Housing numbers still a guessing game… Green Belt threatened by Tory plans

Last minute policy flip tory

The final York Council meeting last week approved a Tory motion covering the vexed question of how much land should be reserved for house building over the next 20 years.

There have been many different house building predictions floated over the last four years.

The final decision of the Liberal Democrat led Council was to approve a Council Plan allocating space for 575 additional homes a year.  These would all have been built on sites which either already had planning permission or on “brownfield” previously developed sites. The Plan assumed that 10% of sites would be “windfalls” – sites like the former Press building which unexpectedly became available for residential development.

That Plan was later jettisoned by a new Labour administration that by 2012 had come up with a figure of between 1200 and 1400 homes per year. This was far beyond the natural growth of the City (homes for existing York residents) with 80% of the 40,000 new homes likely to be occupied by inward migrants.

Most of the homes were to have been built on Green Belt land.

Big City small

It led to a public outcry with residents launching an “Our City, not Big City” campaign.

Eventually in October 2014 the Labour Leadership was forced to resign and their Draft Local Plan numbers were abandoned.

However the new Council to be elected on May 7th will need to adopt a new Local Plan. With the latest  ONS figures painting a very different picture of housing need in the City, the Conservatives were right to say that much lower house building numbers were now justified.

However their web site paints a confused picture.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

On it they talk about a need to build 830 additional homes per year. That amounts to 16,600 additional houses during the next 20 years, and means the City would expand in size by 21% by 2035. Over 50% of the new homes would be likely to be occupied by inward migrants.

It appears that some Councillors have misunderstood the latest ONS population projections.

The latest figures say that York would have a natural population growth of 19,000 people between 2014 and 2030. This generates a demand for 540 extra homes each year.  

Anything above that figure caters for (in many peoples view unsustainable) economic growth

So it looks like the Tories are now also planning a “Big City” growth plan. Inevitably this would mean building on large parts of the Green Belt.

NB Over 50% of new planning permissions are currently being given for “windfall sites” All are “brownfield”

On average, over the last three years, 382 new homes per year have been built in York

Council House sales to be banned in York?

The present York Council had its final meeting last week. Predictably there were some desperate attempts to remedy the omissions of the last 4 years.

Policy flip

Labour proposed that Council house sales in the City should be halted. They lurched back to a position which cost them the control of the York Council as long ago as 1973.

Since then both Conservative (Thatcher) and Labour (Blair/Brown) governments have supported Council house sales. The present coalition government – largely at the insistence of the Tories – extended the maximum discount available to  tenants to £70,000.
However, they also dealt with some long running issues which restricted a Councils ability to reinvest the money made from sales into new Council homes.

The York Council has made little use of the flexibility. It has accumulated a £15 million surplus on its housing account…and this despite the continued decline in investment in York’s Council estates.

The coalition government also now allows Councils to retain all the money that it takes in rents. The previous Labour government had creamed off any “surplus” and transferred it to subsidise tenants in other parts of the country.

Estate maintenance stadards falling in York

Estate maintenance stadards falling in York

The York Council now has much more flexibility than it used to have, although housing rent income may still only be used for “housing purposes”.  The income cannot, for example, be used to reduce Council Tax levels or raise public service standards like road repairs.

The supporters of the change to the housing sales rules say that it would address the widening gap between private sector rents and earnings in the City.

In fact until very recently, house prices – which influence rent levels – had been stable since 2008.

Given the relatively low level of sales (122 sold since 2011, out of a stock of over 8000) we doubt a sales freeze would make much difference anyway.

One the face of it, the level of discounts given to purchasers could be determined locally. After all, each local authority area has different characteristics. 

But there are too many Councils, including York, which are in the hands of hard line politicians who care little about the views of ordinary people. In 2011 we ended up with an uncompromising Labour administration who had gained the support of only 40% of the electorate.

In a separate debate the present Council refused to sanction a return to a committee system for making decisions. This traditional British system allowed all viewpoints to be aired before decisions were taken.

Until change of this sort is agreed, then it would be difficult for any democrat to argue that more decisions, of the type which affect people’s everyday lives, should be delegated if they are to be determined, behind closed doors, by dogmatic party puppets.

There is little chance that any government will suspend Council House sales. The York Council’s move was window-dressing.

But its failure to build only 37 new Council houses during the last 4 years, most definitely will be a factor that influences many residents voting intentions on 7th May

Bin tax petition getting good doorstep support.

The petition opposing the introduction of a £35 green bin emptying tax – and opposing any move to 3 or 4 weekly emptying frequencies – has gathered hundreds of signatures on the doorstep in west York.

The on-line version will be available on the Council’s web site until 30th March and will then be suspended during the Council election run up.

click to download

click to download

 However it will be available again from 8th May. Residents can sign it by clicking here

Meanwhile the City of York Council is reminding residents of a number of changes to the waste and recycling service this Spring.

These include:

  • A reminder that this year’s garden waste collections start from Monday (March 30):
    Residents can look up collections or download a 2015 rubbish and recycling calendar at www.york.gov.uk/refuselookup
  • Residents are asked to ensure their bins are presented by 7am on the day of their collection, but no earlier than 7pm the evening before.
  • Ahead of the new collection season, households with more than one green wheeled bin can subscribe to the additional green bin scheme which operates during the usual garden waste season.   
  • From 1 April, the charge will be £37 per additional green bin that residents would like emptied.  To find out more about the additional bin subscription scheme visit www.york.gov.uk/recycling.
  • To join the additional bin scheme, and have more than one bin emptied, call 01904 551551 or ‘apply for it’ via the secure website at www.york.gov.uk/DoItOnline
  • Changes to the price of disposing of certain items at Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRC) from 1 April:
    For items such as bricks/rubble, gas bottles, plasterboard and bonded asbestos, visit the website here for a full list of prices, or ask a member of staff on-site.

FREE compost giveaway 2015 dates announced:

In partnership with Yorwaste, compost is available every Sunday from 19 April to 20 September (except for Bank Holiday weekends) at the Harewood Whin site, which is open from 8am to 1pm.

Anyone wishing to take advantage of the giveaway just need to turn up, and bring a shovel and a suitable bag or container to put the soil improver in.

Home composting is also a great way to manage garden waste at home and provide nutrient rich compost for gardens. Visit www.getcomposting.com for further information.

Residents can also recycle their additional garden waste at Hazel Court and Towthorpe Household Waste Recycling Centres free of charge in a car. Residents using larger vehicles or trailers will need to apply for permits to use the sites.

Follow @CYCWaste on Twitter, or like CYCWaste on Facebook.

Care improvements available in York from 1st April

Health and social care partners across York are asking people to find out what the new national care reforms will mean for them as the significant reform across social care – the first in over 60 years – comes into effect from 1st April.

The key changes are:

1.   Carers will have expanded rights to assessment and to council support. This change puts carers on the same footing as those they care for, allowing them to get the support they need for themselves. This could be practical support like being able to take a break from caring responsibilities or they may be entitled to a direct payment to spend on things that will make it easier to carry on caring.

2.   The changes will introduce a new national eligibility threshold, providing peace of mind that wherever you live in the country, or plan to move to within England, if your needs meet the threshold, you will be eligible for support. This new eligibility threshold has already been adapted in York.

3.   Deferred payment agreements will become available across the country meaning that people should not have to sell their home in their lifetime to fund their care costs. In York, the new legislation will strengthen the existing arrangements.

Guy Van Dichele, Director of Adult Social Care, City of York Council says: “We are committed to working with partners to support local people with their needs for care and support. We’re confident that the changes we are making will enable more people to get the help they need, whether that’s a carer who needs a break from caring or someone who may be able to move to a care home without having to undergo the stress of selling their home.”

A Department of Health spokesperson says: “Care and support is something that nearly everyone in this country will experience at some point in their lives. These changes – the most significant in over 60 years – will make the system fairer by putting the needs, wishes and goals of people, and their carers, at the heart of every care decision.”

For more information on the Care Act visit www/york.gov.uk/careact

York Community Stadium clears another hurdle… survey boost for Knights fans

The York Planning Committee has today approved the latest plans to build a Community Stadium at Huntington.

The decision comes 5 years after an agreement was reached on how a new stadium could be funded.

Community Stadium Nov 2014

The decision was expected following a recommendation for Council officials that the plans should be approved. Outline planning permission had been granted in 2012 and the full Council had, last October, accepted a new financial package which included the provision of more retail floor-space.

The new plans did, however, lead to the closure of Waterworld with the future of the Yearsley pool also placed in jeopardy.

There were surprisingly few objections from other retailers to the new plans while concerns about traffic and parking arrangements were also muted.

The plans will now be put to the Secretary of State. He could decide to “call in” the plans. With the present Parliament due to be dissolved on Monday prior to the General Election, it is likely to be June before any decision on the referral is made.

History may record that the most difficult times for the project have yet to come.

A deal with rugby is essential if the stadium asset is to be fully exploited (and business plan income achieved). There were also some awkward conditions imposed in the original planning application which have yet to be satisfied.

A solution to the Yearsley pool issue will be one of the first issues on the new Councils agenda when it too meets for the first time in June.

Then there is the ambitious 12 month building timetable. As we have said before, we doubt if a stadium could be completed for the start of the 2016 football season; but we hope we are proved to be wrong.

The less complicated project plan – agreed 5 years ago – would have been implemented by now.

We would have a stadium with both football and rugby being played there.

It remains to be seen whether the delays have been worthwhile.

Boost for Knights

York Knights

In a survey undertaken by Liberal Democrats on thee west of the City residents were asked whether they agreed with following statement

” The Council should ensure that the Knights rugby team are able play matches at the new community stadium”

  • 70% agreed
  • 10% disagreed
  • 20% were undecided.

Boyes Acomb announce opening date … as Conlans Bistro launches new menu

Boyes store to open in 17th April

Boyes store to open in 24th April

Boyes new store on Front Street Acomb is scheduled to open on 24th April. It will bring a further boost to the shopping area and – coupled with the plan to being storage space in the adjacent building back into use as apartments – will reduce the amount of vacant floor-space on the street.

Across the street popular Bistro Conlans has launched a new menu and special offers for customers using the restaurant on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. They are advertising weekly “specials” on Twitter @ConlansAcomb

Conlans launch new spring menu. click to enlarge

Conlans launch new spring menu. click to enlarge

Latest Planning applications Dringhouses and Woodthorpe Ward

Big changes planned at Tadcaster Road service station

London Bridge service station

London Bridge service station

Below are the latest planning applications received by the York Council for the Dringhouses and Woodthorpe ward.

Full details can be found by clicking the application reference

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Location:       London Bridge Filling Station 235 Tadcaster Road Dringhouses York YO23 2UB

Proposal:       Proposed redevelopment of existing petrol filling station including extension to forecourt shop, formation of parking spaces and ancillary changes to forecourt

Ref No: 15/00429/FUL

Applicant:      Rontec Service Station 1A Limited

Contact Miss Isla Longmuir

Consultation Expiry Date        13 April 2015

Case Officer:   Heather Fairy   Expected Decision Level DEL

———————–

Location:       3 Nelsons Lane York YO24 1HD

Proposal:       Prune 2no. trees in a Conservation Area

Ref No: 15/00574/TCA

Applicant:      Miss Roxanne Shipley

Consultation Expiry Date        13 April 2015

Case Officer:   Esther Priestley        Expected Decision Level

————–

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/

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

Social care payments made easier

City of York Council Adult Social Care customers will find it simpler and easier to pay for their care and support services in the future.

In line with new social care legislation – The Care Act 2014 – which becomes law on 1 April, the council has made some changes to the way that it supports people with the funds they receive for care and support.

Residents who receive direct payments – money from the council that they use to pay for their care and support directly – will have it paid into a prepaid account called Cash Plus from 1 April. They can then use the Cash Plus account like a normal current account to pay for the support they need.

The new arrangements mean that the vast majority of social care customers receiving direct payments will use the Cash Plus account, rationalising previous arrangements, though some flexibility will still be available.

Michael Melvin, Interim Assistant Director of Adult Social Care, City of York Council, said: “Directs Payments help to give people more control over their care and support and the new arrangements will make the system simpler and easier for them to use.”

No decision on Oliver House sale before June

…as York Council slides further into debt

According to The Press the York Council leadership has now said that the tenders received for the sale of Oliver House will not be considered until a new Council “Cabinet” has its first meeting in June.

Oliver House York

The former elderly person’s home has been empty for over 2 years.

We reported last week that an unexpectedly high £3.2 million bid, which would see 30 specialist older persons apartments provided on the site, had been deferred by the Council Leader.

Now it turns out that the sale will be delayed until the new Council, being elected on 7th May, has had time to sort out its new committees.

How long the offers will remain on the table remains to be seen.

Council debts spiralling

The full impact of the Councils financial management polices is becoming clearer. A freedom of information response has revealed a spiralling mountain of debt.

Capital debts - click to enlarge

Capital debts – click to enlarge

The response reveals that, since the Liberal Democrats lost control of the Council in May 2011, the Council has been borrowing heavily.  

The debt charges (interest payments) are partly responsible for the cuts that Labour are making to front line services.

Part of the debt increase was due to a transfer of historic housing debt to the City but this was coupled with a decision to allow all rents collected to be retained and used to service the interest payments.

The present Council also has several major projects in the pipeline which could add to the debt burden.

They include the conversion of the Guildhall into a media centre (£9 million) as well as funding a bridge into the York central site (£11 million).

The Council will also have to find several million to fund a replacement elderly care building programme following the abandonment of the care village project last month.

There is no excuse for any delay in selling Oliver House to the highest bidder.

Legally the Council has no other option