Long delays on York Council house building programme

Newbury Avenue garage block where labour plan to builds flats

Newbury Avenue garage block where labour plan to builds flats

The York Council has slipped its Council house building programme by 12 months.

It had originally intended to build around 50 new homes before the end of 2014 with much of the work being completed before March.

The schemes are now being delayed with only the Beckfield Lane site likely to start in the late spring.

Having obtained planning permission for the former recycling centre site the Council is now seeking tenders for the work.

Another 5 schemes, including the controversial Newbury Avenue garage development, may be put before the planning committee next month.

There are over 2000 people on the waiting list for Council homes in the City

Tenancy fraud clampdown in York

Council’s and social landlords in the region are encouraging people to report tenancy fraud as part of a regional Tenancy Fraud Awareness Week 2014.

Council’s and social landlords in the region are encouraging people to report tenancy fraud as part of a regional Tenancy Fraud Awareness Week 2014.

Tenancy Fraud Awareness Week 2014 runs between Monday 3 and Sunday 9 February, and social housing providers and fraud busting-agencies across the region are encouraging members of the public to report any suspicions of tenancy fraud.

With tenancy fraud now a criminal offence following the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013, this latest campaign builds on an anti-Housing Fraud campaign launched in August 2013 by City of York Council and its counter fraud specialist partner Veritau.

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York Council hoarding £2.7 million intended for public service improvements?

Contributions made by developers for affordable housing, transport, leisure and schools improvements.

The vast majority of the payments made to the York Council by builders – to offset the impact that new developments have on the demand for public services – has not been spent by the Council.

Not only have projects which would increase public service capacity not been identified there is not record of the current administration having even discussed its plans for the cash mountain.

The amounts collected include several hundred thousand pounds as contributions towards the provision of ”affordable” housing. These are commuted sums paid when a developer is unable to provide cheaper accommodation “on site”.

House building, Norfolk

Quite why the Council has simply not bought properties on the open market with this money is a mystery. It would be the quickest way of accommodating several dozen people who are currently living in poor quality accommodation.

The unused ”receipts” have led some developers to call for a “refund”.  They point out, with some justification, that if their developments had caused an increase in demand for public services, then such demand must have been satisfied when the properties were occupied.

Banking the money for over 5 years suggests that the S106 system is simply being used as an additional “tax” on development. In part it may explain the low house building numbers in the City over the last 3 years.

click to access source file

click to access source file

Now they plan to demand that the monies are returned to them.

The figures were obtained under a Freedom of Information request.

A spreadsheet showing what payments have been made and how (some) of the money has been used, can be found by clicking here.

The paper does not include some of the largest S106 payments such as that scheduled to be used to build the “Community Stadium” at Monks Cross.

Housing figures to be questioned as Tories try to “sack” Cabinet member

rural-housing

Two questions have been tabled for Thursdays York Council meeting, which may shed some light on the demand for affordable housing in York.

The questions spring from the decision to remove over half the applicants who were registered on the waiting list in September.

The impact of this major decision – which was taken behind closed doors – will be questioned by Liberal Democrat Councillor Ann Reid.

She has tabled the following question,

“Does the decision to remove 2400 applicants from the Housing Waiting List, which means there are now officially fewer residents in housing need, mean there will be lower affordable house building targets?”

Last week the government announced that developers would, in future, not have to provide a fixed number of affordable units on developments of 10 homes or less.

In addition, Councils will be able to borrow money to acquire more social housing.

The Labour Leadership’s claim, that the additional homes that they plan to build in and around the City over the next 15 years would be occupied by local residents, is also being challenged.

The following question has been tabled.

“What proportion of the 22,000 additional homes that the Cabinet Member feels should be built during the next 15 years under Labour’s Local Plan proposals, does she believe will be occupied by York residents and their families and how many by inward migration?”

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Meanwhile Conservative Councillors are trying to force the resignation from the Cabinet of Cllr Tracey Simpson Laing.

Acomb Council branch office closed by Councillor Simpson Laing

Acomb Council branch office closed by Councillor Simpson Laing

They have put down a motion of “no confidence“, but cite only the Councillors failure to provide additional affordable homes in the City.

While housing building rates over the last 3 years have been disappointing, and the failure of the Council to buy on the open market to supplement the rented stock lamentable, the more serious shortcomings of the present administration are in danger of being overlooked.

Labour only have themselves to blame though, as they tried a similar “no confidence” stunt in 2008.

A bridge too near?

The promised report on Labour plans for a new £10 million bridge near Wilton Rise has now been published.

It turns out that £1.5 million of this will be spent on consultant’s fees.

Housing numbers. click to enlarge

Housing numbers. click to enlarge

The report claims that the costs of the bridge would be repaid “from the additional income in Business Rates and Council Tax generated by the new developments” (on the York central site).

It then goes on to claim that 1083 new homes will be provided. That is a surprise because the draft Local Plan published by Labour in April assumed only 438 homes would be constructed on this site.

However, the housing numbers included in the Labour draft Local Plan have already been undermined with actual planning applications submitted, and approved, over the last 6 months being in every case higher than the Plan estimate
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Therefore a much higher housing figure is a legitimate target for the York central site.

The present coalition government policy does encourage development and allows local authorities to retain and invest, for 6 years, additional Council Tax monies generated by new homes (New Homes Bonus).

Business Rates have also been “localised”. So an increase in income from additional commercial buildings would increase the amount that the Council receives from Business Rates. However government grants, which seek to equalise Council income between “prosperous” and less well off areas, could be reduced.

No business case of any sort has been provided for the meeting next week.

In addition to the homes, the “plan” talks about “building 93,000 sq m of office space with ancillary bar, restaurant, retail and leisure uses” in 2015.

A further 35,000 sq m would be built in 2019 in the form on a commercial area “in front of the station” and would include a new hotel although most would be more offices.

Of course, any incremental development in the City provides similar increases in Council income plus more jobs and homes.

Residents might have expected any income to be earmarked to pay for repairs to the public services in the City which have deteriorated so badly over the last 3 years.

Public consultation results - York central access options

Public consultation results – York central access options

Incredibly, the Council is being asked to earmark the £10 million without a development “Masterplan” being in place.

As a result no planning permission exists for the development.

The absence of a business plan is the major problem at present. It remains unclear how the site clean up will be funded (it is heavily polluted) nor is there any guarantee that other transport infrastructure needs can be financed.

From the information, that has been made available, it does seem that the Councils investment will not be underwritten in any way.

It is therefore a very high risk venture.

There is no proposal to form a joint development company which would allow Council Taxpayers to share in the success of any development (to offset the substantial risk)

The legal restrictions – which apply across Europe – on subsidising private companies are not explored in the paper.

Like the sale of the Haymarket car park on Hungate – for around 50% of its current open market value – the Council is being both naïve and reckless with taxpayers money. The promised offices and hotel on Hungate have yet to move forward and so have provided no economic stimulus for the City.

The “Bridge to Nowhere” could well be a similar embarrassment.

With the national economy improving, and some local developers reflecting the more buoyant approach in the City, less risky ways to kick start important developments like York Central should be considered.

White Swan refurbishment starts

White Swan Hotel York

White Swan Hotel York

Work to help regenerate a prominent unused building in the city centre has begun, as contractors have started to strip out The White Swan Hotel.

A £450,000 grant from the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) Empty Homes 2 programme is helping to create new accommodation including 18 affordable homes plus new ground floor retail units in the city’s central shopping area.

Sainsbury’s has submitted several planning applications to cover the remodelling of the ground floor of the building. They include details of the planned signage, security blinds and an ATM click

Recent research carried out by the North East Civic Trust has identified the potential for hundreds of new homes in unused spaces above shops and offices in central York.

Tees Valley Housing and local affordable housing experts CoHo Ltd are moving forward to identify specific opportunities for new housing in the city centre over the next 18 months, and is asking local landlords and agents to come forward to discuss and realise new schemes.

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New Homes Bonus

Own goal

We can apparently thank the Labour Party for revealing that most Council’s have not used the New Homes Bonus (see earlier story) to provide additional affordable homes.

 

They blame the government for making the money available to local councils.

They then go on to score an own goal by revealing that 93% of local Councils have not built a single new home using the “Bonus”.

Amongst them is the Labour controlled York Council which stands to rake in around £8 million over the next 6 years from the scheme.

The York Council Leadership resolutely refuses to buy additional homes on the open market as a quick way of supplementing Council housing stocks.

New Homes Bonus & York

Empty home in Bradley Drive

Empty home in Bradley Drive

Labour Councillors are claiming that the £2.4 million New Homes Bonus, allocated this year to the York Council, is the result of bringing long term empty properties back into use.

 

They claim to have “torn up” the previous Councils empty homes policy when they took office in  2011.

 

In reality the latest (publicly available) calculations on the Governments web site reveal that only 11 long term empty York homes  were brought back into use between October 2011 and October 2012.

This is not surprising as there are very few, long term, empty residential properties in York.

Most of the Bonus was generated by the 352 additional homes built in the City. This again, by historical standards, is a relatively low figure.

Of these new homes, 152 were classified as “affordable”

The New Homes Bonus is a coalition government initiative which allows Local Authorities to retain, for a period of 6 years, part of the extra Council Tax generated when additional homes are built, commercial property converted into residential use or when long term empty homes are brought  back into use.

Unlike other Authorities the York Council is not investing the New Homes Bonus in providing additional affordable homes in the City.

They have also ignored government advice that residents should be consulted on the use of the Bonus.

Large number of objections to Our Lady’s school development plans

Derelict school site next to Hob Moor

Derelict school site next to Hob Moor

Revised layout drawings have been lodged with the Council for the 56 home development proposed for the school site on Windsor Garth.

A large number of objections to the development have been lodged including these from by the Friends of Hob Moor   and the local Residents Association

Layout plan Nov 2013. Click to access

Layout plan Nov 2013. Click to access

The main objections expressed relate to the density of the development which would adversely impact on local public services.

Several residents have expressed concerns about drainage from the site which could damage the Hob Moor nature reserve.

The absence of any play facilities has been mentioned by many. (According to the Council children will be expected to walk to the facilities on Chesney’s Field – but that is on the other side of a busy road).

Layout plan Sept 2013 click to access

Layout plan Sept 2013 click to access

It has emerged that the developers want to remove the – perfectly serviceable – metal railings which surround the site and replace them with a wooden fence. Metal railings are much more durable and effective than wooden fences.

It looks like it will be a few more weeks before this application reaches the planning committee.