry for Housing  Communities and Local Government and the developers on a detailed business case which will be assessed in the autumn before a final funding decision is made.
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Enhanced homeless scheme secures £2.4m grant

Two extra new apartments and replacement windows are among the enhancements to what is now a 57-unit temporary accommodation building in central York, for which the council has secured an additional £2.4m funding.The updated plans have factored in conditions attached to a £2.365m grant from Homes England (HE). This funding adds to a £10.5m budget already agreed by the council for the purchase and redevelopment of James House on James Street, as well as costs associated with closing and relocating existing temporary accommodation for homeless households.

This extra funding means a saving of £500,000 to the council. Senior councillors are being asked to approve the revised budget for James House of £12.4m, financed by £2.451m from Homes England and £9.949m from the Housing Revenue Account.

The specification of the conversion has increased. Two additional flats will be created, making a total of 57, and some others will be increased in size to meet national requirements and the criteria of the HE grant. In addition, an access road will be built and windows on the scheme will be renewed with double glazing and improved sound insulation.

Following approval by senior councillors on 16 March 2017, James House on James Street was bought and planning permission was submitted in early November 2017.

The self-contained flats will be owned and managed by City of York Council. James Street consolidates into one building much of the temporary accommodation for homeless people currently scattered across the city. It will also replace the accommodation at Ordnance Lane.

Housing hyperbole helps no one.

Call by MP for York Local Plan to be rejected was irresponsible and poorly researched

Claims by Rachel Maskell MP that people do not live in high-value, luxury apartments built in the City Centre, and that the homes were purchased as “an investment, or they are used just for holidays and race days or weekends”, don’t seem to be rooted in fact.

Maskell also claimed the push for more City centre accommodation is “an experiment in social cleansing”, relying entirely on anecdotal evidence to support her assertion.

She repeated her claims last week 

 Publicly available statistics confirm that,of the 1036 homes built in the first 6 months of the current financial year, 637 were aimed at students. Student needs reflect in both housing targets and outturns.  Most of the flats were built on Lawrence Street. They are hardly “luxurious” or “expensive” but they do not count as affordable housing (because it is tied accommodation)

Provision of specialist accommodation of this type reduces the pressure to convert family accommodation into student lets.

Between April 2017 and September 2017 planning permission was also granted for 892 new homes. These included large developments at The Barbican, Nestle, and Hungate. (Only 3 were for student accommodation)

The emerging Local Plan provides for 867 new homes to be built each year. This compares to an average of 686 completed over the last 5 years. At least 20% will be “affordable”.

Historic figures (see below) reveal that there has been a spurt in house building in the City over the last 3 years.  Before that, five years of recession took a toll on house building numbers.

The housing waiting list has stabilised at 1200 (excluding those seeking a transfer) with people waiting on average for 12 months for a new home. The number of homeless, presenting to the Council, is now around 100 a year (down from a 10-year peak of 258).

Lack of land clearly is not an issue impacting on the granting of planning permission for new developments in the City.

The Council might be criticised for not releasing funding to buy properties on the open market to increase the social rent pool. It had run a surplus of over £20 million on its housing account for over 6 years (although very recently it agreed to release some of the surplus to ease social housing demands).

In addition, the total amount of unspent payments in lieu of affordable housing that the council currently holds is £4.325m.

There are issues to be addressed. The apparent spike in “rough sleeping“ has previously been highlighted.

Over the last few months the Council has guaranteed a hostel bed for anyone found sleeping on the streets. It is an initiative that seems to have worked during the recent period of cold weather.

York desperately needs a Local Plan.

Funding the endless revisions has debilitated the Council’s budget with an estimate of £10 million already having been devoted to the process.

Arguing that the current proposals should be abandoned is both reckless and shortsighted.

Some revisions to the text might be expected, but the basic thrust of the document is right and, most importantly, deliverable.

York Council criticised for Lowfields decisions

Lowfields Green – Unimaginative layout

The “Save Lowfields Playing Field Action Group” are rightly unhappy this morning. https://www.facebook.com/LowfieldsActionGroup/

They have criticised the quality of analysis which preceded the councils decision yesterday to form a development company which may be used to build on the Lowfields playing fields.

The Council also decided to back financially the provision of football pitches at Bishopthorpe although these are too far away to be relevant to the leisure needs that already exist and those of the 350 new residents that the Lowfields development will attract.

Many of the  pkanned hiomes will be for private rent. They will not be added to the Councils housing revenue account and so will not be subject to “right to buy”. However private rent levels are high.

Typically a 3 bedroomed house in the Lowfields area would cost around £800 a month in rent payments. 

The Action Group rightly point out that the decision is not only risky for taxpayers but also premature because the planning application for the site has not yet been considered.

The Lowfields scheme has been criticised by local residents for providing an inadequate amount of open space and for the cramped and unimaginative layout design.

NB. Both Liberal Democrat and Labour candidates in the 20-15 Council elections promised to conserve the Lowfields playing fields and restricted development to the built footprint of the old school.

 

 

Elderly in York to be hit as Tories plan to cut garden assistance scheme

Over a year ago, the York Council notified elderly and disabled people that it planned to scrap its garden assistance scheme. The scheme employs contractors to cut the hedges and lawns of elderly and disabled residents.

The plans produced a barrage of complaints and the threat was withdrawn

Now a report has revealed that a Tory Councillor is again planning to slash entitlement to the service. About 50% of current users will be told to make other arrangements.

It appears that some people aged over 70 with severe disabilities may continue to get the service from an estate “handymen”, but many others will miss out.

Story last year

The cuts are expected to save the Council around £40,000 a year.

The Tories claim that this cut is essential to balance the books. They forget that last week a review of the Housing Revenue Account revealed that it will have an average credit balance of over £30 million in each of the next 30 years.

This partly arises from the expected 1% per annum real terms increases in rents.

As well as kicking existing users off the programme, the report talks of establishing a “waiting list” for people who need the service.

The Councillor responsible for the proposal is Sam Lyle a youth who recently graduated from University. Quite what he knows about the challenges faced by many older residents will no doubt become clear over the next few days.

Fortunately, as we have reported before (left), there are a lot of caring students at the York and St Johns Universities who hopefully will prove to be part of the solution to this shabby proposal

In the meantime, the Council’s website is down. Anyone trying to Email Councillors is referred to a web page apparently containing a list of contact telephone numbers. http://democracy.york.gov.uk/mgCommitteeMailingList.aspx?ID=0

That web page is also currently unavailable!

 

York Labour housing building plans questioned

A Labour leaflet advocating large scale housing building plans on greenfield sites has been criticised by the Liberal Democrats.

The Labour plans would see many playing fields and green belt sites developed. They are similar to those promoted by the party in its 2014 Local Plan which failed to secure government approval

Now the Liberal Democrats have hit back with some home truths

 

Muddle, confusion and fabrication – York Council approach to Lowfields planning application

Many residents living in the Lowfields area were surprised to get a letter last week from the Councils Housing Directorate. The letter told them that two planning applications had been submitted which would lead to the development of the whole of the Lowfields site.

The letter quoted reference numbers. 17/02428/FUL, covering roads and housing, and 17/02429/OUTM covering “the whole site including self-build, community housing, care home and health facilities”

It turns out that someone jumped the gun as these applications still do not appear on the “planning on line” web site  https://planningaccess.york.gov.uk/online-applications//

The letter claims that there have been changes made following the last consultation with residents in the summer. The Council fails to highlight what these changes are.

The housing department also claims that “landscaped green space will be open to the public for the first time” In practice the playing fields were open to the public until about 5 years ago when the Council tried to secure the boundaries. At the time, they said this could only be a for a few months.

The usable green space, on the plans that have been published so far, show an area of useable amenity land which is similar in size to the small area which lies at the junction of Dijon Avenue and Lowfield Drive.

The Council has blundered if it is canvassing for support – at taxpayers’ expense – for a scheme which is subject to a planning application. There is a long-standing protocol that, where a local authority is both the landowner and the planning authority, then it must behave in an impartial way. That principle has been breached already. It is likely to increase the pressure for the proposal to be called in by central government for determination.

Perhaps even more extraordinary, was a claim made by the Tory Councillor responsible for housing on Friday who said that the houses would be built by the Council. It would be the “biggest housing development by the Council since 1988”

It emerged today that no such decision has been taken.

The media release which led to the story in the media – and apparently issued by the Council – was not published on their web site 

Indeed, with only 20% of the properties likely to be affordable, there would be little incentive for the Council to take on the burden of appointing professional staff to project manage what would only be a 3-year project.

Private house builders have been subject to the 20% rule for over a decade and could produce homes more quickly and economically.

You only have to look at the delays dogging Council building projects (Mansion House, Guildhall, York Central, Community Stadium) to see why any entry into the speculative housing building market would be viewed with alarm by taxpayers.

York Council to sell Bootham Row car parking spaces

New threat to sell off Council housing land

Land at Bootham Row to be sold

The York Council’s Executive is being recommended to sell off 5 car parking spaces at Bootham Row car park. The land (see map) also accommodates motorcycle parking.

The Council is hoping to raise £155,000 from a local developer who hopes to remodel 27 Bootham.

The car parking spaces generate over £7000 a year for taxpayers

Coming at a time when pressure on City centre car parks is being blamed for the accelerating decline in the City centre retail economy, the plan is bound to raise eyebrows. It is reminiscent of the plan, hatched in 2011 by the then Labour led Council administration, which proposed to sell off the nearby Union Terrace car park. That idea collapsed after being heavily criticised by both residents and traders.

Housing land sale

More alarming is the publication of a lofty document which seeks to justify a new “Asset Management Strategy”. It is due to be discussed by the Council’s Executive on 28th September.

The report claims that the last strategy, launched in 2011, has been a success.

Amongst the credulous statements that Councillors are being asked to believe, are claims that that the York Central and Castle Gateway sites “have been made more economically active” (In fact very little progress has been made on either project over the last 6 years).

The report goes on to claim that older people’s accommodation has been improved. Again, the reality is that the project is running 4 years behind schedule.

Sanderson House community centre

Most bizarre is a claim that leasing community centres to local organisations  “have allowed voluntary groups to flourish, increase activity, improve outcomes and attract external funding”. The reality, at least at the two community centres in the Westfield area, is that volunteers have been given a crushing burden to handle with minimal Council support.  Most ad hoc leisure events at the centres have stopped with most bookings now being from third parties (which the management committees have to accept simply to pay for running costs)

The Council has similarly jettisoned its commitment to many local sports facilities.

The report talks vaguely of joint use arrangement with other public-sector providers such as GPs.

It seems likely that the Council intends to target staff who work in neighbourhood buildings potentially repeating the disastrous policy – from a customer service perspective – of closing facilities like the Acomb Housing office and the Beckfield Lane recycling centre.

Derelict site behind Acomb Explore Library

The report says that 5 (unidentified) Housing department owned sites will either be sold or freed up for redevelopment.

The report pointedly fails to identify the location of these sites.

There are of course pieces of Council owned land which are crying out for development.

These include the land to the rear of the Acomb Library, which was schedule as an extension providing “one stop shop” facilities – with residential accommodation above – over 8 years ago.

We are still waiting to see some progress.