Gale Lane flats plan grows larger

A committee will decide whether to agree to a proposal to provide 8 flats and 2 bungalows on the site of 61A Gale Lane.

While the redevelopment of the site has been on the cards for several years the developers plans have grown over the years.

In 2017 planning permission was granted for 5 apartments plus a pair of bungalows.

A year later and this had grown to 7 apartments plus the bungalows.

The latest revision would see an even larger development.

One of the main areas of objection is likely to be traffic generation with additional vehicle movements adding to those being generated by the adjacent “Lowfield Green” development.

Residents wishing to object to the plans can do so at the planning committee meeting (click) which takes place on Thursday 20th August.

Further objections can be registered through the Councils on line portal https://planningaccess.york.gov.uk/online-applications/ quoting Reference 20/00494/FULM &/or by email to  planning.comments@york.gov.uk

British Sugar Site

Much of the British Sugar development site on Boroughbridge Road has now been levelled. It remains unclear when construction of the long delayed homes will start.

In the meantime one resident has commented that some of the trees on the site – scheduled for retention because they provide a wildlife habitat – seem to have disappeared. The Council has been asked to investigate.

The old Manor school site does not seem to have been affected,.

Sparks set to fly over Spark decision

There has been an angry response to the planning committees decision to extend the planning permission for the Spark container village on Piccadilly. They agreed to a 2 year extension although the government was only suggesting a 12 month, post COVID-19, relaxation.

A prominent local architect Matthew Laverack has now written to the media to criticise the decision (right).

It has been claimed that some members did not declare an interest in the application despite close contacts with the applicants. Several are believed to be customers of the establishment. Some had made representations in favour of an extension of the lease on the site while others were executive members covered by the code of collective responsibility.

This has prompted allegations of cronyism and a complaint has been lodged under the Councillors “code of conduct.” It is likely that the investigation into any such complaints would take months to resolve. Spark will be able to continue to trade in the interim, provided that they adhere to the terms of the planning consent and fulfil the requirements of the proposed lease extension.

Spark have yet to make any net rent or profit share payments. When last published, some business rates payments were also outstanding. The businesses modest contribution had not even covered the costs to the taxpayer of providing services to the site.

 In 2016 Spark had forecast a surplus of £213,000 on operations over a 3 year period.

Cllr Nigel Ayre agreed at a meeting which took place on 14th February to renew the Spark lease for 2 years. However, in the light of the large number of complaints from residents and the failure of Spark to make payments to the Council, several conditions were imposed (see left) .

The current lease has ended so the business is operating on a “tenancy at will”.  

Taxpayers will be looking very closely over the next few weeks to see whether all the lease conditions have been fulfilled.

If not then the site will need to be cleared.

Even if only used for car parking, it would at least bring in an income for the  Council. It could provide, in what are difficult times, accessible spaces which could benefit other City centre small traders not least those operating in the Shambles market. .

Sadly the impending recession means that the opportunity to permanently redevelop the Piccadilly site for the benefit of the City may have passed the Council by for now at least.

Some good news on Moor Lane development

The planning inspector has turned down an appeal which could have seen a large number of houses built on land near Moor Lane in Woodthorpe.

The plan had been refused by the York Planning Committee.

There were concerns that the development would have adversely impacted on the nearby Askham Bog nature reserve.

Moor Lane development proposal rejected by planning inspector.

Full decision notice can be read by clicking here

Council must get to grips with planning system

Today’s announcement of a plan to build on greenbelt land between Acomb and Poppleton highlights the problems that lockdown is bringing for the planning system in the City.

An application for a major new development on Boroughbridge Road has been submitted.

The Councils Local Plan never got beyond the preliminary stages of a hearing in public before restrictions caused proceedings to be suspended.  

As so much of the Plan depends on – now impossibly unrealistic – assumptions about economic growth and the demand for extra housing that will bring not surprisingly some objectors are calling for a new plan to be developed.

But that would leave the City without a basis on which to judge individual applications for a period of 5 years or longer. It would also involve enormous cost which the taxpayer can ill afford. It isn’t even certain when revised ONS population figures could be published reflecting what is now called he “new normal”.

The “new normal” won’t be clear for at least a year.

Against that background, some developers are spotting the main chance and seeking to exploit the chaos in the planning system. Losing large chunks of the Green Belt to avarice would be a disaster for the City.

The Council only has itself to blame. They bounced their own Lowfields development – much of which is being built on playing fields – through the system before it could be subject to a proper public inquiry. The Council may, therefore, find it difficult to defend its position, if significant numbers of appeals are lodged against planning applications even if they have been rejected locally.

This also raises the issue of the role of the planning committee.

At least on “meeting” of the committee will be held later this month (21st May at 10.30am) to consider an application at the hospital. Many of its members will not be allowed to participate in what will be a “remote” meeting.

Instead what the Council terms a proportional sample will make decisions (Cllrs (Cullwick, Chair, Pavlovic, Vice Chair,  Ayre, Hollyer, Perrett, Kilbane and D’Agorne). The “proportion is based on the relative strength of the political parties represented on the Council. However planning decisions should not be determined by party political priorities. Each application should be judged on its merits.

Several Conservative and Independent members are therefore being excluded from the process, ostensibly on the basis that the more who log in the greater the risk of technical failure.

It may be that the hospital application will prove to be uncontroversial. The only outstanding application is for  the erection of vascular imaging unit on Wigginton Road. The application was submitted last August. The only significant issue appears to relate to drainage.

But there are other controversial proposals in the pipeline. The Acomb/Poppleton proposals may be the tip of the iceberg.

A more inclusive way of making decisions is required.

NB. We were sorry to learn of the passing recently of Rachel Macefield who was the lead planning officer for the Council on the York Local Plan. Our condolences to her family and friends.

Housing reform proposals get mixed response in York

The government have published proposals which could see significant changes in the way that homes are planned and delivered in York. click

Government paper March 2020

The proposals include plans to make better use of brownfield (previously developed) land and a requirement for all local authorities to have an approved Local Plan.

One aspect, that has attracted local criticism, is the paragraph covering the introduction of “new rules to encourage building upwards, increasing density in line with local character and make the most of local infrastructure”. Permitted development rights (PDR) would be extended to allow residential blocks to be increased by up to two storeys. Some have claimed that this might affect views of The Minster. Indeed, it might, particularly if the proposals are applied to conservation areas and local PDRs have not already been restricted by the local Council.

That does need to be clarified before changes are published later in the year.

But the White Paper also includes some positive messages.

March 2020
Barbican development site

As well as plans to make better use of brownfield land, the paper says it will ensure land allocated for housing is built on. That will ring a bell with some who regularly walk past derelict sites like that next the Barbican. It has had planning permission for homes for over 5 years.

Many will also feel sympathy for the proposal to improve security for tenants by abolishing the use of ‘no fault evictions’. The papers says, “that tenants can put down roots in their communities and plan for their long-term future”.

Local amenity organisations will surely welcome proposals to revise the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to embed the principles of good design and placemaking – “this will make clear that high-quality buildings and places must be considered throughout the planning process”?

Another commitment is for urban tree planting and giving communities a greater opportunity to influence design standards in their area. “This will put tree lined streets at the centre of future plans, so that they become the norm not the exception”

The government plans to give local authorities the ability to ensure that new homes conform to “local residents’ ideas of beauty” through the planning system. “Using the National Model Design Code, we will set out clear parameters for promoting the design and style of homes and neighbourhoods local people want to see. We will ask local places to produce their own design guides and codes, informed by listening to local people and considering local context”.

There is more than a whiff of centralised control about the paper and, of course, the actual implementation of ideas often proves illusive.

The world and the City may in any event look very different in 6 months time.

But there is still something to be positive about in the White Paper

York Council’s longest empty property Ashbank set to be sold.

Council report on empty property avoids any comment on its own poor performance

The planning committee yesterday approved plans which would see the former Council offices at Ashbank on Shipton Road converted into apartments.

Ashbank has been empty since 2013.

The news comes a few days before a report on empty property in the City is due to be discussed by the Council’s Executive.

It follows claims in 2018 that the City had a relatively large number of empty properties. At the time that seemed – given local land and property prices – unlikely but the Council agreed to review the issue. The review wasn’t aimed at bringing unused space (e.g. floors above shops) into use but rather focused on those properties where empty property tax relief was being claimed.

Last September the Council increased the Council Tax liability on long term empty homes to 300%.

National statistics confirm that York has the second lowest level of empty homes in the country (after Oxford).

The Council claims that it has helped to bring back in to use 45 long term empty properties, through advice and assistance, since April 2017.

An audit of properties shown as empty on the Council tax database found that 43% of those visited so far are either occupied or about to be occupied.

Only 150 (27%) of properties visited were found to be empty. Nearly half of these empty homes were undergoing refurbishment, currently up for sale or let or awaiting site redevelopment.

 In only 10% of the cases (15 properties) the owner appeared to have no immediate plans to bring the property back in to use.

One unintended consequence of the audit may be that some owners, who have been claiming empty property tax relief, may find that they now receive a substantial bill.

The report pointedly fails to mention the Councils own housing stock. Leaving aside delays in re-letting Council houses, the list of empty properties owned by the Council – which includes some residential homes – clearly merits further investigation.

Whether the Council’s Executive will order a probe into their own performance will become clear at next Thursday’s meeting

Comparisons
Reasons property unoccupied

5G masts in York

Applications are starting to come in for new mobile phone masts in parts of York. They will support the new 5G network that is being rolled out.

We understand that many will involve the upgrade of existing equipment.

Only one case has so far been referred to the planning committee. It concerns a proposed mast to be located in Naburn Lane.

The application seeks permission for the replacement of an existing 11.7m high monopole telecommunications mast with a 20m high tower and associated cabinets.

The site is in the Green Belt. Officials are recommending approval at a meeting next week.

The application does, however, raise the broader issue of how many new masts may be required in the York area and crucially how high they might be.

Last year the government threatened to remove Councils powers to vet applications. They hoped that this would speed up the process of rolling out the new network

While the new masts could be twice as high as those provided for 4G coverage, the main impact is likely to be on rural areas.

At present little information has been made available to York residents. All we have are national  background briefings.

A BBC article last year reacted to forecasts of hundreds of new masts being required.

We think that the Council should tell residents what to expect, where and when as the 5G revolution gathers pace

Controversy over plan to turn elderly persons flat into office

Council officials are recommending to a Planning committee meeting next week, that a flat in the Gale Farm Court sheltered accommodation building – which is provided for the use of elderly residents – be converted into a housing office.

Officials claim that it is the only “rent free” option available them in Acomb. Currently they rent a room at the Gateway Centre (and the Foxwood Community Centre).

Gale Farm Court. Plan to convert flat into office

Acomb lost its housing office about 8 years ago. That was a bad move, which prompted a divide between housing managers and the largest concentration of social tenants in the City.

 It had been intended to provide a replacement as part of a “one stop shop” extension to the Acomb library but that project stalled. Land to the rear of the library had been purchased by the Council but has remained derelict for over 10 years.

Officials have promised to revive the Acomb Library plan as part of a £2 million refurbishment project. However senior managers ion the housing department say they can’t wait for that work to be competed

At a time when the largest number of people on the housing waiting list are those requiring one bedroomed accommodation, it seems illogical to take an existing home out of use.

The office could be in use 12 hours a day and it could prove to be a difficult neighbour for the several dozen elderly people who live on the site.

There is also a concern about car parking. Official calm that users will walk to the office but experience elsewhere suggests that this may not be the case.

Cllr Andrew Waller is the local Councillor leading the call for a rethink. He is right to do so.

There is empty property In the Front Street pedestrian area which could be rented until a permanent new location for a Council office can be found. Any increase in footfall in the main shopping area would be welcomed by both traders and residents.  

Appropriating scarce residential accommodation is not the right solution for the Councils office problem.