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Blog 3rd October 2019

Oct 3rd 2019, 17:28

Blog 3rd October 2019

In this week’s blog, I refer to: City of York Council, Cllr Stephen Fenton, Housing, Business Planning, Local Government, Planning, Eden District Council, Climate emergency, Environmental sustainability, Economic Development, Financial Management, Seminars and Training.

Last week I was invited to attend a meeting of the City of York Council’s Housing & Community Safety Scrutiny & Policy Committee to provide them with an independent viewpoint during their consideration of the Council’s Housing Revenue Account Business Plan. The committee is chaired by Councillor Stephen Fenton.

york_lowfield_green

Artisi's impression of new council homes planned for Lowfield Green. York.

The City of York Council has retained their council housing and now own and manage just over 7,000 houses and flats. The ‘housing crisis’ is especially acute in York with a shortage of housing, especially of affordable housing, and one of the widest affordability gaps in the North of England. The Council is keen to respond to this.

In July 2018, the Council’s Executive approved the delivery of new homes across seven council owned sites to be undertaken through the housing revenue account with a priority that all the homes – whether for market sale or affordable rent / sale -set a benchmark for high quality and environmental sustainability as well as addressing housing need. The sites will include the provision of 40% affordable housing - double the amount that would be required under current planning policies. Further amendments to the programme have increased the number of sites to eight and the homes delivered to at least 600 over the next five years including 250 affordable homes for rent and sale.

Prior to the meeting I prepared a short report containing my thoughts. In the report, I refer to the housing crisis and its impact in York; the financial robustness of the housing revenue account; management of the housing capital programme; strategic issues; national issues; and options that the Council may have available to deliver more new housing including affordable and social housing.

The meeting considered a series of reports prepared by officers as well as mine. I feel very privileged to have been able to contribute to a very lively and interesting discussion about how more affordable and social housing could be provided in York.

Following the meeting, one of the councillors wrote to me to say:

“I’d like to thank you for your extremely helpful contribution for last night’s meeting and your report has certainly assisted me in understanding the options that the City of York Council has in respect of decisions regarding the building of social housing using land owned by the council… I’ll be raising some of the issues you’ve raised at the Executive meeting on Thursday.”

The City of York Council live streams most of its meetings and recordings of these meetings can be viewed online. A recording of the meeting can be viewed on ‘You Tube’ by clicking here.

A copy of my report can be viewed or downloaded by clicking here.

The committee’s agenda and public reports pack can be viewed or downloaded from the Council’s website by clicking here.

Eden District Council, where I live, has published a new draft Council Plan on which they are out for consultation. On Tuesday, I attended their public consultation meeting at the Rheged Centre in Penrith.

Penrith Town Hall - the headquarters of Eden District Council.

Eden District Council declared a Climate and Ecological Emergency in July 2019. They want to make the Council’s operations zero carbon by 2030; encourage initiatives that help Eden District to become net zero carbon; and to improve biodiversity while protecting working cultural landscapes and economies. They want to be leaders in shaping a sustainable model for living in changing times and for Eden to become a centre of excellence for the latest green technologies.

The ambition is for Eden to be a sustainable place where everyone has an opportunity to prosper. To promote this future the Council considers that they need to deliver a set of key building blocks: a reviewed Eden Local Development Plan, so that policies raise standards, particularly in affordable housing; improved broadband for businesses, communities and visitors; and business growth that encourages ambitious young people to live and work in the district.

I sent the Council a written response in which I support the emphasis on environmental sustainability and argue that there is a need to address sustainable economic development, the provision of affordable housing and effective financial management at the Council itself.

I am grateful to councillors who have written back to me. Comments that I have received include:

“Many thanks for your detailed response. It is (and will be) very useful. I hope we can enter a dialogue over your points and suggestions.”

“Thank you for your considered response to the consultation, it is greatly appreciated. Your observations / recommendations are extremely valuable and are key to us meeting the objectives set out in the draft consultation plan. There are challenges ahead both on a financial front and our desire as an administration to ramp up and deliver for our businesses and residents. I am pleased to see you appreciated it is a strategic high-level document, the devil will be in the detail when the service plans are prepared. Your observations regarding the Heart (of Cumbria) are encouraging, it can be the vehicle to deliver much more and a review is currently underway.”

“Thank you for taking the time to respond to the Eden Council Plan consultation. Your observations and comments are greatly appreciated. As you can see from the council plan, we have put together we are focused on delivering something different for the residents of Eden. You are correct in highlighting sustainable economic development; housing; and good financial management. In my view these are very important areas and will be challenging for all of us, but the Executive are determined to deliver. Your observations will be taken on board and are in line with the thinking of the Executive.”

Information about the Eden District Council Plan is available on their website and can be viewed by clicking here.

My response to the consultation can be viewed or downloaded by clicking here.

If you live in the Eden district you should respond to the consultation. The closing date for responses is 4th October 2019, but they can be made online by clicking here.

Our seminar on ‘All You Want to Know about English Local Authority Housing Finance’ will be held in London on 5th November 2019. This is a very useful introduction and overview of this very important subject. For further information or to make a booking, please click here.

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