Residents anger over Council plan to remove security railings

Local residents in Lowfields are objecting to plans to remove the railings which protect their garden boundaries.

The plan by the Council to replace the railings was first revleaed on tyhis site at the weekend.

According to their Facebook site, the Lowfields Residents Action Group is leading a campaign to get the Council to consult neighbours on their plans.

Their main concerns are about the appearance of a new fence, its impact on the natural environment, damage to existing landscaping and the money which would be wasted if the existing railings – which are in good condition – were junked.

Separately the Council has announced today that it will commence construction work on the site in two weeks time.

It is writing to residents telling them about a consultation meeting which is taking place next week and which will involve the Wates building contractors

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The Residents Group has responded saying, “We think this is pretty short notice for a consultation event.

The letter includes an evasive reference to “Yorspace” who we understand are still struggling to find funding for their communal living site.

It also pointedly doesn’t admit that the Council have failed to find a developer for their proposed elderly persons care home.

Nothing more either, on the public buildings (Health Centre and Police station) which seem less and less likely now to happen.

This means that there is no chance of building work on the whole site being finished within 2 years”.

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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7 Bachelor Hill York YO24 3BD

Single storey rear extension 

Ref. No: 19/02030/FUL 

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Former Lowfield School Dijon Avenue York

Non-material amendment to permitted application 17/02428/FULM – Alterations to bedrooms, house types, elevations, roof mounted PV, masterplan, FFL’s & boundary treatments 

Ref. No: 19/01856/NONMAT

This application contains a large number of details changes to the Lowfield plans. Some were submitted as long ago as August but have not been subject to local consultation. Many are minor in nature or will have little impact on the existing local community. Some are more far reaching including a proposal to remove the existing perimeter metal railings and replace with a wooden boarded fence.. Leaving aside the additional costs involved in such a proposal, the railings are valued by some neighbouring house owners as they offer good security. They also allow wild animals such as hedgehogs to move freely around the neighbourhood. We think that individual neighbours should have been consulted on these changes.

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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/

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

No takers for Care Home contract at Lowfields

Care home site

According to a notice published earlier today, the York Council has received
no suitable tenders for the provision of a care home at its Lowfields site.

The Council has already invested heavily in providing infrastructure,
including roads, at the site. They promised a 30-month building timetable in  response to concerns expressed by residents in 2016 who feared that the nuisance caused by building works could drag on for a decade.

The failure to find a development partner for the care home, together with
delays on the communal housing section, means that there is no end in sight for the development work.

The delay  notice says, ” This item has been withdrawn because, following a tender process, officers have been unable to appoint a developer. Officers need to consult the market and consider the options before the Executive can make a decision”.

According to the Councils Elderly Care programme, which was last discussed in 2018, work on building the care home was due to start next month. Officials at that they said that they were confident on getting a good deal for the site following “soft market” testing. 

Now a delay on the start of building work on the home of over 12 months  seems inevitable.

There have been similar delays at Oakhaven on York Road where work is now over 3 years behind schedule.

Delays also dog the Haxby Hall redevelopment site on the other side of the
City.

Despite the delays in providing new care homes, existing facilities have
been closed. Some like Willow House next to the Bar walls remain empty.

Ironically, the original plan to provide a, mainly private sector funded,
care village on the site of the Lowfield’s school had been developed in 2010 to the point where work was scheduled to start. The scheme was shelved by the incoming Labour Council and 9 years later there is little to show but some “roads to nowhere” and large spoil heaps.

The site is now has little security. It is attracting children who want to play
on the dangerous spoil heaps.

The football pitches have long gone so alternative children’s play facilities
are non existent.

Even the Kingsway multi user games area has been turned into a building
compound for another development..

Lowfields plans in 2016

Call me Mr Shape

The Council is to adopt a pseudonym when it tries to sell any new homes that it builds in York. The decision comes in the wake of research which suggests that many potential buyers regard the Council as a provider of cheap, lower specification homes.

So, the Council will in future market itself as “Shape Homes York”. The revelation comes in a report being considered later this week

The Council’s poor image on housing is easy to understand given the litter and weed infested state of many Council estates. Unnecessary cuts to maintenance regimes have led to a fall in tenants’ satisfaction. This has affected the Councils image more generally.

The report also reveals what is claimed to be a new approach to design and public consultation on the sites that it will develop over the next few years. Around 600 new homes are planned.

Major mistakes were made at Lowfields where bogus promises of a new health centre and police station were included in marketing material. It later turned out that neither was likely to materialise while a proposed elderly persns home has been delayed. Residents became even more hostile towards the council when it was revealed that “replacement” sports pitches (those at Lowfield are being built on) would be provided at a site located some 3 miles away and lacking a public transport link.

The Council plans developments at Askham Bar, Burnholme, Duncombe Barracks, the former Manor School, the former Clifton Without School, and the former Woolnough House sites.

The brownfield (and unused) Askham bar car park site is being slipped down the priority list to allow for early work at Ordnance Lane and Hospital Fields Road.

The Council expects around 40% of the properties it builds to be “affordable”. They will be cross subsidised by market sales by the new “Shape Homes” front organisation. The Council has set up a new department to manage the programme and has recruited a large number of additional administrative staff. The overall cost of the programme is £154 million.

The Council has also published a design manual which they claim indicates how its new homes will look. It includes some high efficiency homes which will have low running costs (Passivhaus)

As the, currently stalled, Lowfield development has revealed, Council propaganda rarely these days accords with reality.

In setting up its own housing building operation, we think that the Council may be overextending itself. 

It is still trying to bring to a conclusion the £42 million Community Stadium project, it announced last week that £20 million would be spent on redeveloping a business club at the Guildhall while the first tranche of work on the £1 billion York Central site is due to start later in the year.

& all that from a local authority which doesn’t even have a permanent Chief Executive working for it at present.

Council taxpayers to foot £605,000 bill for sports pavilion

The Council have now appointed a contractor to build a “Pavilion, Clubhouse and Changing Rooms” on Tadcaster Road near Sim Balk Lane.

It will become the home of a football team currently based in Bishopthorpe.

The contract was won by Fullwood of Pontefract

The cost is an eye watering £605,000.

In total the project is expected to cost £1.5 million. £491,000 has already been spent on new pitches.

Taxpayers money

This compared to the costs of new modular changing rooms which are available from less than £40,000 from a number of companies.

These include Sports Changing Rooms and York’s own Portakabin

The cost of the pavilion is controversial because it is being partly funded from monies generated by building on playing fields at Lowfield.

More modest changing facilities would have allowed the surplus to be used to provide an all-weather games area to replace both the facilities lost at Lowfields and also the Kingsway West children’s games area which the Council demolished earlier in the summer.

The Council has still not made any public announcement about the replacement games area which could be located on Thanet Road.

Troubled York Council land sale – more details

More details of the York Council’s controversial decision to sell land to the Yorspace community housing group are emerging. In response to a Freedom of Information request the Council has provided a copy of the independent valuation that it obtained for the land at Lowfields.

Yorspace Lowfield development

The valuation states that the site may be sold to a community housing group for £300,000 which “represents a 20% discount on market value”. However, the valuation report is based on the construction of 10 semi-detached homes on the land.

The Yorspace proposal envisages a 19 unit, high density, development.

So the scale of the taxpayer subsidy remains obscure. The only way to test the financial assumptions would be to market the site, comparing offers for social housing with a commercial alternative.

While Section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972 does allow Local Authorities to sell, in certain circumstances, land at below market value and without seeking competitive bids, that discretion is not unfettered.

The Council constitution requires a reason for such a sale to be minuted. There is no such reason given in the record of the officer decision taken on 18th January 2019

Construction of roads at Lowfields is almost complete.

The record of the meeting says, The Mutual Home Ownership Society housing model they use is designed as such that they will be economically accessible to lower income families and the affordability of the homes is maintained in perpetuity”.

The council has not, so far, chosen to include, in the terms of the proposed sale, a requirement that occupiers MUST be lower income families and/or that they should currently be registered on the home choice/housing waiting list..

As the development has NOT been classified as “affordable housing” in the Local Plan, the Council must legally provide a specific reason for giving preferential treatment to a particular group.

Valuation report published

The reason might be, for example, to create local jobs, to provide accessible leisure facilities, to provide homes for those on the waiting list or whatever.

However, an auditable rationale is a legal requirement.

The sale to Yorspace has not been completed yet but is expected next month. A further report to a council committee on the scheme is expected on 26th September.

Meanwhile it has emerged that no progress has been made in selling any “self-build“ plots at Lowfield

The Council says that marketing material for the plots is being prepared by the Community and Self-Build Officer, in conjunction with Custom Build Homes, who are the sale agent for the plots.

Self build homes are likely to be worth more than the construction cost.

 “A promotional event was held last year, and it is planned that another event will be held at the start of the marketing launch”.

 Plots will be promoted through the council, the Custom Build Homes website and Rightmove. Plots will go on sale this Autumn.

The buyers must have started construction work within 12 months of purchase and have completed all works within 2 years”.

More questions posed on cost of football pitch project

The site of new football pitches off Sim Balk Lane has been cleared. The will be used by a team from Bishopthorpe.

The cost of constructing a new “pavilion” at the football pitches near London Bridge has been questioned. It is claimed that the cost of providing 13 pitches plus changing rooms near London Bridge will be £1.5 million.

This compares to the £600,000 cost of providing of a modern changing room & clubhouse recently for the Hamilton Panthers team on Little Knavesmire.

The York Council has been asked to contribute £850,000 to the Bishopthorpe scheme with the rest coming mainly from the Football Foundation and fundraising.

Most of the £850,000 is being abstracted from the Westfield Ward.

Officials claim it is a substitute for the pitches lost at Lowfield which are now being built on.

NB. There has still been no progress on replacing the children’s all weather sports area which was a valued amenity in the Kingsway West area. The Council took the games area over as a building compound over 3 months ago, promising that alternative facilities would be provided.

The promised replacement isn’t event mentioned in the Council’s 4 monthly forward programme of upcoming decisions

Westfield Councillors to debate what to do about building works at public meeting tomorrow


Bowling club building site not on the agenda?

The Westfield Councillors are right to insist on more information being provided on building works in the area, when they meet tomorrow (Wednesday)

However, they will be meeting only a few metres away from the spoil heaps and site compound which has been constructed on the Council owned land to the rear of the Library.

Large spoil heap on Council land at the Acomb Library

Some explanation for the decision to allow the contractors to use this Council owned site will be expected. It is an issue that is not likely to go away.

Some residents still hope that Council will offer some sort of compensation for the problems that have been caused by the use of the compound

Elsewhere, the Lowfields development saga continues.

There has still not been any explanation about how the York Council came to mislead residents about the inclusion of a “police station” and health centre/GP surgery in the original consultation plans.

Both these promises turned out to be bogus. It is unclear what will happen to what, otherwise, will be unused plots on the east of the site.

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The Kingsway West carriageway is already breaking up

On Ascot Way, access arrangements, for the heavy plant needed to complete the demolition of Windsor House, remain unclear. It seems that access for the plant will be via Kingsway West and Ascot Way It is clear that the roads are too narrow in the area to avoid major damage to adjacent verges and paths. A “one way” system has been suggested but not confirmed.

There are real concerns that the bus route will be obstructed by the likely congestion

The original hope had been that more parking lay-bys would have been provided by now.

…..and the problem of the promised replacement for the all weather games area seems to be no closer to resolution. The existing MUGA has already been converted into a building compound.

Games area is now a building compound. No alternative provision for children has been provided

There is no word about the proposed alternative site on the Thanet Road Sports Area although officials were asked to follow this up 3 months ago.

Residents will no doubt be hoping that some answers emerge from the meeting

Spoil heaps dominate neighbouring properties on Lowfields Drive

£1.5 million cost for 3 football pitches

£850,000 to come from Lowfields project

The York Council courted controversy 2 years ago when it announced that the “replacement” football pitches – for those lost to the Lowfields development – would be provided on a site lying between Tadcaster Road and Bishopthorpe.

Playing fields at Lowfields have been dug up

The site is nearly 3 miles from Lowfield and does not have a direct public transport link.

In December 2017, the Councils Executive approved a £400,000 contribution from the Lowfields budget towards the Bishopthorpe plan. The project will provide a new home for the Bishopthorpe White Rose Football Club.

The new pitches must be ready before the new homes, being built at Lowfields, are occupied. Work on building the homes is due to start in August with road and some other infrastructure already in place.

Now a report to a meeting taking place next week reveals that the Council is to make a substantially greater contribution to the pitch project than has hitherto been admitted.

The Council will now, additionally, contribute £110,000 from Section 106 developer payments intended to provide alternative open space.

 A further £300,000 will come from a “Lowfields developer contribution”.  (The Council is, of course, the developer at Lowfields).

In total, therefore, the Council plans to spend around £850,000 on the scheme which, although it includes a clubhouse, now looks to be a very expensive way of providing 3 football pitches.

The Bishopthorpe football club itself will contribute £80,000, with the balance of £1/2 million coming from the Football Foundation.

Residents are bound to be angry about this latest example of Council duplicity. 

There is land available much nearer Lowfields which would benefit from open space investment. There is, for example, under-used land located between the built-up area and the ring road off Askham Lane.

…But this seems to have been overlooked as the local authority continues to snub the Westfield area.

NB. It also appears that Council officials have made no progress in finding an alternative location for the Kingsway games area. That facility is now being used as a building compound. The Council agreed 3 months ago to seek an alternative site on a nearby sports area and was to have opened negotiations with the current occupiers. Little progress seems to have been made

York’s green spaces; going, going…

It is sad to see so many green spaces in the City being gradually eroded.

The reality of planning decisions, taken by the Council over the last few years, are rapidly becoming clearer. The trend is particularly evident in west York where former school playing field have proved to be vulnerable.

It started with the development of the playing field at the former Our Lady’s school site on Windsor Garth. The “Hob Stone” estate took up the whole of the site with no open space retained.

Next was the controversial decision to build on the Lowfields playing field. The decision was made worse when over £400,000, intended to fund alternative sports pitches, was earmarked for a site near Bishopthorpe, which is some 3 miles from Lowfields.

Concrete now dominates the Lowfields school playing field

The Hob Moor playing field has been torn up and is now part of a building site
The Acomb Bowling club and adjacent Council owned land on Front Street is now also a building site

There are alternative brownfield (previously developed) sites in the City. Strangely the local MP over the weekend announced her opposition to building 2500 homes on the land to the rear of the station while planners have omitted the Strensall army camp from Local Development Plans.

There seems to be little reason why a development at the latter could not be restricted to the “built footprint” of the former army buildings. This would still leave large amounts of new public open space. That option is under consideration as part of the latest consultation on the Local Plan

But for west York the outlook remains bleak. The Council is still dilly dallying on proposals to replace the Multi User Games Area on Kingsway West. The existing one is no longer usable as it is no part of a buildng compound.

…and the newly elected Council, despite lofty talk of having a new “stray” in the City, has noticeably failed to put any flesh on the bones of the idea. Prompt action is needed to secure more public open space on the periphery of the City.

Currently there is little sign of any urgency, or even engagement, by the occupants of West Offices.