More delays at Lowfield as “Yorspace” scheme struggles to find investors

Looks like there will be more delays on the Lowfield project as the communal housing section of the scheme has failed to attract sufficient investors.

It could mean the project will take even longer to complete.

It is not clear whether the Council and Yorspace have exchanged contracts for the sale (at a discount value) of the land in question.

The Councils track record on asset use is being increasingly criticised on social media with a deals for the sale of Willow House and 29 Castlegate (both empty for over 3 years) still not concluded

The Oakhaven building in Acomb is also still unused.

Given the claims made by Council leaders about addressing housing need urgently, the dithering on these projects is difficult to justify.

The Council is providing little useful update information on their Lowfields overall development timetable.

. Westfield Ward Councillors have been asked to “call in” the proposal which would see the perimeter railings removed. The local Lowfields Action Group say they have had no response to their enquiries about the plan.

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)

Work starts on Burnholme elderly persons accommodation

Work has stared on building a new 80 bed care home at the Burnholme site.

When completed, the Council will have the right to fill 25 of the beds

A lot of building work going on at Burnholme

Work is also proceeding on renovating sports facilities on the Burnholme site. A new library complex has already opened.

The care home being built on the Fordlands Road site (by Octopus Health care) will be completed in the summer of 2020. A site for another home has been reserved in the new York Central development.

The progress being made on these sites contrasts with other projects aimed at addressing the needs of the City’s increasing elderly population on the west of the City.

Tenders are only now being sought for the long awaited elderly persons facility on the Lowfields site. Other specialist homes on the west of the City, such as Windsor House and Lincoln Court have already been cleared of their elderly occupants.

One embarrassment for the Council, is the elderly persons home at Oakhaven. Residents were controversially moved from this building 3 years ago.

Despite some temporary uses, the building has remained largely unused ever since.

The Council has not been able to say when work on a replacement will start.

The Council says that it will start building houses at Lowfield this summer. Many will be “shared ownership” although there seems to have been little research done on the size of the market – among those on the waiting list – for this type of tenure.

There is, however, a lot of demand from older people – currently occupying large council and housing association houses – who want to “downsize” to bungalows or flats.

Work has started on constructing the Tudor Road access onto the Lowfields site. A new lay-by has been provided nearby.

While we remain critical of the Councils plan to build on the playing field at Lowfield, it also now seems that they may have got the mix of home types wrong.

There should have been more bungalows.

The issue of the Yorspace” communal housing development – which is not classified as “affordable” – has also still not been resolved.

Lowfields problems continue

No response yet from the site liaison officer following residents’ concerns about delivery arrangements at the Lowfields development site.  Concerns about the impact that the large spoil mountains are having on the local environment have also still to be addressed.
Spoil mountains growing at Lowfields

At a planning committee meeting earlier in the week some progress was made on the plans to create 5 new parking spaces on Tudor Road.

The Lowfields Action Group Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/LowfieldsActionGroup/ reports that officials have confirmed that the contractor responsible for building the new access road will also construct the parking spaces as part of the same contract. Although they said that the work would be done “at the same time” no planning condition was included requiring the 3 new “on street” parking spaces to be constructed before the existing ones are lost.

The Council as both the owner and developer of the site could have offered a unilateral agreement on this but failed to do so.

Cllr Andrew Waller was the only Westfield ward representative to speak up on behalf of residents. He said that the parking spaces to the rear of 108 Tudor Road were too close to the property. He also asked that improvements be made at the Tudor Road /Gale Lane junction.

The discussion about the Yorspace development was a disappointing.  Councillors completely failed to challenge the claim that the proposed homes will be “affordable”. The developer claims they will be “affordable” The Councils own housing officer has confirmed that they will not.

This contradiction remains unexplained.

A Freedom of Information request on a related issue is still outstanding. A response is due on Monday,

No convincing answers given on car parking arrangements. The 12 spaces will not be adequate to cater for the needs of all occupiers and visitors. Overflow parking will therefore further compromise space on Tudor Road, Green Lane and Kingsthorpe. The developers say that occupiers of the building “will not be allowed to own a car” and that all vehicles using the provided spaces will be “communally owned”.

We doubt very much whether they will be able to enforce such a rule.

The only good thing to come out of the debate was an offer from the developer to look again at boundary treatments. They seem to be backing away for the idea of removing the railings. The railings offer good security while permitting the movement of small mammals like hedgehogs.

Waste material mountains growing on Lowfield site

The local residents action group has protested about the policy for storing excavated materials on the Lowfield development site. Mountains of waste are gradually growing on the Green Lane boundary.

Residents say they were promised consultation on the strategy for dealing with excavated materials. If they were to be stored on site – in preparation for reuse later in the building phase of the work, then assurances were needed about their short and long term effects on drainage in the area.

Waste materials piled 8 metres high on Lowfields site

Now several neighbouring residents are looking out onto 8 metre high piles of concrete rubble.

Concerns were also recorded about the effect that the work would have on the local ecology.

Verges being damaged

A lorry visiting the site today damaged verges near the site entrance.

This has led to renewed appeals for better advanced notice of deliveries and their likely impact on “on street” parking.

Yorspace” development set to get planning permission

…but concerns remain about parking, security, affordability and funding

Council officials are recommending that 19 homes, to be built by the “Yorspace” cooperative on part of the Lowfield site, should be given planning permission.

Yorspace plans

A report to a meeting taking place on 20th March reveals that objections to the plan were received from local residents and the Save Lowfields Playing Field Action Group  who were concerned about the height of the buildings, security, inadequate car parking, boundary fences and the lack of affordable housing in the proposal.  Some residents have questioned the actions of the Council in selling the plot of land, which is located near little Tudor Road, for 1/3 of its market value.

The latter objection has been reinforced since it was revealed that there will be no “affordable” units provided on the site. Rents will be at commercial levels. The rent on a one bedroomed flat will be around £520 pcm rising to over £880 pcm for a 4 bedroomed house. These are comparable to the rents charged by private landlords in the area.

It will be for the Councils auditors to say whether the sale is a legitimate one but, given the numbers on the local housing waiting list, it is difficult to see why the Council did not either develop the land itself (as it is doing elsewhere on Lowfields) or ask a Housing Association to take the project  on.

In either case rents would have been around half the commercial level.

One issue that has not been resolved is the proposal to restrict the number of off-street parking spaces to 12. This is less than one per property. Many 4 bedroomed homes now have 2 or 3 vehicle owners living in the property. The concern is that “overspill” car parking will put further pressure on spaces in Tudor Road, Kingsthorpe and the rest of the new Lowfields development.

The developers hope the availability of good bus services in the area will reduce car usage. However, the number 4 service only travels one way down Tudor Road.

Any parent will know the pressure that teenagers, upon reaching driving age, can exert as they seek to get their first personal transport. So the cooperatives “issue resolution processes” are likely to be fully tested if they seek to restrict car ownership at their properties.

The planning committee meeting is taking place on Wednesday 20th March at 5:00pm at West Offices. Residents may make representations by registering to speak at the meeting &/or by Email to Christopher.elliott@york.gov.uk

More parking spaces to be provided on Tudor Road

The Council has relented in the face of pressure from local residents and has agreed to provide an additional 3 off street parking spaces on Tudor Road.

Location of proposed additional verge parking spaces on Tudor Road

The original plans only showed two spaces being provided in the rear garden of a block of flats. Now this is being increased by three. They will be constructed on the verges about halfway down the road.

The plan goes some way to compensating for the three spaces which will be lost when the access road for the Lowfield development is constructed.

Even two extra spaces will not be enough to satisfy the pent up demand which is already apparent in the area with verges and forecourts being pressed into service as impromptu parking areas.

The parking problem is likely to get worse when the new development is occupied. The “Yorspace” section of the development site has been criticised as it will only provide 12 parking spaces for 19 new homes. This may force some occupiers to park on Tudor Road

Separately the Council has now revealed that the “Yorspace” homes will not be categorised as “affordable”.  This calls into question why the land for the development was sold by the Council at a heavily discounted rate. The discount means that taxpayers will effectively be subsidising the occupiers of the properties although in some cases they may be relativity wealthy individuals.

 

 

Bats and hedgehogs at risk through Council developments

The Council has now published on their web site the comments of their Ecology and Countryside officer on the plan to extend Lincoln Court.

Comments of Council ecology officer March 2019

Contractors are currently ripping out the hedge on the school boundary of the site.

The officer states that a replacement hedge must be provided as part of any redevelopment.

There are also concerns about the displacement of bats.

One item, relating to the movement of small mammals like hedgehogs,  will be of particular interest to local residents who are concerned not just about this proposal but also the plans for the nearby Lowfields site.

There a developer (Yorspace) is planning to replace the existing railings with a close boarded fence. Effectively such fences hinder the free movement of hedgehogs

The Ecology officer hasn’t commented on the Lowfield proposal although the wildlife issue has been highlighted by the Lowfields Action Group as part of their objection.

 

Latest planning applications for the Westfield Ward

 Below are the latest planning applications received by the York Council for the Westfield ward.

Full details can be found by clicking the application reference

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17 Pheasant Drive York YO24 2YD

Proposal      Fell Oak tree protected by Tree Preservation Order no. 26

Reference   19/00316/TPO

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 Former Lowfield School Dijon Avenue York

Erection of 5no. apartments, 5no. two bedroom housing units, 6no. three bedroom housing units, 3no. four bedroom housing units and a shared common house/amenity block and associated infrastructure to form community housing development |

18/02925/FULM| 

The Save Lowfields Playing Field Facebook page points out that a significant amendment to the plans for the “Yorspace” development has been submitted.

They say The Yorspace developers have submitted new plans for their 3 storey “communal house” building. In effect they raise the height by incorporating angled solar panels. This would make the building even more dominating and intrusive. (There are other ways of incorporating solar energy harvesting)”.

Only a couple of days to record objections to this proposal are they are hoping to have it determined at the March Planning Committee meeting.

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Representations can be made in favour of, or in objection to, any application via the Planning on line web site.  http://planningaccess.york.gov.uk/online-applications/

The Council now no longer routinely consults neighbours by letter when an application is received

Planning updates – Lincoln Court and Lowfields

  • MUGA

    We understand that the Foxwood Residents Association have formally objected to the Councils plans to “replace” the children’s all-weather games area on Kingsway. The objection stems from the Councils proposal to build “fitness equipment” on Chesneys Field during the summer. The Association points out that no consultation has taken place over this proposal which could intensify the use of what is Public Open Space. When a similar idea was mooted 2 years ago, the preferred site for a fitness track was judged to be the Thanet Road Sports Area. The Association have suggested that the Council seek a partnership with the Acorn Rugby Club which could see a new 3G games area provided. Sport England have also objected to the Council’s plans

  • The Yorspace proposals for the Lowfields site have been criticised by the local Drainage Board. They are asking for further details of how surface water runoff will be handled. They point out the fact that – for the whole site –  water run off is likely to be more severe than occurs from the existing greenfield use. There are already some problems with flooding in the gardens of some properties in the Green Lane and Tudor Road area.
  • Separately the Lowfields Residents Group has objected to plans which would see the number of off street parking spaces reduced near 108 Tudor Road. They are also concerned about the traffic implications of building a new access road onto the Lowfields site

NB. The contract for “enabling works” at Lowfields was awarded to NMCN. It is valued at £260,000. The end date for the contract is 19th April 2019.