York Council debts mounting as housing borrowing plan pushes finances to the brink

By the end of the year the York Council will have debts of over £318.2 million, up £52 million compared to 12 months earlier.

Nearly 14% of taxes paid to the authority now go on interest and principal repayments on loans.

The authority owes £139 million in historic debt on Council housing programmes.

The overall exposure is partly offset by investment balances which stand at £75.7 million (down from £91.6 million in 2017)

Debts have increased because of several projects. One of the most expensive is York’s share of the Allerton Park waste processing plant. Money has also been borrowed to fund aspects of the York Central development.

The financial assessment is due to be discussed at a meeting later this week.

The same meeting will consider the Council’s policy on funding new housing.

Included in the plan is a proposal which would see the Council borrowing £10 million to fund the development of the Lowfields site. This means the Council will have housing debts of £145 million, close to the legal debt cap of £146 million.

The Lowfields proposal involves building on a sports field which will be controversial and may lead to legal challenges. A promised “start on site” early in 2019 looks optimistic.

There is also the problem of development expertise in the Council. It has a woeful recent project management record with cost escalations on several major projects including the Community Stadium and the refurbishment of the Guildhall.

Lowfields – Plan to build on sports pitches

There are some good features in the new housing plan, but the Council will be sailing very close to the financial wind if it accepts the officer recommendations without amendment.

The report fails to address the problem of unlocking disused Council land like the site behind the Acomb Library or private sector “land banks” like the prime location next to the Barbican.

It would be more than ironic if the planning committee was bullied into accepting the Lowfields plans which, green space provision aside, feature straight geometric lines of 3 bed semis – a discredited  layout abandoned by other Councils over 50 years ago

Make your comments to government on York’s Local Plan

  The Council is urging residents have one final say on  the Local Plan. Comments will go direct to a government appointed independent inspector. Those who wish to, may be invited to speak at an “examination in public”

The forms aren’t easy to fill in although it can  be done “on line“. Land owners and developers, who stand to make £millions if green field land is identified for development, will no doubt pay for professional help.

The average resident must do his or her best. But its definitely worth having your say.

Locally most attention will be on the plan to build on the Lowfields playing field. That is likely to attract strong opposition, not least because it conflicts with other policies in the Plan  For example Policy GI5 : Protection of Open Space and Playing Fields para 9.14 – 9.18; says,

Save Lowfields Playing Field

“Development proposals will not be permitted which would harm the character of, or lead to the loss of, open space of environmental and/or recreational importance”

On the other hand, the Council seems to have got the proposed boundaries of the Green Belt right at least on the west of the City

Over-development of the City would be a serious burden for subsequent generations.

The media release says,

York residents are being urged to take the opportunity to make final comments on the city’s Local Plan.

A six-week consultation starts today as the council prepares to submit the plan – which will drive York’s economic growth and determine how the city changes over the next 15 years and beyond – to the government for Examination.

The council’s ‘publication draft’ is the result of extensive studies and consultation with residents, landowners, developers and statutory consultees like government agencies.

Comments made during this consultation will go direct to the government, to be considered by a Planning Inspector at an Examination in Public.

The council is stressing that this consultation is different because the Examination will only consider certain issues about the plan, and has produced guidance to help residents make comments which the Inspector can use.

 You can find out how to make your comments, and what information the government’s Planning Inspector will be able to consider, in a special booklet being distributed to every household in the city.

The booklets will be delivered to every household in the city alongside – but not inside – another local publication.

If you haven’t received your household’s copy by Monday 26 February, please request one through localplan@york.gov.uk or call 01904 552255.

You can see all the same information, how to respond and view the full Publication Draft and supporting documents:

All responses must be made by midnight on Wednesday 4 April 2018 to ensure they can be considered by the Government.

Have your say on our plans for new sports pitches at Tadcaster Road

Residents are being invited to have their say on plans to build eight new sports pitches on fields near Askham Bar.

The drop-in consultation event, which will take place between 4pm and 7pm at Askham Bar Park & Ride on Wednesday 24 January, will offer the chance for people to feedback on plans to build three 11-a-side pitches, two 9-a-side pitches and three 7-a-side pitches with relevant on-site facilities.

The event comes after the council’s executive in November agreed that officers should continue to work on plans for sports facilities on the land near the Ashfield estate.

Sensibly the Council has now stopped trying to link the new provision with the loss of football pitches at Lowfields 

This will help to provide much needed community sports facilities to the south and west area of York.

The council’s public heath team are also working with Bishopthorpe White Rose FC to prepare a club development plan that will help them thrive in the future and access grant funding.

The cost of these works will be funded from the Football Foundation, Bishopthorpe White Rose football club, local sponsorship and small grants, with the remainder from the capital programme agreed by City of York Council.

More gloom as latest York Draft Local Plan unveiled

Transport gridlock a possibility, as City set to grow in size by over 20%

Yet another set of proposed changes to the Council Draft Local Plan have been published by the York Council. If accepted at a meeting taking place next week the number of extra homes to be built in the Area could increase from an estimated 867 dwelling a year to as many as 1070.

Officials blame inconsistent national population projections for the indecision.

Developers eyeing stables on Tadcaster Road

If accepted, they higher figures could mean more Green Belt land being developed in the Metcalf Lane, Wigginton Road and Elvington Lane areas. The racecourse stables land on Tadcaster Road is once again under threat while developers want to build a whopping 1575 dwelling at Galtres Farm near Huntington

The York Central (brownfield) figures could also increase from 1500 to between 1700 and 2500 units, with more offices also planned for the site.

The main impact of any increase in  house building, and associated economic development, will be on the Cities, already creaking, transport systems. Increases in traffic congestion levels could be as much as 25% on some roads.

The 20% increase in the City’s population – over just 20 years – has never been effectively explained or challenged by Councillors. The effect that such high growth rates will have, on the character of the City, is considerable.

Many fewer people have responded to the Councils latest consultation than previous exercises.

Residents now have “consultation overload” and are fed up with raising the same issues time and time again without receiving any convincing response from the authorities.

Lowfields – Plan to build on sports pitches

A prime example is the campaign to conserve the playing field and sports pitches at Lowfields. 80% of respondents oppose the Councils plan to develop the field, yet their views are being ignored.

The stage is now held by vested interests.

Land owner, developers and their agents are squabbling over the available cake. Large profits depend on the outcome of the Local Plan deliberations

There will be a final period of is=consultation shortly. The results of the consultation will then be placed before an independent inspector at an “Examination in Public”.

That will give ordinary residents an opportunity to air their views in what should be an impartial forum.


Councils traffic projections Jan 2018

York Council criticised for Lowfields decisions

Lowfields Green – Unimaginative layout

The “Save Lowfields Playing Field Action Group” are rightly unhappy this morning. https://www.facebook.com/LowfieldsActionGroup/

They have criticised the quality of analysis which preceded the councils decision yesterday to form a development company which may be used to build on the Lowfields playing fields.

The Council also decided to back financially the provision of football pitches at Bishopthorpe although these are too far away to be relevant to the leisure needs that already exist and those of the 350 new residents that the Lowfields development will attract.

Many of the  pkanned hiomes will be for private rent. They will not be added to the Councils housing revenue account and so will not be subject to “right to buy”. However private rent levels are high.

Typically a 3 bedroomed house in the Lowfields area would cost around £800 a month in rent payments. 

The Action Group rightly point out that the decision is not only risky for taxpayers but also premature because the planning application for the site has not yet been considered.

The Lowfields scheme has been criticised by local residents for providing an inadequate amount of open space and for the cramped and unimaginative layout design.

NB. Both Liberal Democrat and Labour candidates in the 20-15 Council elections promised to conserve the Lowfields playing fields and restricted development to the built footprint of the old school.



Council aims to make £3 million profit by building and selling houses on Lowfields playing fields

Lowfields playing field development – decisions expected on Thursday

Lowfields Green – Controversial development to be debated on Thursday

Despite no planning permission having been granted for the proposed development of the playing fields at Lowfields, the York Councils Executive will debate on Thursday how construction work will be funded.

We have already commented on the bizarre claim that a new football pitch, being established near Bishopthorpe, will in some way compensate for the loss of pitches at Lowfields.

December 2016 report extract

Another report on the Executive agenda addresses how the Council can fund its Lowfields plan. It intends to use a new Housing Development Company (HDC) to undertake the work.

The report refers to a previous meeting in December 2016 (right)  when the decision was taken to sell off the site for £4.5 million. At that time the Executive also decided to ask for reports on how health facilities, a police depot and football facilities could be provided. Of these, only the report on football pitches has been forthcoming.

The new report claims that in July 2017 “66% of people who provided feedback gave support the plans”. The report fails to mention that the Council consultation didn’t offer the opportunity for residents to object to the development of the playing field. Most of the favourable comments – as they are with the current planning application – came from people living outside the area who were lobbied to support the “communal build” section of the development (which will not be located on the playing field).

The report makes other contentious claims.

It says using the Councils HDC will reduce the time that builders will be on site.  The Council has no control over how long self-builders, the community builders, the Health centre, the care home and police builders will be on site. None of these uses is included in the detailed planning application.

The Councils claim of a 30-month development period is therefore highly optimistic.

They hope to start building towards the end of 2018.

The report also lauds the “6,434 sq. metres of public open space” being provided.

Currently there is 33,150 metres of usable green space on the site. The new design includes a, so called, “pocket park” which is little more than a wide grass verge while the usable part of the “village green“ is little bigger that the existing green space at the junction of Lowfields Drive and Dijon Avenue

However, the main concern for most taxpayers will be the plan to borrow an additional £9 million to fund building work. The Council already has a total debt of over £357m (including £139m historic council housing debt).

Around 13% of residents Council Tax payments are used to pay interest charges. This is set to increase to 14% next year.

The development (houses and infrastructure) will cost £25 million.

The Council hopes to sell houses for £28 million, making a £3 million profit.

York Council set to become City’s largest PRIVATE landlord

Lowfields Green – “pack em in” approach to housing development?

Not content with being the largest provider of affordable (Council House) accommodation in the City, the York Council is now considering entering the private rented market.

Under plans to be discussed next week, it would set up a company that would develop homes on land currently owned by the authority. They hope to reinvest the profits from rents, and some house sales, into further developments.

In recent times, Council land has generally been developed by Housing Associations who have rented the properties at little more than the rents charged to Council tenants.

This approach is set to change with the Council now saying it will enter the private rental market.

Private rents in the City are typically three times higher than Council house rents.  Private rent levels in the city have increased by 17% during the last 5 years.

Any private rented properties managed by the Council would not be subject to “Right to Buy” legislation (and hence discounts).

Individual developments would still have to include a planning requirement for at least 20% affordable units. It is possible that the housing revenue account (mainly income from Council House rents) will be used to purchase homes to expand further  the number of affordable units available.

The sites that the Council hopes to develop through a new QUANGO are located at these sites:

  • Former Askham Bar Park and Ride
  • Former Burnholme College
  • Castle Piccadilly,
  • “City Centre car parks”,
  • Former Clifton Without School,
  • Hospital Fields Road/Ordnance Lane,
  • Former Lowfield School,
  • Former Manor School,
  • Tang Hall Library,
  • Woolnough House.

The plan to develop land in the city centre, which is currently used for car parking, may come as a shock. The Council has yet to confirm what its long term policy is on parking space numbers in the city centre, but any reduction is likely to be opposed by beleaguered traders. It is possible that the intention is to add one or two floors above existing car parks. That is an idea that has been floated in the past with mixed reactions.

The inclusion of the other sites may be premature. Particularly so in the case of Lowfields, where a recently submitted planning application has yet to been determined.

Taxpayers face an early blow if the plan is approved.

Investment/return profile

Upfront costs of £450,000 have been identified.  This will mostly be spent on staff.

Ongoing staffing costs of £225,000 a year in the development company are predicted, while forecasts suggest that development costs will not be fully offset by sales income for up to 8 years.

All in all, this is a risky and complex project for the Council to be considering. There will be unease that it is biting off more than it can chew with delays on providing homes the most likely consequence.

  1. In the last couple of years the numbers of new homes built in York has exceeded 1000 – well above draft Local Plan requirements.

Bishopthorpe 1, Westfield 0

2.9 miles from Lowfields to replacement football pitch

The Council is to consider next week a  plan to spend £400,000 providing new football pitches for a team based in Bishopthorpe.

Good luck to “Bishopthorpe White Rose Football Club”. We wish them success.

However the Councils claim that this project will replace the football pitches, on which they hope to build, at Lowfields is complete “tosh”

The Tadcaster Road site (behind the London Bridge Service Station) is 3 miles from Lowfields. There is simply no way that Lowfields residents – old or new – would regard Sim Balk Lane as a convenient alternative for any kind of local leisure facility.

The truth of the matter is that the Bishopthorpe Football Club’s needs have grown over the years and they have (rightly) approached the Council for help. It is a coincidence that the Lowfields project came along at the same time.

The Council is being duplicitous in linking the two projects.

If a section Section 106 contribution towards sports facilities is available, then the £400,000 should be spent in the Westfield area. Last year, when the Executive first hatched its plan, they were talking about providing the current users of the pitches (Woodthorpe Wanderers) with new facilities. That idea seems to have been quietly forgotten.

Better still, the Council should leave the existing Lowfields pitches alone. Such a decision would be in line with the decision taken at the last Executive meeting which agreed to review open space provision in the City.

The plot hatched by Council officials is aimed at persuading Sport England to remove their blocking objection to the current Lowfields Planning application.

The Executive is also due to consider borrowing around £9 million to build houses on the Lowfields site(!) More about this later.


Now Drainage Board highlights Lowfields playing field development issues

click to view complete letter

According to the “Save Lowfields Playing Field Action Groups Facebook page the Ainsty Internal Drainage Board is unhappy with the Council’s plans to develop the playing field.

The Drainage Board comments come a few days after Sport England recorded a formal (holding) objection to the plans. Sport England say that the Council proposed alternative football pitch location (Sim Balk Lane) is unconvincing with any facility there likely to be used mainly by Bishopthorpe.

Lowfields Green – a candidate for the least imaginative architecture award?

Concerns about water run off rates, from what is currently a self draining grassed field, are not unexpected.

A glace at the Council unimaginative serried rows of new houses (see left) as well as offering little streetscape relief, have minimal green space provision.

Sport England objection

Hard surfaces increase water run off rates and neighbouring properties could be adversley affected.

Hopefully the Council will now withdraw its proposals and come with something that not only increases the availability of homes in the area but also addresses some endemic failings.

Not least amongst these are the lack of open space and sports pitches in the Westfield ward.

One of the consequences of poor leisure and other public services is that life expectancy in the area is significantly below the Citywide average