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Securing homes and jobs for the future - Cllr Alexander's remarks on York's Local Plan

Announcing the next stage in the development of York's Local Plan, Cllr James Alexander made the following remarks:

Ladies and Gentlemen thank you for coming here for an important announcement today with regards to York’s Local Plan to secure jobs and homes for the future. I would like to thank residents and businesses for engaging fully in the process as set by Government. I would like to also thank council staff for their hard work and dedication in getting the Local Plan to this stage... almost as quickly as I would have liked.

York is one of the greatest cities in the world to live and work. Our unemployment is less than the regional and national average, education attainment is high, our economy is predicted to grow faster than the national average and the quality of life is second to none. It has a beautiful natural and built environment.

All these things must be protected and promoted. They are what make York a unique and special place. And we are proud of our heritage.

But we are also ambitious about the future. I have said before that Labour is focussed on strengthening the local economy and increasing jobs. We want everyone in our society to be able to prosper.

Since coming to office Labour has helped bring businesses to York like John Lewis and the national insurance firm Hiscox. We stand squarely behind developments at Monks Cross which also underpins the proposed community stadium. And we are taking measures to promote and improve the city centre. York Labour in partnership with business has helped York return to pre-recession levels of high economic output and low unemployment far faster than most other cities in the country. We are now below technical full employment and under my leadership, Labour is striving for absolute full employment. However despite being proud in reducing the number of children living in workless households by 40%, we are not seeing returns to pre-recession levels of family income. This is because of the growing cost of living crisis and the growth in part-time and zero hour contract work. Therefore Labour’s focus is increasingly about well-paid employment, higher value jobs which pay above the Living Wage. The Local Plan tries to address this.

But despite undoubted economic successes, York has a very specific and acute problem. The ‘homes crisis’ started before Labour came to office, but has continued during these tough times. This crisis has been covered very well throughout The Press’ ‘stamp out poverty’ campaign. And The Press have rightly demanded action.

  • The average house price in York in 2011 was 6.8 times the average income - much higher than the regional average.
  • It is estimated that in order to afford a mortgage for a house in the cheapest 25% of those sold, you need a household income of over £58,000 - well over twice the median average income.
  • Rents are also expensive. The Valuation Office put the average rent for a bedsit in York in December 2011 at over £100 a week.
  • A widely used indicator says that housing costs should not amount to more than 25% of a household's gross income. However in York even a typical one bedroom property costs about £124 per week, meaning that someone would need an income of just under £26k per year to afford this. That’s £6k a year more than the median average household income for people who rent.

It would be an easy politician’s answer to say that this is nothing new. That somehow these problems can be wished away. But let’s not kid ourselves. The situation is getting worse.

I have previously said that in 2010/11, City of York Council gave support and advice on housing issues to 1900 people and there has been an increase in the number of people needing help since then.

The housing charity Shelter published a report indicating that York has the least affordable rents in Yorkshire and Humber, more on a par with the South East of England.

Conservative and Liberal Democrat national welfare reforms are making a bad situation worse. Many people who rent are also being hit by the government's new rules on housing benefit.

Residents are not only losing hope of owning their own home, they are even losing hope of renting. We have announced some funding to build new council houses, and to expand existing properties to help families in overcrowded conditions. Furthermore there has been a dramatic increase in the number of planning consents granted for homes. Last year we saw a doubling of planning permissions granted for homes and a five fold increase on housing developments completed due to our ‘Get York Building’ programme. We are seeing a resurgence in brownfield development – most notably the Bonding Warehouse and Terry’s.

But as the York Labour Party has been running a campaign for more affordable housing, residents have told us of their fears: “we’ve given up hope of ever being able to afford to buy”.

As someone who comes from the generation priced out of the housing market, as well as a local councillor who hears the housing concerns of residents week-in and week-out, I know that sentiment only too well.

Another comment was; “York is a great place to live and that is exploited somewhat making it unaffordable even to those like me who work two jobs”.

Another person told us; “there is little property I can afford in York even if I could raise the deposit. Instead I am renting, and even this is costly in York with few properties available below £500 a month.”

Labour was elected in May 2011 with a manifesto that pledged to deliver more affordable housing with consultation. It is wrong that people who were born and raised in York cannot afford their own homes. New house building projects will support the local building trade and will be carried out in full consultation with residents.

Through the first round of extensive city-wide engagement on the draft Local Plan we received over 14,000 representations, which is the largest amount of responses ever received during a council engagement process.

We’ve now finalised the targeted Further Sites consultation – which asked for views on potential new sites and boundary changes on some of the sites originally identified - and I can today reveal that we received over 4,500 responses during this further engagement.

Can I please reiterate my thanks to residents and businesses for being so involved and having their voices heard. These representations were taken seriously, listened to, analysed and changes have been made to the draft Local Plan as a result.

As a result of these representations including that of the Green Party, I can announce the number of new homes being proposed is now 996 homes a year. This is a reduction from 1,090. This means the total number of homes being proposed is reduced by 5,000 to 17,000. This figure is within the scope of the evidence base and follows Government guidance. This number also reflects recent progress we are making in getting brownfield sites developed. These new homes will be privately owned, privately rented, social housing and council housing.

In order to secure the sustainable and appropriate development that York needs, we are now proposing to reduce densities on the larger sites for homes to ensure greater amounts of open space are included.

But as the fastest growing city in the North of England, a priority set by Labour is to create further jobs and increase economic growth. A key driver in meeting this priority is to secure further investment into the city. The Local Plan proposals aim to do just this.

The Local Plan includes 20 new employment sites for future development in York, including at the University of York, York Central and Monks Cross and 13,500 much needed new jobs for York residents will be created.

Our commitment to jobs and growth in the Local Plan will underpin York’s economy through both construction jobs and stemming the ever increasing housing element of the cost of living crisis. For every £1 spent on construction, £3 is spent on economic activity. The Government has begun to realise what my party has been saying for some time, that the economy will not pick up without investment in construction, investment in infrastructure and investment in building homes.

York’s Local Plan seeks to promote more sustainable and higher quality design of new developments, with good bus and cycling access and lower traffic generation, ensuring there are adequate local community facilities and open spaces. The quality of life for residents is a key concern for us.

The proposals outlined in the draft Local Plan will be opened up to the public for a final six-week engagement process before it is submitted to Secretary of State for consideration.

I should remind you, the previous Planning Minister made very clear to me, without a Local Plan for York soon, planning restrictions for York’s draft green belt will be lifted and we could well have uncontrolled development across green land. To comply with the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework we must provide housing supply for the demand we see. This is often what many opposition politicians either do not understand or choose to ignore.

We want to see more homes being built, but it is important that this is done in a considered and careful way so as to protect the character and uniqueness York. Only with a robust Local Plan will areas that have been considered to be “green belt” actually be defined and protected.

When it is adopted, York’s Local Plan will define York’s green belt for the first time and protect green land for generations. The Local Plan protects the beautiful views of the city at points of entry and from the outer ring road. It also looks to protect and enhance our rich collection of historic buildings and monuments, and multiple conservation areas. York’s Local Plan will protect that sense of place and our heritage.

And what is the alternative? Home ownership being a luxury of the wealthy? Rents increasing beyond people’s ability to pay and York people forced to leave their city? Not being able to attract the quality jobs and investment that the next generation needs? That would not be right. Nick Boles, the previous planning minister has observed these plans and he says there is a ‘moral obligation’ to try to provide more homes. On this, I agree with him.

Understandably, some people will say “use brown field sites instead”. But York’s total brown field sites cannot accommodate York’s current homes need let alone future need – despite progress being made. To say use brown field sites instead is misleading. It would mean worsening the housing shortage; ever higher house prices and rents; and intensification of the homes crisis we face today.

To recap, in announcing our consultation on this Local Plan, we have applied three tests:

1. Does it protect the character of our unique city and its environment?
2. Does it support jobs and the economy of the future?
3. Does it secure the future here for York’s families?

We believe that the plan we are proposing does all these things.

Ladies and gentlemen, Labour will not shy away from the tough decisions York needs. Today is about putting into action my administration’s vision of York - proud of our heritage and ambitious for our future – securing the future for all.

Following today’s announcement the draft Local Plan report will go before the Local Plan Working Group on 22nd September and then Cabinet on 25th September. The papers for this you have in front of you.

The plan will be adopted in 2015.

Thank you for listening.

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