Council back down on garden care scheme plans

The Council is writing to vulnerable tenants telling them that they will continue to get their hedges and lawns trimmed for at least another year.

Lawns will be cut and hedges trimmed

Earlier in the week, officials had told tenants that they would lose the long standing service, with some being offered £200 compensation in lieu.

Now the housing director has apologised to those affected and confirmed that a more considered review of the service will take place over the next few months. Any changes will be delayed until 2021 at the earliest.

The new letter to tenants still has a patronising tone. It talks about helping the elderly to “enjoy” their gardens. “Volunteers” are still seen as the solution to most problems although many will feel that that particular resource is in danger of becoming overwhelmed.

The letter rather confirms our view that the housing department needs new leadership and with it a commitment to be more open and to consult properly before making decisions.

The key first step is for executive councillors to exert more control over the department and for communication channels with residents associations to be restored.

The garden service is funded from Council house rents. The rent account has a large surplus.

More on end to garden care help scheme of vulnerable

Following on from yesterday’s revelation that the Council is abandoning its garden care scheme for vulnerable tenants, a Councillor has claimed that contractors were charging “£80” to cut a lawn.

Apparently it was this that led to the announcement that the most disabled tenants would instead be offered £200 as compensation for the loss of the service.

Letter to tenants circulated to Councillors yesterday

Lawns are cut 10 times a year so how far the £200 will go remains to be seen. In addition hedges are normally trimmed on three occasions.

No financial figures have been released by the Council and no equalities impact assessment has been published

It appears that options like tendering for the service in smaller packages (to minimise unnecessary travel) have not been considered nor has the employment of Council staff to undertake the work. (there are numerous other jobs that such staff could usefully do in the winter period).

The Councillor responsible for housing+ (Denise Craghill) has now tweeted “Nobody who needs support will be left without it. Contract was a hugely inefficient use of public money. Budget still same to improve support for tenants to enjoy their gardens. Everyone is being visited. Those conversations will feed into a decision session in April”.

This doesn’t explain how letters came to be sent to tenants ahead of any decision being taken.

Cllr Nigel Ayre claims on “twitter” that the “communications issue is unfortunate but errors happen “.

Copies of the draft letters to affected tenants (copied to Councillors yesterday) can be downloaded from these links

Ineligible for help

Eligible for £200 grant

We think that the Council should abandon its planned changes for this year.

They should undertake a full and informed consultation on the future of the service and then implement any changes during the 2021/22 financial year.

UPDATE Council abandons garden help scheme for elderly and disabled.

UPDATE The Council now seems to BE back tracking. It says that the  communication it issued earlier today was “only the first step in consultation”. The following is an extract from that the earlier communication. Make you own mind up whether  you think it sounds  like consultation

The cost of the scheme was extremely high and unsustainable, so we are exploring other ways to provide a service to the most vulnerable in future, in partnership with charities and volunteers.  Unfortunately, this won’t be in place this year so as an interim measure we will be providing the most vulnerable tenants with a payment of £200 that they can use to contribute towards the cost of maintaining the garden this year.

From information we have on Housing Management systems, we have filtered customers into those we believe would not meet the new criteria and those that would with the appropriate letter going to these customers. Housing Management Officers will be visiting all customers that as part of the Health and Wellbeing visits, to ensure that all tenants who genuinely have no option than that provided by The Council.  Once HMO’s have confirmed eligibility the payment will be arrange to be made early in the new financial year.

The Council is now saying the proposal will go to a decision meeting in April

The Council has, however, admitted that it has already posted the letters to tenants!

EARLIER It looks like the Council will refuse to help elderly tenants who are unable to maintain their own gardens. Until this year elderly and disabled tenants had received help in cutting hedges and lawns through a garden help scheme.

Now a housing official has said that the garden help scheme has been abandoned.

In the past the Council has been criticised for the slowness of the garden care scheme which provided only a minimal service

The proposal to abandon the tenants has not yet been considered by the Councils’ Executive.

Only last week the Council announced that it would make a surplus of over £3 million on its council housing rent account this year. It holds an accumulated surplus on the account of over £20 million with a rent increase pending.

The garden care scheme has been in existence for several decades. It provides a basic gardening service for those on limited means who are unable to do heavy work themselves and who do not have anyone else that they can turn to for help.

Now the official has said that the scheme is being scrapped with immediate effect. The most seriously disabled will be offered a payment of £200 which the Council says can be used to employ someone to undertake gardening work.

The Council also talks loftily of setting up a scheme of “volunteer gardeners” to assist. They accept that this is not yet in place.

It is not the first time that the Council has eroded the garden help scheme. In 2016 over 100 pensioners lost access to the scheme.

Overgrown hedges are unsightly and block footpaths

As well as the welfare of sick and elderly people, another concern is the effect that overgrown hedges will have on local neighbourhoods. There are already complaints about lack of maintenance in some estates.

There has been no consultation with residents or tenants organisations in the City.

Whereas previous attempts to jettison the service were initiated by Tory Councillors, the latest proposal comes under the stewardship of Green Party Councillor Denise Craghill. To what extent she has been party to the plan is unclear.

Liberal Democrat Councillors in wards like Westfield, which has a high proportion of Council tenancies, are likely to be put under extreme pressure to block any changes until alternative arrangements can be put in place.

Help to design the homes and spaces you want at Ordnance Lane

The next stage of designing York’s 600 new homes is underway, and residents are invited to get involved in helping shape the planning application for Ordnance Lane on 22 February.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The design and project teams from architects Mikhail Riches and City of York Council met some 120 residents in November last year, who shared their ideas, priorities and local knowledge about the site which includes Ordnance Lane and part of Hospital Fields Road. This is one of eight sites forming part of the council’s Housing Delivery Programme*.

Now, residents are invited to the second consultation phase for this site: a detailed, hands-on workshop with lunch provided. A project briefing and site visit will set the scene before the design team will share early layout ideas for the site. Participants are then invited to work with the team using 3D models to explore the emerging plans and improve them.

The workshop is on Saturday 22 February, 9:45am-5pm, at York Steiner School, 25 Fulford Cross, York YO10 4PB. Spaces are limited, so please book your place at: https://ordnancelane.eventbrite.com

Anyone not able to join the workshop or anyone who wants to keep fully involved, are also invited to a public briefing session to learn about the design work to date on Thursday 5 March, 6:30-8pm, at Cycle Heaven, 31 Hospital Fields Road, York YO10 4FS.

David Mikhail, founding director of our architects Mikhail Riches and design director for the council’s Housing Delivery Programme, 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. We also 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.”

Cllr Denise Craghill, Executive Member for Housing and Safer Neighbourhoods said: “Guided by our housing design manual (www.york.gov.uk/housingdesignmanual), residents are invited to help design beautiful, low-energy homes in a thriving new community.

“Each site has a three-stage engagement process, which means that as many people as possible can help create the homes and settings that they want to see and where present and future generations of York residents will live.”

Please book your place at https://ordnancelane.eventbrite.com. For more information, and to be kept updated on the project, please visit www.york.gov.uk/HousingDeliveryProgramme 

Lowfields residents slam York council information blackout

Residents living in the Lowfields area have taken to Facebook to express their disappointment about the lack of information being provided on the nearby school site development.

They have seen a Council newsletter which tells them what the names will be of the new streets which are currently being constructed. The Council credits/blames pupils at a local school for the choice of Rosemary Road, Moss Bank Court etc.

The newsletter also claims that the first occupants will move in before the end of the year,.

This may be true, but residents main concern is lack of information about the lack of activity on other parts of the site.

The Facebook critics say

“no new information about when building work on the whole site will be concluded. Residents were told that plant would be off the site within 3 years.

It now looks like building work will continue for over 5 years.

We understand that the “Yorspace” communal housing scheme funding appeal topped out at just over £400,000. It remains to be seen whether this will be sufficient to allow the scheme to actually get built.

The self build plots are apparently still “on offer” while there have been no takers from developers wanting to provide a care home (on the large reserved plot on the Green Lane side of the site).

Council newsletter Feb 2020

The location reserved for a “police station” is likely to remain empty indefinitely (there will be no police station) while there has been no progress on designing the “new health centre” which was promised for another part of the site.

No progress has been made in providing off site additional car parking spaces on Dijon Avenue.

It is really shameful that the Council should circulate a cheap leaflet like this without even attempting to address the major areas of local concern to local residents”.

WE think that residents have a point. They have been treated very badly by the York Council and deserve more respect and regular updates.

No one should have to live next to a building site for 5 years or more, simply because a local authority failed to get its act together

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”.