York Council sold land to “Yorspace” without affordable homes conditions

A response to a Freedom of Information request has revealed that the Council DID NOT require, that the land it sold at Lowfields to the “Yorspace” commune, must be used to provide affordable housing.

The land was sold for £300,000 – approximately 50% below its open market value.

A smaller plot of land at the other end of the Lowfields school site is currently being marketed for offers over £400,000.

The discounted sale  decision was taken in private by a Council official.

The Council claims that they had an independent valuation made on the site. They don’t say on what basis they discounted the value.

They did, however, depend on  Section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972 to dispose of the land at below market value. It was assumed – but not transparently recorded in the decision notice – that this was to facilitate the provision of more affordable housing.

This assumption was brought into question when a Council Housing Officer said, in response to Yorspace’s planning application to build 19 units on the 0.785 acre site, that the new homes could not be counted as “affordable”

The FOI response goes on to say, “This valuation was for a plot of land for community build housing with utility connections and a road to the edge of the site. Therefore, the price to be paid by Yorspace includes an allowance for infrastructure works. Yorspace will be paying for the construction of the car parking bays which are within their proposed red line ownership boundary”.

 “Any areas of road and parking will belong to Yorspace and it will be   their responsibility to maintain this. However, the public footpath in this area is likely to become adopted highway and therefore maintained by the council”.

Clearly there are “smoke and mirrors”  aspects to this transaction which will require the attention of the Auditors.

Another option for the Council would have been to develop the site itself to provide 19 more Council homes. The homes could then have been let direct to those on the housing waiting list. The Council has more freedom now to borrow to fund new Council homes.

NB. Despite some new builds, “Right to Buy” applications have seen the Council housing stock in York reduce from 7728 in 2016 to 7617 two years later.

Busy week for the York planning committee

Big planning decisions in York

York Central

York Central

The largest proposal concerns the land to the rear of the railway station. Known as “York Central” redevelopment of the area has been on the cards for nearly two decades. It has finally reached the planning application stage. The report recommends that the plans be forwarded to the Secretary of State for endorsement. The plans have attracted some opposition, but the economic and social welfare of the City depends on making some progress on the site now. Hopefully some of the ill judged ideas such as having only one-way traffic through the Marble Arch tunnel can be changed at a later stage.

Lowfields

‘dozer wrecks playing field

There is already a lot of local disquiet about the way that the Council are implementing their plans for this area. Many of the comments on the “Save Lowfields Playing Field” Facebook page are from disgruntled local residents who, even at this early stage, point to conflicts between lorries and parked cars, muddy roads and the ripping out of trees and hedges.

They are asking that the new parking spaces promised for Tudor Road be constructed before the existing parking lay-by is lost as an access road is constructed.

Yorspace proposed development plan, Lowfields

Further along the road, the Yorspace” application has been heavily criticised by local residents. The main concerns related to the lack of affordable units proposed on the site, the impact on the natural environment including inappropriate boundary treatments, security concerns relating to the adjacent public snicket access to little Tudor Road, the proposal to remove the railings which protect adjacent properties,  inadequate car parking provision  and the impact that overspill parking by residents, families and visitors could have on neighbouring streets and the height of the buildings.

Council officials have revealed that they have approved 5 outstanding conditions, for activities on the building site, despite several objections.

Lincoln Court

Lincoln Court.

The Council has made an embarrassing series of mistakes on the proposal to extend this independent living building. Even now they have published papers which imply (wrongly) that the new apartments  will be classified as “Extra Care” units. It has had plenty of time to clarify that issue.

There is some hope now that the future of the adjacent games area will be secured. Local Councillors are understood to have taken the initiative to discuss moving the facility to the local rugby club ground. If so, that would be a good solution to a problem which has also raised concerns from Sport England, and the resident’s association.

Other applications

All applications are recommended for approval

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.

 

 

Lowfields and commune housing

The Lowfields Playing Field Action Group have recorded an objection to plans to build 19 “communal living” homes on the Lowfields site. Although the Action Group states that it has no “in principle” objection to the development of this part of the site (they are mainly concerned about the loss of the nearby sports field and green open space) they have highlighted several issues.

One of these was a “behind closed doors” decision – only just published by the Council – to sell off 0.7 acres of land, to the “Yorspace” developers, for only £300,000. That would mean a plot cost of around £15,000 – far below the market value. A typical housing plot is that part of the City is currently fetching in excess of £50,000.

The decision was taken by a Council officer.

The papers to support he decision are very thin on detail. The Council can only legally sell at below market value if it can demonstrate that a lower priced sale “will facilitate the improvement of economic, environmental or social well-being of the area“.

Apparently the official was convinced that the shared ownership model being proposed would ensure that a continuing supply of low cost housing would result from the development.

But will it?

The papers don’t suggest that those who will occupy the homes, are required to be registered on the housing waiting list. There is no maximum income level mentioned for shareholders. There doesn’t seem to be any requirement for the investors to be York citizens or even UK residents.

As the homes turn over, it is unclear how investors in later years will be selected.

Housing subsidies are a controversial area. A more straight forward option would simply to have built more Council houses on the site (The Council’s housing debt ceiling has recently been lifted by the government).

But this is clearly an area where full transparency is needed. This would ensure that innovative house funding and ownership models are encouraged, while safeguarding the taxpayer’s interests. Sadly it appears that no York Councillor has had the wit or wisdom to press for all the facts to be made public.

The Action Group has also highlighted concerns about parking provision, security and nature conservation issues on the plans which can be viewed by clicking here

Lowfields Action Group planning objection Feb 2019

 

Secret land deal at “Lowfields Green”

The Council has revealed that it has done a deal to sell 0.74 acres of land to Yorspace at the Lowfield school site.

The land is located next to Tudor Road and is expected to accommodate a high-density development of 19 houses and flats. The communal living style model involves people purchasing shares in a “Mutual Home Ownership Society”.

A report, made public only after a decision had been taken says, “It is a high-density development, to reflect its sustainable objectives, and will also include a community building which can be used for events, as well as some shared outdoor communal areas and growing spaces. As part of the groups green objectives, they are aiming for around 1-1.5 parking spaces per house. The site will be constructed using a variety of environmentally friendly materials and processes, possibly including straw bale and solar”.

The report also says, “As part of the agreement they may also take on the management of the growing spaces and some green areas of the Lowfield site and will run them for the wider community’s benefit”.

The council is refusing to say how much the land will be sold for nor will it say what the market value of the land is.

It is clear that a substantial discount has been negotiated.

It appears that the Council is not stipulating that the plots should be reserved for use by  local people with a proven need for cheap accommodation (e.g. on the housing waiting list &/or key workers).

Yorspace plans

The Council has already changed its plans for the relocation of the football team which currently uses the Lowfields playing field.

In December, they were supposed to be relocated to Tadcaster Road. Last month the Council said they were considering fencing off Chesneys Field to accommodate them.

That announcement produced a barrage of opposition from the current users of Chesneys Field.

Residents opposed fencing the public open space by a ratio of 3:1 in a recent door to door survey.

The decision to sell off the land to Yorspace  was taken last week by the Councils Director of Health, Housing and Adult Social Care (Jon Stonehouse), at a private, behind closed doors, meeting.

There was no consultation with affected residents before the meeting was held.