Complaints about poor housing conditions in York increase to 318

…..but inspectors find only 14 hazards

Housing inspections - click to enlarge

Housing inspections – click to enlarge

Despite complaints about conditions in some privately rented homes in York increasing from 248 in 2012/13 to 318 in 2013/14, inspectors found fewer problems when they visited.

In the most recent year for which figures are available the number of “category 1″ hazards found were (previous year in brackets):

  • Damp and Mould – 2 (1)
  • Excess cold – 6 (17)
  • Overcrowding – 0 (0)
  • Falling hazards – 2 (9)
  • Fire – 4 (4)

Three improvement notices were issued by the Council along with 14 “hazard awareness notices”.

As well as 99 visits to privately rented accommodation, Inspectors visited 63 Houses in Multiple Occupation, 5 socially rented properties and 5 owner occupied homes.

The information was provided by the Council in response to a Freedom of Information request

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

Only 107 new affordable homes completed in York last year

The York Council continues to perform poorly in the provision of affordable homes in York. It has steadfastly refused to buy on the open market despite having a £15 million balance on its housing account.

In total, 345 additional homes were provided in the City during 2013/14. During the first 6 months of 2014/15, 235 homes were provided.

Housing completions 2014

click to enlarge

York Council homes sold under “right to buy”? (New Council homes completed)

  • 2010/11 = 10 (0)
  • 2011/12 = 6 (0)
  • 2012/13 = 24 (19)
  • 2013/14 = 53 (0)
  • 2014/15 (up to 1/12/14) = 39 (18)

Number on housing waiting list.

  • 2010/11 = 3294
  • 2011/12 = 3972
  • 2012/13 = 4692
  • 2013/14 = 2306 (eligibility change)
  • As at 20/01/15 = 1462

Over 2000 planning applications for housing have been approved during the last 18 months, with the vast majority for “brownfield” (previously developed) land

Liberal Democrat housing policy can be read here

Lib Dems call for an extra £500,000 to be spent on York’s estate regeneration

Liberal Democrats are calling for an extra £500,000 to be spent improving the condition of housing estates in York.

Fly tipping little Green Lane garage area

Restoring pride in Council estate environment

The extra funding will be focused on tidying-up communal areas, repairs, improvements to car parking facilities, and a re-launched programme to replace draughty windows.

The move follows concerns from council tenants, falling satisfaction levels with many estate services, and missed performance targets by Labour run City of York Council.

The proposals are part of the Liberal Democrat budget amendment, which will be debated at today’s full Council meeting.

The Lib Dems are calling for an extra £3 million to be put into frontline services such as road repairs, community centres and green bin collections.

The Lib Dem housing move is funded from the council’s Housing Revenue Account (HRA) – a ring-fenced housing account which currently has a surplus of £15 million and is split from the main council budget. Rents are being increased by 2% from April.

Cllr Ann Reid, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Housing, commented:

Verge damage Bramham Road

Dealing with parking issues

“Residents have contacted us concerned about issues such as overgrown weeds, damaged fencing, broken streetlights, littering and dog fouling. Basic services have suffered since 2011 and show Labour’s continued neglect and under-investment in the city’s estates.
“We want to put an extra £500,000 in from the Housing Revenue Account to tackle these issues. This budget is raised from council rent and charges and is there to be used for tenants. There is a substantial surplus and instead of storing money away in reserves the council should be spending more on estate improvements.”

—————–

The Lib Dems would spend £250,000 ‘capital’ from the HRA on improvements to:

a) draughty windows and

b) improved car parking facilities (dropped kerbs/verge crossovers/matrix verge protection outside tenants homes and better car parking facilities in communal areas) and the resurfacing of some car parks.

plus £250,000 ‘revenue’ from the HRA on council house and estate regeneration including the following schemes: 

  • removal of weeds,
  • cutting back overgrown trees and hedges,
  • repairs to communal areas and signs (e.g. dog fouling, no ball games),
  • audit and repair of fencing.

The full Lib Dem amendment will be tabled and debated at Thursday’s Budget Council.

Last July, it was revealed that tenants were less satisfied with where they live and the estate services they receive from the council while key performance targets were missed: www.yorklibdems.org.uk/en/article/2014/0879798/york-tenants-less-satisfied-with-where-they-live-says-new-report

Universal Credit introduced in York

The Government’s Universal Credit scheme is being introduced in York by the Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) from today, 16 February 2015.

The scheme is being introduced incrementally. It will only affect single working-age job seekers making a new claim for benefits at the Job Centre and who will therefore be assessed for Universal Credit.

If they require support with their rent they will no longer claim Housing Benefit from the council, as the DWP will pay their housing costs as part of the single Universal Credit payment.

However, it is important that they still make a claim for Council Tax support from the council if they are the Council Tax bill payer.

Universal Credit is a single payment that is made one monthly in arrears direct to the job seeker. In some circumstances payment of rent can be made directly to landlords, but this will be exceptional.

Residents such as those living in a refuge or living in accommodation where they receive care, support or supervision, such as a hostel, will continue to receive Housing Benefit. The scheme does not affect pensioners who are in receipt of Housing Benefit.

The council is working in partnership with organisations including the Citizens Advice Bureau and Explore York Libraries and Archives Mutual Ltd to provide support to local residents claiming Universal Credit, and to those who have problems with their personal budgets or making a claim on-line.

The number to call for this help is 01904 551556.

From 16 February, single working age job seekers can claim Universal Credit on-line from the DWP at https://www.gov.uk/universal-credit 

Government boost for brownfield housing in York

York central site among 29 nationwide to be shortlisted for financial help.

York central site

York central site

Campaigners seeking to protect York’s Green Belt have welcomed a government initiative which could accelerate the development of housing on the York Central site.

Papers released on Friday suggest that it may be designated as a “Housing Zone”

Development of the site (behind the railway station) has been stalled since the start of the recession in 2008.

In 2011 the then LibDem led Council agreed a Local Plan which would have seen 1780 dwellings built on the site which enjoys excellent transport links and a full range of services within walking distance.

Although the Labour led Council has since tried to pare down that number, the government scheme could provide a big boost.

Most housing zones are expected to be big enough for between 750 and 2,000 homes. Successful bids were submitted by councils working with developers> They were invited to bid for a share of £200 million for infrastructure and land remediation to get their ideas off the ground.

Successful zones will  have access to cheaper borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board and priority access to expert planning and technical support from the ATLAS service run by the Homes and Communities Agency.

It remains to be seen whether the York site will be one of the 10 finally chosen to benefit from the additional funding.

Since the announcement was made on 8th January there has only been stony silence from the Councils Labour “leadership”.

More details of the scheme can be read on the government web site (click)

Local Plan meeting agenda published

The Council has published a further report on the number of new homes that it believes should be built in the City over the next 20 years.

The report fails completely to offer any possibility of reaching a consensus, driven, as it is, by the now discredited “Big City” strategy devised by the last Labour administration.

Council officials need to get back to basics. History is fact and an average of around 600 additional homes is what has been produced in the City over the last few decades.

Births, deaths and house building click to enlarge

Births, deaths and house building click to enlarge

In the last two years the housing waiting list in the City has fallen from a peak of 4692 to 1344. That is the backlog in demand that needs to be accommodated and, with nearly 5000 outstanding planning permissions available in the city, volume requirements (but not necessary affordability) can be addressed.

Natural population growth (births minus deaths) have averaged around 1000 a year producing an internal demand for less than 500 additional homes each year.

As was explained a coupe of days ago, there are a vast range of opinions on what may happen over the next two decades.

It is however highly unlikely that we will see high levels of sustained economic growth over the longer term. There will be peaks and troughs

Hence a figure of between 600 and 650 additional homes per year – on average – is a reasonable and justifiable aspiration.

The sooner York Council officials recognise this and get on with planning on that basis the sooner York’s Local Plan can achieve widespread support.

New scheme announced to support the most vulnerable rough sleepers in York

On Tuesday 4 November, Making Every Adult Matter (MEAM) is launching in York.

Whatever the weather this winter, and to give the most vulnerable rough sleepers safe shelter, on Tuesday 4 November,Arc Light and York Mind are launching Making Every Adult Matter (MEAM) in York .

York – Number of residents accepted as homeless & numbers in temporary accommodation at year end
Year Accepted in temp. accom. at 31st March
2003/4 460 242
2004/5 424 259
2005/6 433 233
2006/7 214 207
2007/8 258 209
2008/9 208 167
2009/10 130 79
2010/11 183 94
2011/12 151 93
2012/13 146 99
2013/14 109 80
2014/15 Not available 65

(more…)

Castlegate closure to be challenged

Opposition parties on the York Council have called in for reconsideration a plan to close the Castlegate youth advice and help centre.

Castlegate centre

The meeting will take place on 31st October and the reports can be read by clicking here

The Castlegate centre provides information, support and counselling for young people aged between 16-25 in York,

Probably the main issue concerns the proposal to transfer some youth advice services to West Offices.

It is difficult to think of a less suitable location.

The building can be intimidating, reception arrangements busy (see article above) and occasionally chaotic – despite the best endeavours of staff.

It is also noisy because of the atrium design.

The Council may wish to move the service to a more affordable location but West Offices would be a poor choice.