David Rudlin: ‘Grow your own Garden City – Uxcester and York’

An illustration of the Garden City ‘snowflake approach’ where development creates new large and very well connected urban extensions in order to grow a city.

5th April, 7-8.30pm

David Rudlin joined us as part of the Festival of York Central to share work he did with Nicholas Falk on a new generation of Garden Cities (the recipient of the 2014 Wolfson Economic Prize). In this write up of the event, we post links to the report and a number of useful summary articles as well as some of the current work influenced by the Garden City report that David and his group URBED are involved in.  This work was based on a fictional historic city called Uxcester, but to give them a base to work with, David and Nicholas choose York (twisted it a bit on the map). So while their work is of enormous relevance to many small cities in the UK, it is of relevance to York in particular.

We then have written up the Q&A. We were very interested in the questions that came from the York audience as they point to ways in which we might locally work with David’s analysis of the issues (not least with the planning system itself) and with the Garden City ideas.

To give a flavour of the David’s overall analysis of the issues, here is an extract:

The country that gave the world the Garden City is now building around 100,000 fewer homes each year than it needs to. What is more, the quality of the housing that is built, while better than it used to be, is still poor compared to other Northern European countries, in terms of space standards, environmental performance, layout and infrastructure. For many years URBED’s Nicholas Falk has led study tours to cities like Freiburg, a German city near Basel of a little over 200,000 people that has built two large urban extensions at Vauban and Rieselfeld in the last twenty years. Walking through these new neighbourhoods with UK politicians, professionals and community activists, past the shining trams, high-quality housing and generous green space, the question asked is always; why can’t we do this? The answer is not that we in the UK lack the talent or commitment, but rather that our system makes it if not impossible then at least very difficult.

Then the report – set out by David’s talk – sets out series of responses to the systemic issues, which you can read in summary and in full here. Here are some of the key elements:

Vision: not to build new towns and cities but to graft new growth onto existing places. The report looks at doubling the size of a city the size of York.

‘The Garden City extensions are based upon some simple geometry; tram stops that are within 20 minutes of the city centre, neighbourhoods that are within 10 minutes walk of these tram stops, each of which supports a secondary school and its feeder primary schools, and urban extensions made up of five neighbourhoods that have sufficient scale to support a district centre and employment use’ (pp. 2-3)

Popularity: development is not always popular to say the least, the report sets out a way forward that poses a deal and underpins a social contract:

‘We propose a ‘deal’ by which we lift the threat of development around all of the

city’s existing suburbs and villages by concentrating growth in a few large urban extensions. […[ This deal will be backed up with a ‘Social Contract’ which undertakes that the Garden City extensions will be built in areas where their impact is minimised. This contract will also cover the creation of 3,000 HA of accessible public open space and investment in new transport infrastructure and city centre facilities to benefit the whole of the community. Our aim is to reframe the argument by making the Garden City an attractive solution to a set of problems that the city cannot solve on its own’ (p. 3)

Economic Viability and Governance: based on the analysis of the current problems set up by the planning system, David’s presentation and the report outlines a response.

‘In the final part of the essay we describe the process by which Uxcester Garden City

would be built through its seven ages. This starts with a Garden City Act being passed by the new Parliament as enabling legislation to create the planning and compulsory purchase powers that each Garden City would need. Cities would then be invited to bid to be designated as a Garden City in order to get access to these powers. The successful places like Uxcester would establish a Garden City Foundation as a partnership between the local authorities, the Local Economic Partnership, the community and other partners. This would be vested with the Garden City powers and would be responsible for masterplanning, acquiring the land and acting as planning authority. The land would be vested in a Garden City Land Company, the majority shareholder of which would be the Foundation but a minority shareholding sold to investors’. (p. 4)

After David’s talk there was a Q&A with questions and contributions from the floor:

Q: What about employment?

The first thing to say is that homes create jobs (e.g. schools, shops). One issues for cities is how to retain graduates. Here public transport links are crucial (as often professional couples work in different places). In the Garden City, the tram takes you into town and to the train station. We are also interested in Open Source Planning where people can turn houses into workplaces flexibly.

Q: What are the benefits of trams? How many new houses make a tram system viable?

Trams are more effective than buses, everyone is prepared to use a tram but not everyone is prepared to use a bus, in large part because travelling off road is quicker. There is something about the permanence of the tram infrastructure, knowing there will be public transport long term, whereas bus routes can just disappear. While trams are especially effective, you can get 50/60% of the benefits from bus rapid transit. 5000 homes would not be enough to fund a tram. It’s not possible to give a specific answer as financial modelling would need to be done, but I would assume you need 20,000+ to make a tram sustainable. Trams are mark of civilization, it is just about whether we choose to spend our money on it.

Q: In the centre of Ebenezer Howard’s diagram was a question: ‘where will all the people go? We are in a period where some cities are in a fight for ‘winner takes all growth’, can we think of the Garden City model as making cities of optimum size that will become something closer to a steady state (of growth)?

There is work going on about where young educated qualified people are choosing to live. Business parks are struggling to attract people out in the sticks because young people are more attracted to living in cities of a certain size. York might be big enough to count. The purpose of the Garden Cities approach was that we were expanding places where young people wanted to live because cities give them access to what they want.

Q: Your housing market diagrams shows the demise of the local authority house building and the rise of the market.  Larger cities than York seem to be able to make the decision to create infrastructure, is it more difficult for somewhere like York?

In London, Crossrail has created a 15% uplift in value generated for property owners near the new stations. All that uplift was created by that public investment – those householders benefit, but none of that benefit went back into public infrastructures. What we need is a way of capturing that uplift to invest back into infrastructure. The public sector has become disempowered – we need to change that.

Q: What about build out rates? People don’t want to be living on a permanent building site.

Build out rates are the great mystery of our time, a developer takes a site, builds 50-100 a year and sells 1-2 a week. People say to them, ‘you are restricting supply’. They say, ‘we spent £20m bring the site to market, why would we not want this back as soon as possible’? But they all have their own brickies, and it is very slow. We will never build 300,000 homes (the Homes England target) that way. We need to get over the build out rate constraints. In France 60% of housing is self-build, people buy a plot and commission a builder to put the housing up. A completely different model.

Q: There is something fundamental here: is anybody in the country thinking this through and ready to act on it? Is there interest in Labour Party, anyone ready to make this change? The conclusion from your talk is that something fundamental needs to shift.

The Lyons Housing Review says all the right things including about land value capture (commissioned under Ed Milliband) but Labour baulked and took out the land value capture.

Lord Taylor, a Liberal Democratic Peer, who wrote the National Planning Policy Framework is working on this. There is a sense that the Government is nervous about the politics, they will change things behind the scenes and try not to draw attention to themselves. The bad news is that doesn’t suggest radical change quickly. But people do get the argument at least.

Q: What about the wiki house concept where people can design and manufacture their own houses?

That is part of Open Source planning idea. We’ve been working with Igloo on custom build, one version of which is the wiki house.

Q: What about the aesthetic of custom build?

You can set the size of the lots, so you have already pre-constrained it. Then you can give a plot passport, you can set footprint, where on plot the house can go and what height. But in places where this has been done (for example Almere in the Netherlands) the experimental people are drawn together and the more conservative people are drawn to the more conservative bits. The planning office can pre-approve the housing types, can see them all in advance, but you do need to let go a bit and trust people. All villages were built like that.

Q: You’ve painted a very clear picture of the what the future of somewhere like York can be and I think there is a fair amount of buy-in here. But if the world doesn’t change it ain’t going to happen. What are the barriers that need to be demolished?

1)The government has already changed the local government finances. From 2022 local authorities will be depending entirely on their tax base, so they need to grow in order to add to the tax base.

2) The planning process is unworkable. It is based upon an adversarial system. It becomes a  feeding fest for planning consultants. They do very well out of it. In Holland, they say ‘why do you consult all the time, we consult on the plan and then we do it’. The system itself is not working, planners need to be given more power not less, so they can be more decisive.

Living and Working Creatively on York Central – A workshop to develop ideas and networks

Post its of the discussion captured the big ideas

Wednesday 4th April
7:00pm – 9:00pm

As part of the ‘Work’ week of the Festival of York Central we collaborated with York@Large to develop a discussion about living and working creatively in York Central. Some new themes emerged, such as how to connect across scales of economic activity and how to make the city’s generational and class wealth gap work for York. We were also able to deepen and extend our discussions about some key themes – such as affordability and mix of uses – that have shot through many of the Festival of York Central discussions so far.

‘It is easy to build homes, office and hotels. You can’t build community. To get community you need to invest in people. We need to bind York Central to the city and bind York Central to the people of the city’.

Hubs of similar businesses

‘A hub of people doing the same things helps everyone thrive’

In Swinegate there are a small creative businesses above almost every shop. Rather than see each other as competitors, this hub and community was seen as positive and something to consider for York Central.

Creative industries were seen as ‘making good neighbours’…

  • With each other (for networking)
  • With other uses (they’re low impact)
  • They are often “first floor” businesses.

There is a shortage of flexible space – Hiscox local hub was oversubscribed by factor of four.

What makes for good work space?

York was seen to be doing ok in terms of creating space for very small business. The benefits of above the shop workspaces were seen as being ‘cheap and centrally located’. Clients often travel by train, so being in the centre or closer, as York Central would be, to the station was seen as positive. First floor work spaces was acknowledged as cheaper because there was no street frontages, yet it was suggested that ‘giving up the ground floor might be a mistake’ as lively inviting shop frontage might give a chance to show and showcase the work going on in York.

Middle sized businesses

‘We used to have industry, the carriage works and chocolate, but nothing replaced it’.

‘Retail and tourism has soaked up a lot of that… but there is that missing middle layer of better paying jobs’.

There is a missing “middle band” of size of business and premises for them SCY Creative strategy discussions suggest this is true for creative industries, where there are start-ups and some global mature businesses, but trading conditions are less ideal for medium sized (ie small) creative businesses. This conclusion is supported by the demographic analysis in Cities Outlook 2018 from Centre for Cities (Population Aged 30-44, percentage point change 2012–2016)

‘This is not about trapping businesses in York but we need to recognise that those middle band businesses are not thinking of coming to York’

An example given was that of architects with staff of ten in an office which fits seven with no space to expand beyond that. If middle-sized businesses do want to stay in York they are forced out to Clifton Moor. ‘If you bring a client to the centre of York, that’s great – Clifton Moor… not so much’.

If we’re building 3/4/5/ storey buildings adding “a floor for business” is a relatively cheap addition – just four extra walls since foundations/infrastructure and upper parts/roof would be built anyway.

More on mix of uses

‘Having a variety of spaces which allow different uses is powerful’.

Mixed uses has been a theme of the Festival of York Central discussions. The idea of York Central as a place where there is always exciting and creative things going on was discussed. How to make this happen was debated, the idea of spaces where things could happen was a key idea.

Ecosystem of economic activity (how it works across different scales)

‘We need to grow our own talent. Grow our own base’.

‘York is a relatively small city, we’re not about to become Manchester. We need to stay the right size city, which needs the right grain of development and link up with other cities of a similar size’.

‘Do we need to attract a couple of big employers?’

There was a lot of discussion about the wider economic ecosystem for York. The issue with the middle band of business was not simply seen as being about space but that there just isn’t the economic activity to sustain businesses once they get beyond start-ups. This was noted not just as a York issue but is region-wide issue. ‘Economic growth in York needs to “ripple out”’.

‘York Central needs to bring something to the broader table’. It was suggested that we need big economic drivers in York to create demand for smaller services. Ideally companies which make stuff and have big supply chains. We also need co-dependent businesses.

‘Media City in Salford has lifted the whole region but took time and required big investment’.

Generations and Class: York’s young people, keeping the city’s graduates and older people retiring to York

‘Young people feel York is for tourism and students’

‘I said to someone under 30 you need to be involved in York Central – this is the future of city – and there was this blankness’

‘You look at those pictures and you can’t place yourself there’.

‘People under 30 don’t believe they’ll ever buy a house or have a pension – so York Central feels very much like it is for someone else, someone older and more affluent’

We discussed the issue of how York can keep its graduates. This is seen as crucial to growing York’s own talent. It was seen as intimately connected to housing costs, graduates can’t afford to take risks because housing costs are so high. Graduates have to work so many hours to cover living costs, so there is a greater hurdle to jump in terms of getting starts ups happening.

But there is also an issue for York’s young people who do not go to University.  How do we create pathways from school and college. ‘We need to have a layering of the skills base – how do we develop this?

It was noted that there is a trend of people wanting to retire to York. As is often noted in UK-wide policy debate, the ‘baby boomer’ retirees can be comparatively wealthy and capital rich. This trend to retire to York is one dimension driving York’s housing costs and making it harder for young people from York and graduates to stay. As a positive response to this, we discuss what a ‘circular economy’ – cross-generation – might look like. This could include  learning from each other – (this brought to mind Ivan Illich’s classic Deschooling Society) – sharing skills across generations and making the most of the professional skills and networks of York’s new retirees. It also linked to ideas emerging from the Forever Affordable event about co-operative, mutual approaches to development, where funds for community-led development are raised though a community shares issues (see Headingly Development Trust for an example). This could also be a way of asking those that benefit from the tourist economy to give back to create facilities and housing for local communities (second homes owners / holiday home owners / big hotels).

Making the most of what is already going on

‘York doesn’t celebrate these things’

‘York Science park needs to be part of the city’.

There was a feeling that so much amazing work is going on in York but York doesn’t shout enough about it. ‘The Universities tend to keep stuff to themselves’.  Church Fenton was given as an example – ‘can we create a York post-production hub? ‘Or a centre for the interpretative arts – how good would that be?”.

The York Psyche! How to ‘break the spell’

‘York needs to pull its socks up a bit’

‘York has somehow got to sell itself, it has to be audacious’.

‘Sometimes feel like we ned permission for things to happen in this city’

Can we make a bold move in one area to “break the spell” – medical robotics?’

‘York’s reputation has allowed muddy thinking to persist’.

Throughout the conversation comments like this were made… with the positive flipside being some of the ideas around the idea of a development trust and ‘making it happen ourselves’.

Narratives for York Central

It was felt that narratives for York Central were needed. Could local businesses be involved in developing York Central. For example, like the example give at the Forever Affordable event, could a factory be onside to build the buildings (e.g. passivhaus). Then ‘how the site is developed becomes part of the ongoing story of the site’.

Areas to follow up:

  • How do we get the Universities involved in York Central?
  • Can we have an experimental Planning Order to enable flexibility of use/activity?
  • Can we create a development trust for York? Can this make the most of the circular generational economy?






Forever Affordable: Community-Led Housing

Post its from our Affordable Housing tag asking for an alternative approach to housing – we set up the Forever Affordable event to explore what the alternatives might be.

28th March 2018, National Railway Museum

Without question one of the most common issues raised so far during the My York Central process is that of ‘affordable housing’  and particular what it means and how can York Central avoid further investment, buy-to-let and holiday properties.

As part of our Homes week of the Festival of York Central we invited Sue Bird and James Newton from YorSpace and Jimm Reed from Leeds Community Homes to share the different models that can be used of ensure homes build to be affordable remain affordable.

Sue and James kicked off to introduce YorSpace  and their model of governance and investment. Here are the key points and some quotes to give a flavour of their presentations:

Introduction to YorSpace

YorSpace was set up because we genuinely think homes should be forever affordable. We want to create homes that put community inclusion and housing at the heart of housing. We wanted to help ourselves and help others.

Organisational model of YorSpace

YorSpace is a community benefit society and Lowfield Green development will be co-operatively owned. This approach to ownership and decision making is so that:

  • YorSpace can be for the community and run by the community
  • Ensure the homes stay long-term affordable

YorSpace will use a co-operative structure to keep these homes affordable

Mutual home ownership, by developing individual neighbourhoods of people, each their own community co-operative. There will be an ‘asset lock’ – which will help keep the homes affordable in perpetuity. In practice this means that the Co-operative owns all the home, but everyone that lives there will own the company. This stops the houses being sold on the open market.

Because we are not-for-profit, we can cut out developer profit. We can build houses more cheaply. Therefore the deposit people need to come up with is less. We then ask for a monthly contribution (to pay off the collective mortgage of the whole co-operative). YorSpace aim for this to be lower than ‘affordable rents’ (as definition 80% market rents).

YorSpace’s first development: Lowfield Green

You can read more about Lowfield Green here but just to give a brief overview:

  • Mixture 1, 2, 3 and 4 bedroom homes
  • Communal area / Shared laundry ‘in order to create sense of community’
  • Car free shared space and lots of shared space in between
  • 15 car parking space for 19 homes
  • It is developed under One Planet living principles

YorSpace are looking for new members.  The homes on Lowfield Green are not yet full and there are looking for people to invest. YorSpace will be offering opportunities to buy shares in the community benefit society – this will be launched in July with a target of £500 000 being raised.

We then opened up to questions from the floor:

Q: Will you only do new build or take on existing buildings?

Yes, we’ll look at old buildings (started by looking at Oliver House, Bishophill), great to reuse buildings and bring them to back to life.

Q: Will £500,000 complete the develop?

The £500,000 when combined with residents’ deposits, will act as the deposit to borrow the remaining money to complete the development.

Q: Who are the people involved and how does it link to the social housing list?

YorSpace is not a social housing provider. We can’t meet the same prices as a Housing Association because we don’t have access the same funding. So we offer ‘affordable’ but not social housing.

Q: Do the members contribute to the capital or more of a co-operative rental model?

All people moving in will need to put down some kind of deposit because we need to borrow the development loan money. We are trying to make that as small as possible, so the more community shares we sell the smaller deposit necessary. We need to find that balance we can be 100% one way or the other, we can’t just give spaces to people who can afford or who can’t afford it, we want a mixed community can stabilize the community.

Q: What has been the community response in Acomb?

While there is always concern about the wider Lowfield Green development (our scheme is part of a much larger redevelopment of the former Lowfield School site, everyone who has heard about what our portion represents has been really positive. When they have spoke to us, they are interested in the approach.

Q: Could this work on York Central?

Yes, we want to replicate this, we’ve learnt so much, we don’t want to do this just once, we want more people that just one development, so this could work for York Central.

We then moved onto introduce Jimm form Leeds Community Homes

Introduction to Leeds Community Homes

Leeds Community Homes set up two years ago as a Community Benefit Society. We are also a Community Land Trust, with the whole of Leeds as our community. Leeds Community Homes are also a “Power to Change” funded community housing regional hub/enabler (as a pathfinder). The aims of the hub is to enable new community led housing, working across Yorkshire.

The hubs will facilitate communities to get together and produce more of this housing.

There will soon be news of a new community housing fund. We’re waiting for the details but are expecting it to be £60m per year for three years directed specifically at community housing. The hubs will be working to get that money out the groups and helping them with the process.

The problem with community housing is that it is very capital poor. If we all came together as a group today we couldn’t necessarily have a lot of money to say buy a site or commit to a building contract, so we’re looking to build our ability as a sector to borrow and raise capital.

We’re working directly with developers, some aren’t that bad, they are sometimes interested in this type of housing.

There is an issue (as raised above with YorSpace in terms of social housing) that most community-led housing is not able to get direct funding for rented housing without being a ‘registered provider ‘of social housing.  So Leeds Community Homes are currently developing relations with existing registered providers, like Local Authorities and Housing Associations, as they are in the business of development affordable housing, we are natural allies.

Leeds Community Homes is keen to look for replicability, blueprints and roadmaps for how projects can take place and be delivered.  We want to help groups avoid reinventing the wheel. The different factors are:

  1. Legal
  2. Financial
  3. Land
  4. Governance (how to ae decisions)
  5. Procurement
  6. Design

Jimm then talked through a number of different current projects. Few to check out with links:

Climate Innovation District

  • 300 passivhaus panelised timber-framed homes being built in a factory on the site.
  • Energy CIC, all have renewal energy and solar panel, everyone lives there will be a member of the company, so they will own and manage their own energy supply.
  • 16 affordable homes generating under Section 106 (link), discounted sale and for rent.
  • Funded that through a community share offer, local people, local co-ops as an investment.

Q: What was in it for the developers?

It’s quite a community-minded developer, Citu, and they are innovative and interested in different approaches to building a housing scheme.

But it also makes the story better for the council, as well as regenerate the area, it is win, win, win all around. Not all developers would go for it.

Q: Have you come across an issues of social houses but can’t find a social landlord to take it on?

A: Housing Associations don’t want to take them because they can’t deal with the service charges and then the danger is that the developer gets away without doing any social housing.

  • 29 co-housing units, common house.
  • Housing Association partnership building older person flats, self-build flats.
  • Share communal space, rather than gardens
  • Controlled parking only 50% flats

Q: Had Chaco been around the a while?

Yes, two or three sites before we were able to move ahead with this one.


LILAC was how I got into community-led housing in 2009 as a project manager for this group. The group had been  looking for a site for years and found a council site, but to the council they were not credible purchasers on their own. So the group found me to act as project manager. All homes owned by Lilac co-op and they all together pay off big mortgage they all jointly have.

  • The build was with this completely brand new straw system. (Modcell)
  • All houses looking inwards into communal shared space
  • Community building, office, crèche, social area

Community-led housing is more relevant than ever before. There has obviously been the co-op movement for years, so it is not brand new.  But with the impact of Grenfell, localism and neighbour planning, there is more interest than there has ever been. People are taking control of how housing is working. This possibility is enshrined in law through the Custom and Self-Build Act which is a planning requirement for Local Authorities to take into account local people wanting to do their own building.

There is also the new Community Housing Fund (as mentioned above, more here from Homes England).

Q: Is the £60m for loans or grants?

It will be for capital grants.

Q: Why is Leeds different to York?

Difficult to pin it to any one thing. What we are now able to do is to use Lilac as a shining example and now trade on it. That’s helped. Leeds has a of history of co-co-operatives. Local authority has taken the community/ self build thing seriously and has put resource and political capital into supporting organisations like LCH, and schemes like Chaco.

Q: What worries me slightly is the more fundamental question about who is making decisions on York Central. There is always this line everything has ‘to be viable’, we need more transparency about what that means. I am concerned by ‘community-wash. I do want community-led approach but I also want big numbers too. How can we make sure we are  looking at the big picture and the kind of community we want?

Q: I want a mixed community on York Central (and I live near by). I want some who works in a restaurant in town, someone who is a nurse and someone who is one teacher, not just people who can afford a market rent.

Q: What do you mean by affordable?

Sue: ‘Community washing’ is something we sometimes worry about. There is an important speed issue.  If the process goes too fast then you lose the ability for the community to have impact. Pacing is important. In terms of ‘affordable’, what we usually say is ‘low cost’. James and I are the squeezed middle, we’re young professionals but this town is very expensive. The market has become so skewed.

Q: What we would like to see is low cost and different definitions of ‘affordability’ for different groups, York Central has been too much what are they are going to do for us or really too us …not what can we can do.

Q: Could we develop a locally specific definition of affordability that is tailor to specific people?

James and Jimm responded – and others also contributed in:

  • % of income – 35% of income
  • JRF and Shelter, 1/3 – there are different benchmark
  • Perhaps need to be pegged to household income / bearing in mind the number of dependent children.
  • Could it be done on household income?

Q: Could we develop pen portraits of people different types of people and what affordable might mean to them. What are your housing challenges?

Sue: We know that there are people who have grown up in an area can’t stay. They are moving to Selby or Market Weighton and then commuting in.

James: Which has the knock on effect of the environment impact of the travel into the city and the contribution to poor air quality.

Q: What is the size of the deposit need. The deposit could still be a big barrier, does your model get over that?

Because we will have to initially cover the loan it will, but as we complete developments we can start borrowing against our assets and then our model starts to become more viable. Lowfield Green is very much a pilot.

Q: Are there any other ways?

Government policy has tended to be focused on help-to-buy and shared ownership, tending toward giving access to the market but not making it cheaper.

Q: Council has a housing company, but it is very small numbers. Can we find out more about that?

Next steps:

  • York Central community? Initiate a big discussion about what we mean by a community – with the aim of a brief that can then be used to identify the types of housing that might enable that community. We started this in the event, with these thoughts: link
  • Housing Challenges? Ask people for the issues they are facing to help with the York Central Homes brief.
  • Follow up the discussion with Homes England so we can understand where the funding and policy levers are.
  • Find out more about the council housing company.
  • Explore more different ways of creating community ownership and a stake in decision making.

Housing Histories, Housing Futures: What can we learn from looking back at York’s so called ‘slum clearances’?

An image from the Hungate archive, used as part of Housing Histories, Housing Futures workshop.

Housing Histories, Housing Futures: What can we learn from looking back at York’s so called ‘slum clearances’?
Saturday 24 March, 1.30pm-3pm
York Explore Libraries and Archives

The Housing Histories, Housing Futures event in collaboration with York Past and Present and York Explore Libraries and Archives was based on work done in 2015 and 2016 on the histories of housing in York and especially looking at the Hungate inspections and clearances.

We opened with Introduction to York Central. A key focus for York Central is homes, with both the Council and Homes England as members of the York Central Partnership which have a specific policy interest in house building. Throughout the session – as we looked back – we kept returning to this question: what principles can we draw out for how government and communities should work together?

We looked back two key moments in the Hungate clearance. Catherine Sotheran had explored the 1911 Census, revealing a wide diversity of occupations not quite what might be expected from a ‘slum’:

The majority of adults are in work, the most common occupations being in the Chocolate industries, general labouring jobs, laundry and other domestic type jobs, trades like painters, joiners, wheelwrights etc. but also a few more skilled jobs like a hairdresser, midwife, auctioneer, book binder, dressmaker, druggist and antique dealer. There also seemed to be quite a few people involved with fish, either as dealers or fish fryers.

We then went on to look at some examples of health inspections which were used to underpin mandatory improves, leading even to the authorities just making changes and sending a bill through. Even, as Catherine found out, they didn’t know exactly who owned the house in question!

In the 1930s the improvements had led to being clearances as people were moved to new housing in Tang Hall and Clifton. Here were found some personal stories creeping soon, a woman who was forced into an institution, a story found by Sue Hogarth, and as you can read below, a letter from a man who was the last on their street.

‘I am the only one left on the street’ the letter reads.

Reflecting on how we could see the authorities and people interacting – often individuals seemed very much an afterthought in the 1930s – we skipped forward to the 1970s where a different mood was in evidence.

1970s in Layerthorpe. Housing in red, slated to be demolished.

In our 2015 project Carmen Byrne had  found a series of correspondence between a woman in street due to be demolished in Layerthorpe, we went back and read parts of her blog written at the time:

One tenant from Eastern Parade wrote to the Public Health Inspector in January 1973 requesting further information as she’d “held back a week’s holiday which must be taken before the end of the financial year”, so she was “naturally anxious to know if we are likely to move in the near future”. The resident’s uncertainty stemmed from having no news since she visited the Inspector’s office around one year earlier and her concern about a series of “cleaning and replacement jobs which must be done if we are going to be here longer”. This would suggest that there was little transparency or communication with the residents during the process, and again reinforces the lack of ongoing investment into properties already resigned to demolition.

Buckingham Street in Bishophill was to be demolished and were saved by the activism of local residents as part of the Bishophill Action Group

We then looked briefly at the Bishophill Action Group and there work to save streets which were planned to be demolished to make way for multistorey car park. This activism evoked quite a different relationship with the local government that was visible earlier, as one member of the Bishophill Action Group group put it in a press article: ‘if the corporation had wanted the street, they could have got it a lot more easily than by calling it a slum. This has put our backs up. We feel they are using underhand methods.’ 20th September 1972

We then ended by reflecting on these histories… what principles can we draw out for how government and communities should work together?

Changing expectations of involvement

We noted that in the two major cases of 1911s and 1930s and the the 1970s, that between this period people clearly had come to expect to have more control over their lives.

A post it note from the event

Problem of jargon – and the need for shared language

This lead to a lot of discussion about how to build shared language and respect the expertise that comes from living somewhere, not just professional experitise/

Community is fundamental not just brick and mortar: ‘They treated housing like a problem to be fixed and ignored the problems they created in terms of lack of community’

An interesting insight from the discussion was the way on which the authorities treated housing as a problem that need simply to be fixed with improvements or new housing. This had the effect of ignoring all the other aspects of ‘home’, ‘belonging’ and ‘community’.


Need for government intervention in the market, but with involvement of those affected

There was however a strong feeling that govenrment is not in itself bad – nd that we needed interveiton from the public bodies involed in York Central. But with greater involvement from local people.

Community involvement in designing and building?  

This lead to a discussion about how communities could be actively invovled in design and build of housing.

Slum then, affordable now?

We concluded with a very interesting discussion – building on the discussion above about language. It would be rare to hear the word slum now – it is considered a negative and pejorative word as the Bishophill Action Group pointed out above. Yet, it was asked, is is possible that affordable does similar work today in that it categorising certain groups and seperating them off from others?

Open Briefing Document – Homes

Post it notes on Homes contributed at the York Central Exhibition

During Week 2 of the Festival of York Central we have focussed on the nature of home and the experience of living on a future York Central, looking at the kind of homes and indeed the kind of community that people want to see.

We’ve gathered information through social media and through a range of events:-
1. Meeting with Helen Fielding of Homes England
2. Housing Histories, Housing Futures workshop at York Explore
3. Forever Affordable: Community-Led Housing workshop
4. Quality in Housing: the Rowntree legacy at Derwenthorpe walkabout
5. Understanding housing density with Dr Roger Pierce walkabout and workshop
6. Feels Like Home, family drop in workshop
7. Post it notes through the exhibition and events
8. Pulling Together the Week’s Conversations – public workshop (with The Life Sized City film screening)

In addition, tagging of comments from previous events has allowed us to put responses from the week’s events in a broader context of overall comments and questions.

Here are the main issues and comments:-

An overall theme is emerging. This is to say a broadly cautious ‘yes’ to high density housing and commercial uses. But, and it is a big but, a form of ‘social contract’ needs to be set up with the people of York. To put it another way, there is a deal to be negotiated here. One that accepts higher density housing on the condition York Central deals with affordability, builds a mixed and diverse community, is high quality for all and makes the benefits of density really work for future residents. Here are the key briefing ideas.

Affordable – and Forever Affordable
The vast majority of the post it notes contributed at the exhibition relating to homes make this point: they need to be affordable, affordable needs mean actually affordable (not only the policy definition 80% market cost) and they need to not just be affordable to start off with but perpetually. This may well require, as discussed at the Forever Affordable event, a locally specific definition of affordable linked to earnings not the market. Many questioned 20% as a minimum and sought a higher percentage.

The growing ‘community’ tag in our Flickr album.

Community – what is it and how to make it work?
‘Home’ doesn’t end at the front door. There was a desire for home to mean the wider community too. We started to describe what we mean by community, prompted by the discussion with Helen Fielding, Homes England, at the Forever Affordable event and continued the line of discussion through the events. A mixed community was often welcomed – though some warning bells were sounded by others. More work on this is needed (further meetings and discussions are to be held at Derwenthorpe where 40% is affordable, amongst others).

Family homes, Inclusive and lifetime homes
There was a recognition that we too often tend to think of ‘family homes’ as a house with a yard or garden and that maybe we need to look more closely at what makes for good apartment living for families. There are examples of multi-storey family homes in London and elsewhere in the UK (plus a lot more in mainland Europe) so feedback will be sought. Similarly there was an interest that as many as possible of the homes work for disabled people and can be designed as lifetime homes.

Height+Quality (Or, how to encourage downsizers)

‘It can be high, but it needs to be great’
While there is some concern about height and what the proposed total housing number and density might mean, there is a very strong feeling that height can be ok if it is very high quality. That is, the flat is of a good size with high ceilings, is well insulated for noise between flats and has good sized balconies. Good apartment living also requires very serious maintenance and ongoing investment, this would need to be considered in service charges and how this works for the affordable housing would need to be seriously explored. One possible line of inquiry is that very good quality flats might well encourage downsizers and free up family-sized homes elsewhere – but that the quality is key (more on how to achieve this below).

Density+Benefits: Work the social contract
‘We don’t want it to be ghost town like Hungate. If it’s going to be dense, it needs to be alive’
Through the exploration of density, it became clear that a ‘social contract’ issue might be to really make the benefits of high density living clear and real. High density should for example mean: good local shops nearby and walkable; excellent public transport network (such as a tram or similar permanent and reliable system); close to gyms, childcare, schools and other community facilities. The most popular alternative name for York Central so far is ‘New York’: if we’re going to have high densities how do we really ensure the benefits of living in urban areas?

Mixed Uses
‘We need to stop looking at plans and think 3D’
Many have questioned the need to zone commercial development away from housing and have asked whether a vibrant urban area needs mixed uses. One quote was to ‘think 3D’ – suggesting there might be benefits in having shops, social and commercial at ground level, offices at first floor and flats above to avoid the ‘ghost town’ effect and drive life in the public realm.

High environmental standards…for all
There have been many comments supporting “highest possible” environmental standards. Going beyond current Building Regulation minimum standards would allow higher standards of comfort (see “it can be high, but it needs to be great” above), higher standards of sound separation from the surrounding railways (triple-glazed windows and mechanical ventilation reducing the need to open windows) and would reduce the likelihood of fuel poverty for those on low incomes. Costs would be raised slightly to cover this investment, but with land ownership being with public bodies, this is seen as a rare opportunity, and would also create a distinctive image for the development.

Make use of roofs
Gardens don’t have to be on the ground – reflecting also the Open Spaces work we did last week, people thought access to roofs, for gardens, for solar panels, made sense. And took advantage of the height for good views.

How to make this happen – the next steps:
Policy, governance and funding levers: Alongside developing this initial open brief, we were able to start to explore some of the policy, governance and funding possibilities to make this happen. We will be following up with Homes England on affordable and community-led housing, and developing discussion on what is true affordability. The case for a Community Land Trust has also been voiced – where public elements of the proposal, including public realm, community facilities and potentially affordable housing, could be invested into a Community Land Trust, protecting ownership and status.
Evoking ‘community’: Drawing on discussion started this week, we’ll start developing an open brief for a vibrant York Central community.
Understanding the housing challenges: Based on an idea that emerged at the Forever Affordable event, we’ll be seeking people who have stories to share about their housing challenges and how York Central might offer an answer.
Co-design? Clearly there is an argument that to get quality – and to really attract families, disabled people or downsizers for example – the housing could be usefully co-designed. We’ll be looking for people interested in exploring this idea further.

Quality in Housing – the Rowntree legacy at Derwenthorpe

A not especially bright and sunny March day at Derwenthorpe

29th March 2018
Derwenthorpe is a new area of housing between Tang Hall and Osbaldwick which has been developed by the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust. It describes itself as ‘attractive, affordable, eco-friendly family homes in a digitally inclusive, mixed-tenure community’. In other words, in terms of new developments in York and when considering the Rowntree legacy in terms of housing standards generally – Derwenthorpe is an example worth paying attention to in the context of homes on York Central.

Through contacting the Residents Association, we met eight residents, who showed us around, reflected on living there and were even kind enough to invite us in to their homes to see the development from the inside out.

‘A value based on other than the commercial’: motivations for moving to Derwenthorpe
The sense of community was felt to be a major reason to live there, although it has grown slowly (partly to do with the phasing and slow completion of the scheme). It was said that “People care about the place more that they would about a normal street” “People generally care – although not always about the same things”. There is a community room (in the central building which also houses the district heating boilers) but this was felt inadequate. There is a proposal for a community café but this would require the building to be extended.

The fact it was JRHT was significant for many of the people we spoke to: ‘someone we trust’, JHRT are known for ‘good thinking in terms of social issues’ and because they have ‘A value based other than the commercial’.

Many of the houses have external painted brickwork which will need upkeep to maintain appearance – this is written into covenant but is yet to be really tested.

Density is fairly high and there is overlooking, particularly from the three-storey dwellings but no-one mentioned this as problematic – “I wave to the neighbours across there if I see them”. One or two houses ended up with poor outlook (onto parking areas) but this will possibly be improved as planting matures. Views onto green space are much loved, especially where from winter gardens / balconies.

Mixed Tenure
Resident we spoke to liked the social mix and there was no resentment about home ownership being surrounded by rented/social housing. People knew and got on with neighbours from different social backgrounds and a number named this as one of the best features of the development. House size is no indicator of tenure – a number of the large 4/5 bedroom houses are rented.

Heating and Insulation

There are problems with the district heating scheme and with Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) installations (this was reduced to extract-only Mechanical Extract on later phases – “I’ve got a loft but I can’t use it as it’s so full of ductwork”). There is a retired engineer living in the scheme and he seems to be sorting it all out single-handedly. But the MVHR is good where it works – occupant with respiratory problems finds it a big improvement.

Insulation standards and general quality of construction has reduced towards later phases. One resident said “On York Central make sure you maintain quality”. There was horror at the general arrangements on site; the impression was that there were new subcontractors constantly coming in and no learning of lessons from previous completions.
Houses were generally felt to be comfortable.

Main plus points:-
1. Generous space standards with good size rooms and plenty of storage space.
2. Lifetime homes design to allow for installation of stairlift or lift, conversion of WC to wet room, enough space in bathroom to move around etc.
3. High ceilings give very light, airy feel. One residents described the houses as having ‘ a Scandinavian feel’
4. Winter garden feature in some houses gives good daylight and connection with outside while maintaining privacy
5. Houses have small extra room for study
6. They are easy to keep warm and are draught-free. Energy bills suggested as around £500-£600/yr

The bus service has not been as promised – “we were promised a half-hourly electric bus, we’ve got an hourly diesel bus” and serves Tang Hall too. Majority of households have a car and many have more than one, which results in higher density of parking than was originally designed for. There is a car club car available (Enterprise CC) but no-one seemed to know if it was ever used (I just checked – it’s got no bookings for the next week). People said residents were “encouraged” to cycle – they received a £150 grant towards a bike when they move in and houses had a “secure” cycle shed (although many people had removed/replaced these as they were very bulky and not particularly secure).

Public Spaces
One resident commented that “errands take ages because you always meet people you know”, although the streets were quiet when we visited (it was cold, though). The small public squares were little-used, although the larger open spaces were very popular. The green space and play area was completed at the start of the development, rather than being left until last.

The two ponds are used for Sustainable Urbans Drainage System (SUDS) and the most open of them has shallow planted margins to make it safe even with children around. The second is fenced off due to greater variation in water level. The system is so effective that water was pumped into it from Osbaldwick village during flooding recently. The green space has managed to retain some existing tree planting and hedging.

All residents pay a service charge based on size of house. JRHT are quite transparent in terms of how the service charge is being used – it pays for a Site Manager and will ultimate cover maintenance of the public space (while the building is still ongoing these public areas ae maintained by David Wilson Homes, the builders). Although the spaces are managed in a public way there is some community “ownership” – one resident has guerrilla-planted daffodils. There have been some issues with community self-organisation – for example, BBQs are not allowed.

Links with Tang Hall/Osbladwick
There was some tension with surrounded area – a sense that the development was not wanted – but this has been getting less and less. As one noted, ‘it had been known from the 60s this piece of land would be built on’. One idea we explored – based on ideas from last week’s public space discussions – was building facilities on the outside (rather than the inside) as a way of helping with links to Osbaldwick/Tang Hall.

Open Briefing Document – Public Space


The ‘green spaces’ flickr tag

During Week 1 of the Festival of York Central we have focussed on Open Space and its role in the city, whether in residential or commercial areas, and whether green space or hard landscape. We’ve gathered information through social media and through a range of events:-

  1. Green Space and York Central – A Look At Your City walk
  2. York Central – Streets Reimagined walk with Finlay McNab
  3. York Central workshop – Liveable Streets with Finlay McNab of Streets Reimagined
  4. The Secret Life of York’s Urban Spaces – a workshop informed by a walk with key participants
  5. My Favourite Public Spaces – workshop sessions with pupils of Barnabas and Poppleton Road primary schools
  6. Pulling Together the Week’s Conversations – public workshop (with The Life Sized City film show)

In addition, tagging of comments from previous events have allowed us to put responses from the week’s events in a broader context of overall comment, questions, etc.

Here are the main issues and comments:-

The key role of public space

Public space should not simply be the space left between buildings – there is reference in the Life Sized City film to “public space being the main tool for urban change” and people overwhelmingly noted its importance. It was suggested that the planning of the site should start with the public space (and accommodation within it of foot and cycle movement), and that layout of the roads should then be subsequent and subservient to this. York’s adopted hierarchy of movement priority was referenced.

Public space has to accommodate a wide variety of uses and also a wide variety of meanings, and to serve both practical and symbolic purposes. It needs to accommodate movement (on foot, on bikes and in vehicles, and both direct and indirect), it needs to accommodate gathering (social in varied-size groups, places for meeting, and places for politics and protest) and it needs to accommodate a variety of practical activities such as eating and drinking, recreation and physical activity for health.

Creating connections

A key issue with public space was the role of public space in creating connections. People had looked at existing spaces in York and elsewhere and noted the value of putting “the best things around the edges”. It was suggested that public space might be created at the edges of York Central as a way of connecting with surrounding communities and bringing something new to them. Public space was seen as somewhere that encouraged activity, and this activity might build links between old and new communities. The bigger picture was also mentioned – if public space was going to bring movement into the site, where would it come from – the corridor extending to the British Sugar site and the Park & Ride beyond was mentioned.

Liveable streets

At a smaller scale, the design of liveable streets was investigated and discussed. The impact of parking on streets was felt to be critical – looking at existing streets suggested that even where they were quiet or free from through traffic, and well-overlooked, they didn’t encourage play as car owners were concerned about their cars. Where car-free spaces were created these also needed care in design – overlooking by windows (which in theory encourages use) results in “no ball games” signs, and spaces can remain dead.

Making public space legible

The “Legibility” of public space (at all scales) was discussed. People felt that public space should in some way make clear what it can be used for. This should not rule out flexibility, but spaces which were designed to accommodate every potential use were felt to be unlikely to work well for any of them. The Green Spaces walk identified a number of spaces which were adopted and used by local people and these tended to be clear in their purpose (food growing / meeting / climbing / wild play).

The same principle of legibility applied at smaller scale in respect of movement. The Urban Spaces walk looked at a number of locations where different types of user interacted (for example cyclists and distracted pedestrians, or mixtures of cyclists and pedestrians on intersecting routes). Legibility was felt important, whether by clear design and shaping of space to suit clear spatial distribution of uses, or by “signposting” using surface colour and texture, or a combination. It was also considered important to allow for conflict to be managed – when cues are ignored there needs to be sufficient spare space to allow people to work around any problems which are created.

The potential of edges and enterances

Entrances, “gateways”, and edges

People also noted that the principle of legibility should be applied to entrances and connecting spaces – “gateways”. Entrances needed to be special and have identity, and should ideally also be “enticing” – should encourage exploration and provide surprises.

This same interest in the role of buildings at the edges of spaces was felt to apply in general too – spaces are largely “created by what’s along their sides”. Discussion on liveable streets and reference to examples elsewhere flagged up the importance of edges as places where people can feel comfortable and will often linger or meet, and this highlighted the importance both of the interface between buildings and space and the provision of humane environment to allow people to be comfortable there (seating, shade, etc).

The scale of open spaces and community “ownership”

The scale of spaces was discussed repeatedly and at length. It was felt that a variety of scales of spaces was needed, and the Museum Gardens was cited as a good example of where this works well (large grassed space in front of the museum along with a variety of smaller, more varied spaces (the ruins, the storytelling space, benches surrounded by planting etc). The value of landscaping and tree planting in shaping space was noted and appreciated (although questions were asked about maintenance – “who will look after it?”).

The role of scale in the likelihood of use and activity, and indeed community ownership, was discussed. Smaller spaces – almost like outdoor rooms – can encourage small-scale but important activity. The unique character of York was discussed and felt to be in large part due to what happens here rather than just the city as container. Small spaces allow variety of use and enclosure provides microclimate which extends seasonal activities.

Shelter, cover and civic life

An extension of this discussion noted that not all public space should be simple outdoor space. There is a spectrum from outdoor to sheltered to covered to indoor, all of which can be public (as opposed to commercial). As with our work in Castle Gateway, many people (and especially young people) voiced a need for public space that they can use and occupy at any time and in any season. Examples were shared of the role in “furniture” in public realm – places to perch or sit which didn’t require spending, even if it was close to places which did.

This issue was considered important – it is vital to create spaces where both individuals and communities can function – the difference was noted between simply dwelling somewhere and being a citizen – and “citizenship happens in public spaces”. “This is where we do our giving” was an eloquent view on it. It was felt important that – whatever the use of public space by visitors / tourists – the new public realm should work for people already living and working in York.

Elevation and views

Alongside variety of scale, variety of elevation was discussed and felt important. Creating places where you can “stretch your eyes” was felt to be vital and should be considered alongside the issue of views and key buildings. The potential to use landscaping (it was noted that remediation will require large-scale earth-moving in any case) was discussed but also the idea that public space does not all have to be at ground level. Many recent buildings have given back public realm at higher elevations (sky gardens in the Walkie-Talkie in London for example) and both green / accessible roofs and public access to intermediate stories of taller buildings was felt to be a principle to form part of the requirements for (at least a proportion of) buildings.

Zoning and mix of uses

Although not strictly part of the discussion of public space, the general principle of zoning was discussed. There was dismay over the apparent segregation of work and home, and the missed opportunities to create public space that mediates between the two. The zone between public and private was seen as full of rich possibilities – shopfronts, front gardens and forecourts, places which shape the accessibility of buildings and the visibility of their indoor activities. The Reading Café in Rowntree Park was seen as a good example (learning and social use within a park setting). The vertical mix of uses within surrounding buildings was also considered and it was noted that a richer mix (flats above offices above shops for example) drove more rich uses of public space.

Safety for adults and children

There was extensive discussion of the other factors which have a bearing on use by specific or broader groups. Lighting was an issue considered vital – it needed to make places feel safe after dark and also be energy-efficient and avoid light pollution. The relationship between lighting, safety and frequency of use was discussed – a virtuous circle where places feel safe enough to encourage frequent use and hence improve casual surveillance with more “eyes on the street”. The proximity of roads to green space was discussed; it was noted that one of the reasons the Museum Gardens work so well is that they are contained – children can roam in safety.

The work with children in the local schools also brought up clear messages. Children are increasingly constrained (asking about favourite outdoor places brought as many blank looks as responses) and favourite places were often very specific and sometimes remote (zoos, riding schools, campsites, beaches) or very local (a traffic-free street outside home, or a garage court where car movements were infrequent enough to allow football). When asked whether the need to cross a busy road would prevent them being allowed to use a park (however attractive in itself) the children fell silent and looked thoughtful; “We can take that as a “yes” then”, said their teacher. 

Vital ingredients – trees, water, playfulness

Lastly, various “ingredients” were discussed at various points which seemed almost universally popular. Urban trees are important and were identified as key elements in existing urban landscapes (in King’s Square and Parliament Street, although their impact on paving in Parliament Street was noted). The creation of small “wild places” where planting and trees overwhelm built environment and allow wildlife into the city were considered important. Green walls, roof gardens also. The role of water too – a way of softening the city, bringing cool in summer, in addition to offering practical solutions to drainage. And playfulness…

The fountains in Granary Square, Kings Cross, cropped up in almost every meeting at some point, and led on to interesting discussions about how “artfulness” can make urban spaces humane. Using water, light and sound was discussed. Sound installations can make a tunnel appealing, and the sound of the trains was noted as one of York Central’s distinctive features (described as “almost poetic” by one resident). We should play with – as well as in – our new public spaces.

What are the roles Homes England might play in York Central?

Our ‘affordablehomes’ flickr tag.

Homes England are a key partner and landowner in York Central. They are also the government agency charged with promoting house building. Many of the questions that are arising from the My York Central process are about affordable housing: ‘what does ‘affordable mean?’ ‘why 20% – not more?’ ‘how can we ensure homes built to be affordable stay so and not get sold off for holiday homes, investments or buy-to-let?’. To explore these questions Phil and I met with Helen Fielding, the Senior Specialist for Home Ownership and Supply for Homes England. Before joining Homes England, Helen was the strategic lead for housing for two local authorities and, in her Homes England role, has particular responsibility for affordable and community-led housing delivery.

What is the role of Homes England?

In York Central we are wearing different hats, we’re land owners as well as potential funders and strategic promoters. It was a bold move to buy the land. It was about us saying how – as the national housing agency – are we going to intervene in the housing market so it can deliver what it needs to deliver.  As delivering housing is our central purpose and mission, our involvement brings certainty to the process.  That was a proactive step, how do you get away from being tied to those markets and market driven forces? The most powerful way is to take control. The Homes England leader on the York Central Partnership, Dilys Jones, is passionate about York and it really is her personal commitment and vision that drove this very proactive decision.

But we have other hats too. We are potential investors and funders of the project. York Central is a priority site for capital investment into infrastructure, and as part of the York Central partnership, Homes England is investing significantly both in bringing these proposals to fruition and accessing these central Government funding opportunities.   In addition, we could be development financiers of the homes to be developed on the site, through our Home Building Fund which is aimed at for small and medium-sized builders as well as larger firms.

There is also a role we might play in terms of funding the affordable homes. The role of local authority (City of York Council) is key. The Council have set a 20% minimum for affordable housing which the developers will have to cover under what is called ‘Section 106’. But because we administer the Government’s affordable homes schemes there is an opportunity for additional affordable homes beyond the Section 106 requirements to be funded via our Affordable Homes Programme if this is viable.  This will clearly need further investigation and scrutiny given the financial position of the project.

As Landowners who have bought land with public money we need to cover our investment, but we are keen to be active brokers, we bought ourselves a seat at the table. The aim is not necessarily for us to maximise our profit at all costs, but to deliver as many of the right types of homes as possible, as quickly as possible.

Why not more than 20% social housing?

York Central is a big brownfield site with lots of remediation and infrastructure requirements.  The site has effectively been stalled for c20 years.  Most of these costs (which are really significant) will need to be paid for by the development.  So affordable housing – whilst really important – is just one of the issues that needs to be considered alongside all the other site requirements, and the development does need to be viable. Despite these challenges we’re committed to delivering 20% of the homes on site as affordable housing.  There is a very crucial deliverability test – in other words, for the economics of this development to be viable – when setting policy requirements for Section 106 housing. What we might be looking at is the right mix of affordable housing within the policy-required 20% and collaboration to see how to produce more affordable housing in the widest sense in the rest of the site, which might include self-build, community-build or possibilities like older persons shared ownership.

How can we ensure that housing built to be affordable stays affordable long term?

New homes can be secured as long term affordable housing if it is specified in the Section 106 agreement. One mechanism for this is if there is a portion of housing which is ‘discount for sale’, you can restrict the resale value in perpetuity. You can express the resale value as a fixed percentage of open market value (noted in the National Planning Policy Framework, within definition of ‘affordable in perpetuity’).

More mortgage lenders are opening up to shared ownership and intermediate home ownership options, and mortgage finance is more readily available now.  Other forms of affordable housing in perpetuity are Affordable Rent, Social Rent and shared ownership.

Are there specific issues in York – and for York Central – because housing is so unaffordable to so many?

In York there are a significant number of people that cannot currently access market housing as well as a lot of people who need social rented housing. I am talking about people who wouldn’t necessarily think of going into social housing but can’t afford to buy at current market prices. There is a lot of scope within this intermediate market for other forms of tenure that are not social rented housing, but are not open market housing either – but between the two.  This could be affordable rents at up to 80% of open market value, Shared Ownership or Discount for Sale home ownership options. Within the 20% mix, there is obviously a need to ensure there are some rented housing (council or housing association) options as well as intermediate, and beyond the20% there is the opportunity to seek grant funding to intervene in the market to create a greater variety of possibilities for this intermediate market.

There has been a lot of questions about Community-led Homes, what are the possibilities for York Central here?

Homes England are charged with contributing to the Government target of building 300,000 homes a year by the mid 2020s. We’re simply not going to get this many homes built in the timeframe only by relying on the big 6 housing developers. We need new delivery partners, we need local authorities and Housing Associations to do more, we need to attract investors to come and develop private-rented housing as well as housing for sale, we need self-build and we need community-led forms of development, we need to encourage much more diversity in the players involved in delivering housing.

In York there is clearly a growing head of steam community led with YorSpace.  One issue is access to the right kind of land opportunities.  One option could be to enable community-led housing by facilitating the supply of those sites by sub-dividing and servicing sites and smaller plots, and making them available to small builders, self-builders and community groups. Our emerging role in Homes England is increasing intervention in the land market to make land available for all sorts of types of housing.

In a rural context we are interested in a revolving land bank model, similar to an example in the Highlands, it is acquiring rural sites, putting in infrastructure, servicing and obtaining planning permission and then making them available to housing associations and community groups, capturing the uplift in value as the land is sold on.

In York they’ve got a self-build register going but it seems we do need a bit of a handholding service to act as intermediary, currently due to cuts the council can’t do that?

For Homes England, community-led activity is about affordable housing. The Community Housing Fund is about to be launched which is likely to include revenue grant funding to support the development of community-led housing proposals. This is a great opportunity to support some capacity building within the community-led sector, as well as support individual projects’ development.  We’re hoping to be able to launch this Prospectus in May. The Community Housing Fund is £60m a year. It was first launched in December 2016 with 148 local authorities receiving initial funding, York wasn’t included in that first wave of funding.  The next wave will be to invite bids following the release of a funding Prospectus, we hope in the next few months.

Phase 1 of the Community Housing Fund is likely to provide revenue support to groups to get up and running and fund pre-development costs. It can allow them to employ professionals, cover planning applications and design fees. It doesn’t help with buying land. It can provide capital funding for small scale development, access roads, sewage, electricity and we expect this element of the fund to be routed through the local authority.

We are also likely to be able to provide revenue funding to local authorities, for staff in order to build capacity. There is also a plan to provide national funding for the development of a network of Community-led support ‘hubs’ as a resource for new and developing groups.

Phase 2 of the Community Homes Fund is hoping to offer grant funding to support the development costs of delivering community led affordable housing.  There are a few issues to sort out with this.  For example, at the moment if you want to be the landlord of affordable housing for rent, you have to be a registered provider, like a Housing Association. We’re currently trying to understand if there is another way to support community groups who don’t want to Register or partner with a Housing Association.

Shared ownership is a tenure where the resident buys a portion and rents the other half, Homes England can also grant fund that.  This can be a really good option for people who want to own their home and can afford a mortgage, but perhaps can’t raise the full deposit, or need time to develop a positive credit history.  It allows people to own their own home in stages, by buying more of the equity in their homes as their circumstances permit.  We can fund this tenure now, through our Affordable Homes Programme, and people who want to provide this tenure don’t need to be Registered Providers.  We think this might be an attractive option for community-led housing groups to consider.

A big question raised so far is how to keep graduates and housing cost is an issue there, what about if the Universities, produced low rents to keep graduates developing start ups?

It is all possible. It is about segmenting the market and then producing the right kind of housing to make a vibrant and sustainable community.

The My York Central ‘Community’ tag on flickr, taken from conversations with the St Barnabas Coffee morning on Monday 26th March.

This issue of how housing and making a community interrelate seems key. What might useful ways forward in developing this conversation?

One key question for the York Central Partnership is ‘what is the criteria for land disposal?’ Is it money, quality, community engagement?  As we said earlier, Homes England is using taxpayers money to finance this development, so we can’t sell at a loss.  But there may be an opportunity to collectively explore how we maximise social value for this once in a lifetime opportunity to build a new community in the heart of the City, using all partners’ expertise, financial influence and capacity.

It seems like from our discussions there is a possible structure here for the conversation between local people and York Central Partnership. There is something about a brief – which might be prompted by the question ‘what community to we want in York Central?’ That could then influence the criteria for land disposal. A segmentation could be produced through that to help indicate the different types of housing identified to meet this. Then look at the variety of delivery mechanisms, including market, co-creation, partnership community-led and self-build working to make it happen?

This is the kind of conversation Homes England would be really interested in taking part in – and could potentially facilitate in various ways – in York Central.

My York Central: Family-friendly drop in workshops at the National Railway Museum

Ideas for the future of York Central from St Barnabas Primary School students

What is your York?
26th March, 11am-1pm and 2-4pm
Drop in, York Central Exhibition
National Railway Museum
What are the most important connections for you between places? Join curator and facilitator Jade French for this family and teenager-friendly drop in workshop where we will be making an ever growing 3D map recreating the sights and networks of York.

Feels like Home
2nd April, 11am-1pm and 2-4pm Homes
Drop in, York Central Exhibition
National Railway Museum
What does ‘home’ feel like to you? What makes York feel like your home? Join curator and facilitator Jade French for this family and teenager-friendly drop in workshop where you can make your own 3D house a part of an installation that thinks about what it feels like, and should feel like, to live in York.

Getting Out More
Drop in, York Central Exhibition
National Railway Museum
10th April 11am-1pm and 2-4pm Movement
How do you travel and move around York? What makes it easy and what makes it hard? Join curator and facilitator Jade French for this family and teenager-friendly friendly drop in workshop where we will make collages about our experiences of travelling around York to go inside a type of book called a zine.

The Life-Sized City screenings

York Central represents a big change for York – but we’re not alone; other cities are changing too and they can bring to us ideas on how we shape our new piece of city around the people who will live, work and play there.

The Life-Sized City is a ground-breaking documentary series that explores the anatomy and vibrancy of the modern city, highlighting pockets of life-sized goodness in cities around the world. Hosted by the boldly outspoken and charismatic Mikael Colville-Andersen, often referred to as the Anthony Bourdain of urban development, the series reveals inspiring stories from everyday citizens yearning for change and urban renewal. Each episode focuses on one city and on what makes it livable for its residents.

Mikael gives a voice to those who go above and beyond stereotypes and who dare to make a difference, from ordinary citizens to urban activists and political leaders. He is at the helm of intriguing and creative encounters with those who make up the social fabric that redefines city life, talking about public space, transport, family life, urban sprawl, bikeability and green initiatives – all on a human scale. Interacting with true urban heroes, he gets dirt under his fingernails and puts theory to practice as he takes part in surprising urban innovations.

Join us in the York Central Exhibiton space at the National Railway Museum. Drop in, no need to book.

Sunday 25th March 1pm – 2pm (and join us for our ‘Pulling Together the Conversations’ workshop, 2-4pm)

Monday 2nd April 1pm – 2pm (and join us for our ‘Pulling Together the Conversations’ workshop, 2-4pm)

Wednesday 5th April 2pm – 3pm

Sunday 8th April 1pm – 2pm (and join us for our ‘Pulling Together the Conversations’ workshop, 2-4pm)

Sunday 15th April 1pm – 2pm (and join us for our ‘Pulling Together the Conversations’ workshop, 2-4pm)