An MP has called on Ministers to reject the long-term planning blueprint prepared by council leaders in York after claiming that only luxury apartments were being built in the centre of the city.
Rachael Maskell, Labour MP for York Central, urged the Government “to look at York’s housing crisis” as she told a Commons debate that no new social housing units had been built in her constituency, with no new housing of any kind in the last six months.
We need proper affordable family housing in our city with good quality social housing for all who require it.York Central MP Rachael Maskell
City of York Council is carrying out a six-week consultation on its Local Plan, a document which will drive the city’s economic growth and guide how it changes over the coming decades before submitting it to the Government.
Council leaders say the plan “provides the employment and homes we need while preserving the city’s special character and setting”, and that government intervention could put the construction of 4,000 homes in jeopardy. They said more than 1,000 homes were built in the city over six months last year, with “social housing for our most vulnerable people” created in December.
Speaking during a debate on homelessness, Ms Maskell urged the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government to reject the council’s Local Plan and claimed it “does not address the serious situation in the city, where housing is completely unaffordable”.
She told the Commons: “A site was allocated for family housing, but only three per cent of it will be affordable, let alone provide the social housing that we need.
“In fact, the local plan presented to the Government seriously undercuts the number of housing units needed and does not address the serious situation in the city, where housing is completely unaffordable.
“The average rental price is £853 per calendar month, so people who are not intentionally homeless cannot access any housing whatsoever. They certainly cannot consider the housing ladder.”
The MP added: “In York we have increasing numbers of people sleeping in shop doorways, sofa surfing or families living in tiny overcrowded rooms and desperately in need of a home to call their own.
“We need proper affordable family housing in our city with good quality social housing for all who require it.
“The problems we are seeing now are the tip of the iceberg. We need to tackle this problem now for the sake of future generations. The council needs to get its act together and start planning for the homes that local people need.”
Ms Maskell later clarified that her claim was based on publicly-available figures on registered new homes and referred to the period since Labour lost control of the council in 2015.
City of York and Calderdale are among the 15 local authorities who in November were publicly reprimanded for their failure to make enough progress in preparing local plans.
Andrew Waller, acting leader for City of York Council, said its house building figures were published every six months, and that more than 1,000 homes were built in York between April and September last year. He said more homes had been built since then, including 27 independent living units at Glen Lodge in Heworth.
He said: “The Local Plan for York offers a balance between providing new homes for all incomes and areas for employment while protecting the city’s special character.
“It will raise targets for affordable homes within developments, so intervention in the plan could put into jeopardy around 4,000 affordable homes over the lifetime of the plan.
“We’ve developed this plan after lengthy public consultations, and strongly believe that democratically elected Members of York should and will retain control of this process.”
Coun Waller added: “Affordable housing is a national issue, and we’re taking huge steps to increase on the 15 per cent of York’s housing stock which is affordable to rent or buy.
“We use the powers we have and our relationships with developers to secure as much affordable housing as possible within private developments.
“We’ve also announced another £20m - making £40m overall - to build and buy council homes. We’re also developing our own land. Using our own land will build homes with a mix of tenures, more quickly and with a larger proportion of affordable housing than the market would deliver.”
On the subject of rough sleepers, he said: “We continue to work with our partners the Salvation Army, where I visited this morning, and Carecent, to offer rough sleepers support off the street and into safer, more stable lifestyles because life expectancy lowers to 47 when living on the street. There are beds available for every rough sleeper in the city. The number of people sleeping rough is now down from 29 in November to five, and every one of these people has been offered a bed.
“We encourage members of the public to report any rough sleeper to Streetlink, so we can offer the support they need. Our additional ‘severe weather beds’ have been open since November 1, whatever the weather, and we are starting work in the spring for a new 57-unit temporary accommodation scheme to consolidate and replace existing accommodation.”
During the Commons debate on homelessness, Housing Minister Heather Wheeler said the Government had set “an ambitious target to halve rough sleeping over this Parliament and eliminate it altogether by 2027”.
She said the £1bn to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping includes £316m going in “prevention funding” and £402m in “flexible homeless support grant funding” for local authorities.