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 and29 Castlegate (both empty for over 3 years) still not concluded
TheOakhavenbuilding 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.
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.
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 aprivate 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.
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.
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 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
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 movedfrom 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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
The localresidents action grouphas 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.
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.
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.
…but concerns remain about parking, security, affordability
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.
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
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.firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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 adeveloper (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.
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 |
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.
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 localDrainage 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.