At last week’s full council meeting, Labour’s Hull Road Councillor, Michael Pavlovic introduced a motion attempting to increase the amount of social and affordable housing available in York. However, the Lib-Dem/Green coalition instead opted to press ahead with the current, inadequate plans put forward by the previous Tory and Lib-Dem led administration. Labour had hoped that, with the Green party holding the Executive portfolio for housing, they would push their Lib-Dem partners to use more common sense in the current housing plan, but instead they voted to effectively maintain the status quo.
The current plan is to build 600 houses on 8 brownfield sites, with 60% to be sold at full market rate, with 20% part owned and only 20% to be affordable in the form of social housing. This means a total of 120 new social housing homes, at a time when there are 1,500 applicants on the social register waiting for social housing, two thirds of which sit in the gold and silver banding, indicating those most in need.
Cllr Pavlovic’s motion requested a full economic appraisal of these plans, and requested an appraisal of alternative options for delivering York-affordable homes to be conducted and reported back to council by next April. Labour group leader Councillor Danny Myers pointed out in council session that he had requested a full economic appraisal on several occasions in the past and has been denied this information.
In order to defeat the motion, Councillor Denise Craghill introduced an amendment to the motion, replacing all but 24 words of the original motion, removing the request of an economic appraisal and replacing the request for a re-appraisal with instead an instruction to report back on progress every six months. This, in essence, negated the entire point of the motion by removing the onus on the council to investigate ways of increasing the numbers of social and affordable houses.
Cllr Pavlovic said “In terms of council land to develop genuinely York-affordable homes, when it’s gone, it’s gone. That’s why taking the opportunity to maximise the amount of affordable housing cannot be missed. The local council really shouldn’t be acting as a private housing developer when there are countless other options for people in a position to buy market rate housing.
“The current split of housing on the council’s sites, including the former Askham Bar Park and Ride site at Tadcaster Road and the former Duncombe Barracks site on Burton Stone Lane, is all wrong and risks the council contributing to the affordable housing crisis in York.”
Cllr Pavlovic pointed out that the council estimates that it currently loses around 60 council houses each year to the right to buy scheme, meaning that by introducing just 120 new houses onto the council register, by the end of the five year scheme, touted as the biggest council house building programme since the 1970’s, York will be left with 180 fewer council houses than at its beginning.
He told the assembly “I can’t understand why any council, never mind one whose citizens are facing the highest house prices to rent and buy in Yorkshire and the Humber, feel that it is appropriate to build houses, and then say to the majority of it’s people, 60% of these aren’t for the likes of you.
“Sorry that you can’t afford to live in York, sorry that nearly 1,000 of you are in the highest priority bands on the housing waiting list, and sorry that 38 children and their families are spending this Christmas in homeless shelters in York. Sorry that if you’re on average, or even above-average wages, that most of your salary will go on rent, and that you often have to choose between food and rent. We understand that your lives may be miserable, but as a council we have decided that creating social housing isn’t our priority.”
Cllr Pavlovic emphasised that Labour will continue to push the Green/Lib-Dem led council to make social housing a priority, and will work constructively with them if they begin to show any serious ambition to do so. However, he also noted that this seems unlikely, as the previous Lib-Dem led council had clearly not seen it as a priority as they had had to return £1.2 million of unspent right to buy receipts to the government due to their having failed to invest them in new social housing.
He said, “The council has the financial ability to deliver more social rented homes through its housing delivery programme, in order to make a difference, but is currently opting not to. The council cannot continue to lose the number of homes it is through right to buy and then pass up opportunities to build more homes of its own. It just doesn’t make sense”.