Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Friday, 5 June 2009

Join Our Campaign - Housing is too important to be left to the market

Leeds Hands Off Our Homes has launched a campaign aimed at forcing those supposedly running the city to take measures that will address the housing crisis.

Our campaign, Housing is Too Important to be Left to the Market, was launched last Saturday with a stall in the city centre. We are collecting signatures for a petition that we aim to present to Leeds City Council. You can sign the petition online:


Friday, 29 May 2009

New Wortley says: Hands Off Our T-Blocks

Residents on New Wortley estate are stepping up their fight to stop the demolition of 36 homes on the estate. The buildings – six houses and five 'T'-blocks of flats all built in the 1970s—are mostly empty but 11 contain families.

The controversial plan will cost around £500,000. Refurbishing them now would be 40 per cent cheaper at around £300,000. However council bosses say the homes would have to be demolished in five years anyway because of their weak structure, by which time demolition costs would be £1 million.

Local residents are demanding to see the evidence, asking why only these homes are affected and not the rest of the estate. Maureen Ingham, chair of the Residents Action Group, smells a rat:

“Since they first threatened us with much larger numbers of demolitions, we have always believed the Council really wants to sell off the land for private development.

Defiant council tenant David Ralph has told the Council to 'bring on the bulldozers'. He only found out his home was being demolished after talking to a water board worker. The father of six has lived with his family in Clyde Walk for nearly a decade and says no amount of compensation will convince him to move.

"I don't want to move – it's lovely community and a close community. My family will be sitting here until the bulldozers come. We know they want to make this into a Leeds 1 postcode. They just want to rip the place down. But we are not going anywhere."

Residents have asked Yorkshire Planning Aid to help them draw up a local community plan and are challenging council bosses to let THEM decide the fate of their own neighbourhood.


Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Leeds empty homes disgrace

17,557 homes empty - 25,000 on waiting list, why?

It’s a scandal of shocking proportions – 17,557 homes currently stand empty and unused across Leeds, according to official government figures released in February 2009. That means more homes stand empty in Leeds than any other city outside London and Leeds has the highest proportion of empty properties than anywhere else in the country, making it the UK’s empty homes capital.

City Island - Half Empty

The vast majority of the empty homes (15,297) are privately owned and a large proportion are believed to be the one or two bedroom so-called 'yuppie' flats that have mushroomed in the city centre like City Island (see left). These were built during the city's boom years but are now un-sellable because of the credit crunch. The figures also show 1,979 empty properties in the city are local authority owned and 281 are owned by registered social landlords.

Incredibly the current Tory-Lib Dem Council is refusing to use its legal powers ( called ‘empty dwelling management orders’ or Edmos) to take over homes that have been left empty for more than 6 months and let them out. In Leeds, some 6851 private homes have been left empty for more than 6 months. Despite 25,000 people on the housing waiting list desperate for an affordable home, the Council won’t intervene, citing costs and, incredibly, a belief that such measures would “spook the market”. In a recent interview with the Yorkshire Evening Post, housing honcho Councillor Les Carter stated:

"Serving Edmos on owners of empty properties in the city centre in Leeds might cause a glut of these units to be put on the market for sale – potentially resulting in an accelerated downturn in the market price."

Les Carter
- Completely Empty!

So the Council won’t turn empty flats into real homes to meet need because it wants to protect investors—ordinary people can go to hell. It’s all about protecting private property and the rich. Tellingly, the only group to come out and support the Council’s position is the bloody Landlords Association!

David Ireland, chief executive of campaigning charity, the Empty Homes Agency, slammed Councillor Carter’s comments in a letter to the YEP, Ireland explained that the Empty Dwelling powers were not costly, owners could not easily avoid them and that “ruling out one of the best ways of getting homes back into use is surely just self-defeating dogma.” He added:

But what really takes the biscuit is his notion that EDMOs will "spook the housing market". What does he think a housing market with 17,557 empty homes is, if it's not spooked already?

The council's job is surely not to try to prop up artificially-inflated property prices, but to ensure that people who live in Leeds have access to decent housing.

Cllr Richard Lewis who is Labour’s Deputy Leader and spokesperson for housing backed the Empty Homes Agency and criticised the Council’s attitude as “laughable”.


Leeds Empty Homes Facts

FACT: There are 17,557 empty homes in Leeds
FACT: Leeds has more empty homes than anywhere outside London but highest ratio of empty homes in country
FACT: The Council has powers to take over empty homes but refuses to use them
FACT: 6851 private homes have been left empty for more than 6 months
FACT: 8 Leeds families are made homeless everyday due to repossession and eviction
FACT: Mortgage repossessions levels are now over 300% higher than a few years ago, while landlord evictions are at their highest rate for five years.
FACT: 24,444 on Leeds housing waiting list
FACT: The Council is demolishing homes across the city
FACT: Recently, 6000 people were bidding for just 500 available council properties per month, an average of 50 people per home
FACT: Hands Off Our Homes is standing up for communities under threat, campaigning to end the empty homes scandal and for new council housing

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Leeds skyscraper developer in administration!

The property company headed by multi-millionaire developer Kevin Linfoot has gone into administration. KW Linfoot last year mothballed their landmark Lumiere development in the city centre, which was set to boast the tallest residential glass skyscraper in Europe. The directors of his company KW Linfoot Plc blamed "continued difficulties in the banking and financial sectors". Unfortunately, the Lumiere development is still "alive", but we should all watch this space on that front.

More news here:

Yorkshire Post

Linfoot Statement

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Leeds to build new council housing for first time in 20 years

Jon Land for 24dash.com, 23 Feb 2009


Leeds City Council is to begin building new council houses in the city after a break of more than 20 years, it was announced today.

As part of its push to boost housing in the city by providing a range of different types of homes, the council is currently seeking tenders to build almost 80 properties across three sites – 27 of which will be council homes.

The news comes after the start of the Leeds: The Housing City campaign, at which council leaders declared providing affordable housing to be a top priority for Leeds.

It is the first time the council has built council homes since 1989, during which time the number in Leeds has shrunk from 96,000 in 1980 to around 57,000 due to homes being purchased through Right to Buy and being demolished when they have become unsustainable.

These council houses are part of larger developments aimed at providing decent housing in a range of tenures and will be the first phase of council house building in the city.

There is also potential for even more council homes after these, with 400 to be delivered through the PFI schemes at Little London and Beeston Hill & Holbeck.

These schemes demonstrate the council’s commitment to the delivery of high quality affordable housing and also responding to the challenge that central government has placed upon local authorities, particularly in the current housing climate.

Along with these new properties, the council is embarking on the phase one build of its Affordable Housing Strategic Partnership, which will see more than 100 houses built for ‘social rent’.

Funded through the Homes and Communities Agency’s (HCA) national affordable housing programme, being delivered by the housing association, Accent Housing. They will not be council properties, instead they will be owned and managed by Accent, however the council will nominate people for the new properties.

The sites include 23 social rent and ‘HomeBuy’ properties on Glendale Road in Morley, along with 47 similar units on Highfield Gardens, Wortley, and 26 on Farrow Rd in Armley. There will also be 16 social rent units on Chaucer Gardens in Pudsey. These schemes are still subject to funding approval from the HCA and planning has so far only been issued for Farrow Road.

This first phase contributes towards the target of delivering over 1,150 affordable homes through the Affordable Housing Strategic Partnership, attracting over £150 million of public and private sector investment.

The second phase of schemes will see significant delivery of affordable homes on sites in South Leeds at Middleton and the Beckhills estate, together with a range of smaller sites across the city.

Councillor Les Carter, the council’s executive board member for housing, said: “This is an important step for Leeds and a great sign of our commitment to providing decent homes for the people of Leeds.

“We have built plenty of sheltered housing since the ‘80s but these are the first ‘bread and butter’ council homes for 20 years.

“It is, however, vital to remember that building council housing is part of the solution, not the solution itself. We will not see a return to the vast council estates of the past, instead we aim to create sustainable communities based around a variety of different housing types and tenures.”

Friday, 13 February 2009

Is EASEL a dead parrot? A recent timeline

In November 2008, the Council announced that progress in EASEL (the East and South East Leeds Regeneration Scheme) was temporarily suffering from the emerging global credit and housing problems. Consequently, talk of 5000 new homes on 120 hectares was dropped and more realistic plans for 1848 homes on 37 hectares by 2022 was announced, with the reassurance that once the market picked up again, the scale of regeneration would also be expanded.

On 17 December 2008, the Yorkshire Evening Post ran a frontpage exclusive claiming that EASEL was in "jeopardy" due to the credit crunch and housing market crash. With mortgages increasingly impossible to get due to the banking crisis and falling house prices, and the looming threat of mass unemployment, demand for the 743 new private homes earmarked for Gipton and Seacroft had simply vanished.

Lack of demand meant that Bellway would not carry on building homes they had no confidence in selling, which in turn meant that the Council's own revenues from the sale of land and houses to invest in the regeneration also shrivelled up. The YEP confirmed that, nearly five years after first being announced, 9 months after a contract was signed between the Council and Bellway, and 100s of flattened council homes later, construction work had started on only 2 of the first 8 development sites. The article stated that 'top-level talks' were underway to rescue the project.

Two days later (19 Dec 2008), the YEP ran the Council's response. The Council would "submit new plans to the Government in a bid to keep a £1 billion regeneration project on track".
Tory Councillor Les Carter, executive member for housing and neighbourhoods, said: "We have met with Government officials and it has been agreed we will submit plans early in the New Year on how best to keep people on site and keep work going. This is a housing-led regeneration scheme and the credit crunch and falling house prices have clearly had an effect. While we have acknowledged there will be delays in the current climate, we will not be walking away from this... We want to be in a position where the work on Easel can easily be stepped up when the economy improves and development becomes more attractive." In other words, the Council still believed that regeneration based on private housing and a continually growing housing market would still work, we just had to wait for the market to stop failing.

Although the Council acknowledged there was a problem, construction workers on site in Seacroft were telling locals in December that they'd almost no interest in the new houses and were preparing to stop work and cover the unfinished sites.

Roll forward to January 13 2009. The YEP reveals that, as the EASEL scheme was floundering, Bellway was announcing bonuses of £275,000 to Chief Executive John Watson and £178,500 each to the commercial and finance directors. The bonuses took Watson's total pay for 2008 to £824,917 (or approx 10 new Bellway Homes in Seacroft). Meanwhile, as the directors of the cocked-up regeneration scheme were adding to their immense wealth, locals of East Leeds were unable to afford any of the new housing being built.

Then, on 29 January 2009, council leader Andrew Carter announced The Housing City Campaign, which included news that the Council would spend £2.4m buying up 20 out of 53 homes to be built by Bellways by Summer 2009 (7 two bedroom properties and 13 three bedroom properties).

The details were then confirmed at February's (Friday 13th) Council Executive Board. £1.2m would come from the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) - yes, out of Leeds tenants rents - and £1.2.m from money the council made in selling the EASEL phase one sites. 10 of the homes would be let as council housing (with the potential for using target rent levels - that means, higher rents than elsewhere in the area), and the other 10 as 'intermediate rented' housing (possibly 'rent to mortgage' schemes). The whole purpose was to persuade Bellway not to abandon the house building programme by the end of January 2009. The £2.4m would provide the finance to enable Bellway to complete a total of 53 homes, safeguard the jobs of workers currently employed on the sites and recruit an apprentice joiner. The Council would then seek a two year funding partnership with the new Homes and Communities Agency and East North East Homes (the ALMO managing council housing in the area) to support the building of 200 homes encompassing a variety of "housing products for both sites 5 & 7, including intermediate rent, equity share (including the council’s equity loan scheme) and register social landlord (RSL) products". These packages would "help to stimulate demand for house sales in the area and allow local people to afford the new homes".

That, folks, is what Paul Daniels might call Magic! Or rather, what we would call, Alice in Wonderland.

Let's be clear: back in March 2008, Bellway signed a contract to build 743 new private homes over a 10 year period on eight sites in Gipton and Seacroft. Less than one year later, and the Council is desperately trying to support the building of just 200 homes on just 2 sites. In the process, the Council has knocked down 100s of homes and while some were poor quality unpopular with tenants, others were decent, brick-built homes that just happened to be 'in the wrong place' (i.e. next to an adjoining empty site that if enlarged would get both Bellway and the Council more money). Now, the Council - and that ultimately means tenants and taxpayers - is bailing out the 'private' housing project in return for... a mix of homes whose rents and prices will still be unaffordable to the vast majority of local people. And the Council believes that these piffling numbers will somehow reinvigorate the private housing market!!!

We fully understand the difficulties imposed by 20 years of anti-council housing policies on the Council for investing in and building new council homes. But we cannot comprehend why the Council continues to believe in the magic of the housing market and the illusion of cheap credit availability. It should scrap the EASEL project, place the 8 sites into its affordable housing programme and stop trying to gentrify East Leeds for a group of people who no longer exist.

Seacroft pensioners still fighting EASEL demolition

This story, from Seacroft Today (1/2/09), is about two of the last remaining tenants on site 7 (phase 1) of EASEL - see Map.


They were the first to move into a Seacroft estate – and after four happy decades have vowed to be the last to leave. Friends Maureen Ramsden and Rita Varley are among the last few tenants standing in Seacroft's Easel demolition area. The two live in Parkway Vale, their flat-roofed, terrace homes looking isolated amidst the debris of demolition sites and the blocks of abandoned homes. The metal shutters over their doors and windows make them look like mini-fortresses.

Rita said she moved in when she and her late ex-husband had returned from Australia in December 1968. The mum-of-two explained: "We we there nearly four years but we got homesick. It was the right decision. This was a lovely estate with lovely people. I've always been happy here and couldn't have wanted a better neighbour than Maureen."

Maureen, a great-grandmother of 10, said that over the years the community has shown its spirit through big events such as bonfire night parties through to the smaller things, such as feeding each other's pets. She recalled: "I'll never forget the Queen's silver jubilee in 1977. We had a big party in the square, we crowned Rita's daughter and there were trestle tables, balloons and union flags everywhere. "It is memories like that that have made us all so happy here."

The Parkway Vale houses are being flattened to clear the way for new homes which will eventually be built as part of the £1bn Easel regeneration scheme. The massive project, aimed at creating 5,000 new homes and 2,000 new jobs, has been hit by the credit crunch, although work is under way to build new houses in South Parkway, near Parkway Vale. Most residents have now left, with council tenants helped to find another home and private owners handed the market value of their property plus a 10 per cent relocation fee.

A short distance away from Rita and Maureen's homes stands a cleared site, the last property on it being torn down in the short time the Yorkshire Evening Post was in the area. As the claws of the digger bit, the inside of the house was left cruelly exposed, the once intimate interior of someone's home left on display with pink bathroom tiles on an upstairs wall, the remains of the staircase itself a few feet away. The rest of the house, reduced to twisted metal, broken glass and discarded brick, lay on the muddy ground.

One demolition worker said: "Some of them are like glorified sheds. It's for the best they are going." But Rita, 66, said: "We were the first in and we never wanted to leave, but we know we will have to now. It does feel like our lives have been on hold for the last three years, and when the day to leave does come it will be hard."

Monday, 1 December 2008

Call for ACTION as 141,060 Empty Homes Discovered in North-West

To mark National Empty Homes Week of Action (November 23-29), independent charity, The Empty Homes Agency is calling on the public to report run-down empty homes to help bring them back into use.

EHA Chief Executive, David Ireland said: "At the very time people need more homes, record numbers are falling empty.

"There are now enough vacant homes in England to house almost two million people yet far more attention is paid to building new ones. Councils have the power to step in and help, but can't do so unless they know where they are and won't unless they know people care."

The Empty Homes Agency has launched a new website ReportEmptyHomes.com to make it as easy as possible for people to report empty homes that are affecting them.

The website will automatically report the property to the person in the council who can take action and will provide updates until the property is back in use.

"If everybody who is affected by this growing problem reported just one empty home it would provide a huge impetus and send a huge message to government and councils that action is needed now," said Mr Ireland.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Mortgage misery as hundreds more face eviction in Leeds

Published Date: 22 November 2008

NEARLY 400 more homeowners in Leeds found themselves under threat of eviction for failing to meet mortgage payments between July and September, disturbing new figures have revealed.

The 392 mortgage repossession orders slapped on struggling homeowners over the summer marked a 30 per cent increase on the third quarter of last year. A mortgage repossession order is granted by a court and entitles the claimant – usually a lender to apply to have the occupier evicted.

Not all orders result in the properties actually being repossessed because homeowners and lenders can still negotiate a compromise to prevent eviction.

The number of orders made between January and September now stands at 997, which is 26 per cent higher than last year. The number of mortgage repossession claims – the earlier first stage of the repossession process – has also increased in Leeds by 26 per cent, with 469 claims made in the third quarter of this year.

Similarly, the number of claims jumped by 18 per cent in Pontefract, 47 per cent in Dewsbury and two per cent in Wakefield between July and September, compared with the third quarter in 2007. Housing Minister Margaret Beckett said: "The Government is taking action to protect the most vulnerable families from repossession, including a new court protocol to make sure lenders are exploring all avenues before making a claim in the courts, a £200m mortgage rescue scheme, more free legal representation in county courts and more free debt advice.
"Lenders need to do everything they can to help families facing difficulties."

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Hynes Family Wins First Round in Legal Fight to Save Home

Yesterday we received the fantastic news that the Hynes Family in Gipton had won the right take Leeds City Council to the High Court over the Council's decision to start Compulsory Purchase proceedings against their home. The Hynes Family live in the Oak Tree area of Gipton, one of 8 sites earmarked for new housing development under the Council's regeneration scheme with Bellway Homes. Back in 2003, the family were promised that they could stay in their home, even though the surrounding homes were to be demolished. Then in 2005, the Council said they had changed their mind. Hands Off Our Homes has been supporting the family since 2007 with advice and help, and is backing them all the way.

Here is an article from the Yorkshire Post:

Couple win first round in court battle to save home

Published Date:
19 November 2008

A MARRIED couple won the first round of a High Court battle yesterday to stop a council knocking down their family home of 25 years. John and Elisa Hynes continued living in their home at Oak Tree Mount, Gipton, even after Leeds City Council demolished most of the rest of their street in 2005.

But the council now says their house must be demolished and has taken steps to obtainan order forcing Mr and Mrs Hynes to sell up and move on. The couple began a legal challenge and were granted permission by Mr Justice Cranston to mount a full judicial review challenge to the decision at the High Court.

The couple claim they have a "legitimate expectation" that the council will honour a promise made in 2003 to allow their home, which they own, to remain standing, despite other demolitions. In papers put before the court the couple's lawyers told how they had relied on the council's "Option 4" promise that they could remain in their home while the housing estate around them was knocked down.

They had been given three other options of what to do when the work began, including being bought out or moved to a council property, but opted to stay in the family home. They then carried out "significant repairs and improvements" to their home before suffering "significant noise, dust, dirt, inconvenience and minor property damage" as surrounding homes were knocked down.

The couple were able to cope with the nuisance and distress in the knowledge that their long-term future in their home was secure. In April, the council decided to obtain a compulsory purchase order for a piece of land and property which includes the Hynes' home.

After hearing arguments from both sides, Mr Justice Cranston granted permission for a full hearing to decide whether the council should be made to rethink its decision. No date has been set for the full hearing, which is expected to last one day.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Council homes for life ‘to be scrapped’

People living in council houses will no longer be entitled to a subsidised tenancy for life under Whitehall proposals to address waiting lists.

New tenants would have fixed-term contracts under the plans, with regular reviews every few years, The Times has learnt. If a tenant’s financial position improved he or she would be encouraged to take an equity share or to move to the private sector. If they refused they could face higher rents. The right to a council home is also likely to be tied to a requirement to have or be actively looking for a job.

The measures are being considered by Margaret Beckett, the new Housing Minister, in the most radical shake-up of the social housing system for decades to ensure that those who deserve council homes get them.

At the moment anyone allocated a council home can usually stay for life, irrespective of circumstances. People in council homes paying subsidised rents can end up relatively wealthy, and in some cases they can bequeath the tenancy to their children. Frank Dobson became a Cabinet Minister while living in a council flat in his London constituency.

However, with nearly four million people, or 1.6 million households, on waiting lists for social housing, and only 170,000 coming available each year, the Government wants to ensure help for the most needy. In many poor areas, one in five people is waiting to be housed. The problem will worsen in the next few months as families fall into negative equity and their homes are repossessed.

Caroline Flint, the previous housing minister, drew up a Blairite set of reforms. These included the contentious plan to link council homes to a requirement to have or to be seeking a job, which The Times understands is still on the agenda.

The Green Paper on social housing was expected to be published this month but Mrs Beckett, who replaced Ms Flint in September, has delayed it until early next year to give her time to look at the options. Although she will be uncomfortable with any punitive proposals, Mrs Beckett is under pressure to produce reforms before the next general election.

The document is expected to set out new criteria for Britain’s stock of four million socially rented homes run by councils and housing associations, but changes will apply only to new tenants. At the moment councils are required to house immediately people who are both homeless and judged a priority, such as pregnant women, families with dependent children, youngsters aged 16 to 17, young people aged 18-21 who are leaving care or those who are leaving the Armed Forces.

These groups will now be under tighter scrutiny to stamp out abuse. Officials claim that there is anecdotal evidence of parents falsely claiming irretrievable family breakdown to help their children to get a council house.

Ministers are also keen to ensure that more of those with low-paid jobs are able to get council homes.

Whitehall officials said that ministers were looking at proposals from the Chartered Institute for Housing, which represents housing officials. It has proposed fixed-term tenancies in which anyone granted a council home would have it initially for three or four years before a review. Those whose circumstances had improved would no longer be able to remain on subsidised rents. A spokesman for the institute said that no one would be evicted under its plan, but that they could face higher rents. At present, social housing rents rise each year by the retail price index plus half a per cent. Under the new plan higher-tax payers could pay nearer the market rate.

Housing charities urged ministers to reject the proposals. Adam Sampson, chief executive of Shelter, said: “At a time when unemployment is rising sharply it would be perverse of government to mount an attack on social housing. While better services and independent advice about their options could help improve some tenants’ circumstances, threatening rent increases will create more problems than it will solve.”

A spokesman for the Communities Department said that no decisions had been made. He said: “Margaret Beckett is considering all the evidence and arguments in favour of changes to the current system. We expect be in a position to signal how we intend to take this forward in the new year.”

Grant Shapps, the Shadow Housing Minister, said: “The Government have created their own crisis by failing to build enough affordable housing over more than a decade. The Conservative Party built an average 40,000 affordable homes a year when in office, but under Labour this dropped to 22,000 a year. The Green Paper should not be just a panic response to high waiting lists.”

Related Links

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

81,000 Leeds homes fail to meet decent standard

Yorkshire Evening Post
Published Date: 11 November 2008
By David Marsh

More than 81,000 private homes in Leeds – including many of the city's distinctive back to backs – fail to meet modern living standards, new surveys have found. The cost of bringing properties up to the official "decent homes standard" is put at £250m and now council chiefs are working on a multi-million pound strategy they hope will win Government cash to carry out essential work.

There are 247,840 privately-owned homes in Leeds and, according to the condition survey, 81,800 – one-third of the stock – fail the decency standard because of poor insulation, inefficient heating, fire safety hazards and an increased risk of falls because of steep stairs.

Poorest quality housing is in Burmantofts, Richmond Hill, East End Park, Holbeck, Beeston Hill and Harehills. Many of the problems are centred on the 19,500 back to backs – with 73 per cent of them falling short of the decency standard.Back to backs are part of the city's heritage. They were mostly built before 1919 although some were still being constructed in 1937, despite being made illegal in 1909.

A report to the council's Executive Board said back to back houses did not exist outside West Yorkshire, apart from a handful in Birmingham now owned by the National Trust. It said many had been bought by speculative investors and private landlords but suggested there could be a demand for them as starter homes, if they were in better condition and environmental improvements were carried out to make the neighbourhoods more attractive.

The council intends to use the findings of the survey to draw up a comprehensive improvement plan for the city's private sector housing. Talks will be held with the new Government-backed Homes and Communities Agency to try to win cash backing for the plan. The report said back to backs were "a special case" and could "contribute significantly to meeting housing growth targets".

Hundreds of millions of pounds are being spent to bring the city's council homes up to the decency standard and while some grant-aided schemes have been carried out to improve private housing, much has still to be done.

Coun Les Carter, executive member for housing, said: "This administration has put a lot of effort into delivering the decent homes programme in the social rented sector, we will now look to find ways of levering money into improve housing in the private sector."

Back-to-backs in Leeds reached a peak of 108,000 in 1920 – 70 per cent of the housing stock at the time. They were originally built to provide low cost houses for the mushrooming workforce employed in the Leeds mills and factories, the first appearing in 1785, most prominently the cluster of streets on the north side of present-day Kirkgate Market known as Union Street, Ebenezer Street, George Street and Nelson Street. The 1909 Housing and Town Planning Act outlawed the building of back-to-backs, declaring them unfit for habitation. However, the rush for approvals before the Act was passed meant "modern" back-to-backs continued to be built in Leeds until 1937.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Social housing waiting list "may double"

Leon Walker, Regen.net, 5 November 2008

The waiting list for social housing could double to five million people by 2010, a local authority umbrella group has warned today.

Home repossessions have risen by 70 per cent since last year and this will accelerate the rate at which citizens join waiting lists, according to the Local Government Association (LGA).

Currently 90,000 people join social housing waiting lists every year, but the LGA expects this figure to rise. Chairman of the LGA environment board Councillor Paul Bettison said: "With the banks overstretching their credit facilities, it could well be the case that in the coming months councils will have to help pick up the pieces as people end up on social housing waiting lists."

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Financial turmoil slows PFI deals

Could Leeds Housing PFI schemes be in trouble? Little London and Beeston Hill and Holbeck PFI schemes have yet to reach contract and there are signs that PFI might be on the way out...
Leon Walker, Regeneration & Renewal, 24 October 2008

The credit crunch is delaying several regeneration-related private finance initiative (PFI) deals, the Treasury admitted this week.

"Some PFI deals are suffering as a result (of the economic crisis) and are taking slightly longer to close," a spokesman for the department said. But the Treasury remains committed to PFI, he added.

The Treasury said that more than a dozen PFI deals have been signed this year, the majority of them in the second half of the year, despite the growing problems over bank lending.

However, public finance experts have warned that the recent turmoil on the financial markets may sound the death knell for the controversial PFI programme, which includes roads and housing schemes.

"The Government has relied so heavily on PFI for so long, and that may not be available any longer," said Chris Leslie, director of think-tank the New Local Government Network. "I think we are going to go through a major shift in the way regeneration is funded."

Trust between government and the private sector - a vital component of PFI deals - has been shattered by the stock market collapse, according to Leslie.

Tony Travers, director of the Greater London Group at the London School of Economics, added: "Much of regeneration funding in Britain is based on cheap credit, which has to drive long-term return on investment. I'm pretty sure that (banks) won't be so keen to lend in the future."

In March, the Government said that deals for PFI projects totalling £23.3 billion are due to be signed over the next five years.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

EASEL update - Joint Venture Company set to launch?

Attendees at the Council's East (Inner) Area Committee on 23 October 2008 heard a latest update on the East and South East Leeds Regeneration Project.

It is anticipated that a report seeking to progress the establishment of the Joint Venture Company will be taken to the Council’s Executive Board in November. The Company will be a joint venture between the Council and Bellway Homes.

Download a copy of the Council Report

This is interesting news given the current housing slump and credit crunch, which, as this blog shows, is decimating house sales, prices and affordability all at the same. It will very interesting to see what kind of deal is struck with Bellway given that the original plan was to build 5000 new homes over the next 15 years. Land values have slumped in Leeds, meaning that the Council's share of any regeneration - which comes through selling its land holdings - does not currently look very good.

Home repossessions and arrears rise as borrowers struggle

by Hilary Osborne
The Guardian, Tuesday October 28 2008 10.53 GMT

The number of properties repossessed by lenders in the second quarter of this year was up 71% on the same period last year, figures showed today.

Rising household bills and increasing mortgage costs resulted in 11,054 new possessions cases in the three months between April nd June this year, compared with just 6,476 in the same quarter of 2007.

The figures, from the Financial Services Authority, also showed an increase in the number of homeowners who had fallen behind on mortgage repayments.

The City watchdog said while the number of new arrears cases had stayed constant, at around 54,000 each quarter since early 2007, consumers were increasingly struggling to clear their arrears. Consequently the total number of accounts in arrears was rising.

At the end of June there were 312,000 loan accounts in arrears, an increase of 3% on the first three months of this year and 16% up on a year earlier.

Over the past year borrowers have been hit by a double whammy of rising mortgage costs and inflation.

Borrowers coming to the end of cheap fixed-rate deals have seen repayments jump, with the credit crunch forcing lenders to reprice deals upwards.

Some have stopped lending to borrowers with big mortgages, leaving those who took out large loans with lenders like Northern Rock unable to move away from high standard variable rate (SVR) mortgages.

The figures still represent a small fraction of the mortgage market, with just over 2% of outstanding mortgages in arrears or possession. However the rising number of people unable to catch up with repayments they have missed suggests repossession rates will continue to rise.

Last year, the Council of Mortgage Lenders predicted the number of homes repossessed this year would rise by 50%, to 45,000, and the FSA's figures for the first half of the year are broadly in line with that, showing just over 20,000 properties were repossessed.

However recent economic news has been more gloomy than anticipated, and rising job losses could push many more homeowners than expected into difficulties.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Council issues affordable housing consultation

Leeds City Council is currently consulting on its Draft Affordable Housing SPD (Supplementary Planning Document). It sets out the Council’s proposed requirements for the provision of affordable housing on planning applications submitted for residential development.
The SPD, once formally adopted, will replace the existing Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) on Affordable Housing.

The public consultation period is for 6 weeks from 29th September to 7th November 2008.

We urge everyone to download a copy from the Council's website and send comments in before the 7th November 2008. It is vital that at this time of housing unaffordability and the proposed regeneration schemes that imply a net loss of affordable housing that we send a strong message to city planners about the need for tough and ambitious policies to ensure affordable housing in Leeds.

Hands Off Our Homes is currently studying the Council's proposals and will publish our comments here.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Millions threatened with negative home equity and repossession

By Jordan Shilton, World Socialist Website

A report by Standard & Poor's revealed that 335,000 households in Britain now find themselves in negative equity, meaning that the value of their homes has fallen below the cost of their mortgage. This is an increase of 250,000 in only four months, and the report makes clear that this may only be the beginning. By 2010, it predicts that as many as 2 million households could be threatened with falling into negative equity.

Ernst & Young believe that house prices will have dropped 14 percent by year's end and will fall a further 10 percent in 2009. Halifax, part of HBOS, claimed that the fall in the value of homes was the greatest in over 50 years. The most severe decline in prices has been forecast by Capital Economics and Standard & Poor's, who both see values dropping by 35 percent. In the case of Capital Economics, they predict this will take place by October 2009. One thing which almost everyone is prepared to agree on is that the current fall in house prices is unprecedented.

Figures also show a sharp increase in the number of repossessions, with 19,000 homes in the first six months of the year taken over by lenders, an increase of 40 percent over the previous six months. Leading the way in repossessions is the now government-owned Northern Rock, which has evicted nearly twice as many customers compared with the industry average. Of the 19,000 repossessions in the first half of this year, Northern Rock was responsible for over 4,000. Predictions suggest that in the second half of 2008, overall repossession numbers will increase to 26,000 households.

With increasing numbers of workers out of a job as the recession bites, many will find it impossible to meet the cost of everyday living, including keeping up with mortgage payments on their homes.

Banks are continuing to increase the pressure on people trying to re-pay their mortgage. When the Bank of England announced its emergency 0.5 percent interest rate cut earlier this month, mortgage lender Abbey revealed that it would not pass on any of it to its customers. Within a week, Nationwide, Woolwich and Cheltenham & Gloucester all announced that rates for new customers would increase by as much as 0.7 percent.

A week later, Nationwide announced a second increase, particularly targeting borrowers with small deposits i.e. those who are least able to make payments. "It is regrettable that we have to increase our tracker rates, but we must take into account ongoing volatility in the wholesale markets and the high cost of funding," said Matthew Carter, divisional director for mortgages at Nationwide.

Proceedings to permit banks to repossess homes have been started against people who have fallen behind by as little as £800 with their payments, or against homeowners who have missed only two monthly instalments. In one case cited in the Times, Esther Spick, who had fallen behind by only three installments on her mortgage with Northern Rock, was facing eviction despite the fact she only owed the bank £1,200.

Housing charities have raised concerns about the mounting rate of repossessions, particularly as they are forced to deal with more people facing homelessness. Adam Sampson, head of Shelter wrote in the Daily Mirror of October 22, "The financial crisis has its roots in the housing market, and that's where the effects are most serious. Frighteningly, one in every 25 of us is at least one month behind with our mortgage payments. Millions more are crying out for somewhere to call home.

"These are the true victims of the credit crunch, and they are the voices which the government must listen and respond to. It would cost the Treasury far less to meet their needs than the £500 billion to bail out the bankers."

That those facing homelessness will have to rely on charity for support is testimony to the complete absence of any social programmes from the government to provide people with housing. Since coming to power in 1997, Labour has continued where the previous Conservative administration left off, encouraging people to take out a mortgage to purchase properties—including many that were once council houses. Next to nothing has been done to build affordable social housing for those who need it most.

One story reported to the BBC was typical. Charles Okwalinga, a father of two from London, had been persuaded to purchase a council house through the government Right to Buy programme, a scheme where the government pays a percentage of the deposit on a mortgage. Unable to keep up with the payments on his mortgage, Okwalinga has been facing the prospect of eviction for over a year. He commented, "Family and friends started to bail us out as we began to have problems. In court, it was decided we could continue the repayments and stagger the outstanding payments. We paid most of it, but irregularly, so in March this year, the court granted the lender repossession."

Another person threatened with losing their home revealed the dangers of the sale-and-rent-back scheme, which has flourished as people try desperately to remain in their home. The scheme allows people to sell their home to a company and then continue living there by renting it back. Facing eviction, Shirley Hayles took up this option in 2006, selling her house to a firm called Repossessions Stopped. Describing the visit she received from the company representative, she told the BBC, "He came and he liked what he saw... he said ‘we can't offer the £85,000 that you say it's worth, but I can offer you the £60,000 and offer you a lifetime of living in it at £300 a month rent'. And I thought, that's brilliant."

Within a year, her house was repossessed in spite of her meeting her rent payments, since her landlord had not paid the mortgage. A spokeswoman from Shelter commented that this was a common occurrence. "People are going from being homeowner to homeless in (a) matter of months. It's an extremely distressing time... we need to do something about it."

The fact that Northern Rock, which received vast sums of taxpayers' money, now leads the way in evicting people from their homes is deliberate policy. When £50 billion was made available to Northern Rock when it was nationalised earlier this year, the Brown government claimed that far from handing a blank cheque to the banking executives to continue with their operations, it was meant to safeguard ordinary people from the dangers of financial collapse.

Notwithstanding these claims, the reality of the situation is now clear. Enjoying the full financial backing of the government, the bank is now emboldened to step up the pressure for ever greater returns on its loans to maximise its profits. Having extended mortgages to some of the people with the lowest finances, with many having little prospect of paying back their loans, it has decided that repossession is the best option.

With the rising threat of homelessness, the government has been compelled to issue statements claiming that it will "do everything it can" to prevent people losing their homes. Treasury Secretary Yvette Cooper attempted to reassure people that the government would take measures to support them. "We need a more responsible approach to repossessions," she said. "What we are looking at is something looking much more widely at all of the banks, because I think repossession needs to be a lot rarer. We need to do everything that we can to keep people in their own homes."

Announcing government changes to repossession regulations, Prime Minister Gordon Brown stated that mortgage lenders would have to demonstrate that they had "exhausted every avenue" before they could issue repossession proceedings.

These claims will mean nothing for those struggling to meet their payments. Writing in the Telegraph, Tracy Corrigan observed, "The Government has been having discussions with the banks to ensure that strict criteria are followed in repossessing homes. This is clearly desirable, as are possible measures, such as more guidance for the courts on repossession. But I cannot see how any of this will result in repossession becoming, as Miss Cooper suggested, ‘a lot rarer', as house prices continue to fall and job losses to rise."

Monday, 13 October 2008

Defend Council Housing Conference - 25 November 2008

The DCH conference on Tuesday 25 November provides an important opportunity for tenants and other supporters of council housing to sharpen our arguments and directly contribute to the government's 'Review of Council Housing Finance' (plenary session and workshop with Steve Hilditch and Steve Partridge).

We urgently need to reunite the council housing family (authorities directly managing their homes and ALMOs) to secure the future for council housing and give those facing 'stock options appraisals' and transfer ballots the opportunity to hear the argument for an immediate moratorium and the case against privatisation.

Organise a delegation from your area to take part. Circulate the programme and registration form to tenants reps, trade unionists and councillors in your area and use the new DCH 'HRA Ready Reckoner' to publicise how much your authority would get if government agreed to fully fund allowances as the outcome from the review.

Download registration form here:


Local authorities pay for tenants to attend all sorts of conferences and events. Ask yours to sponsor tenants to attend this conference so that they can hear from a wide range of speakers, participate in the workshops and meet tenants from other areas.

The growing crisis in the private housing market reinforces the arguments for investment in a first class public housing sector. Tenants, trade unionists and councillors in authorities directly managing their homes and ALMOs need to come together to assert our common interests and secure a strong financial future from the government's review. And with the private housing sector shutting up shop there is increasing support across the UK for a massive programme of investment to build a new generation of first class council housing providing secure tenancies, low rents and an accountable landlord that people need.

Contributors to the conference include: Professor Peter Ambrose; Weyman Bennett, joint secretary, Unite Against Fascism; Lesley Carty, DCH; Frank Dobson MP; Jack Dromey, deputy general secretary UNITE; Wilf Flynn, UCATT executive council; Steve Hilditch, facilitating workshops for Review of Council Housing Finance; Dave Gibson, housing consultant and Moonlight Robbery campaign; John Grayson, housing researcher; Paul Holmes MP; Adam Lent, TUC Head of Economic and Social Affairs; Linda McNeil, chair, Leeds Tenants Federation; John Marias, Cambridge Tenants Against Privatisation; Michael Meacher MP; Austin Mitchell MP; Paul O’Brien, chief executive, APSE; Steve Partridge, director, HQN; Alan Rickman, chair, Winchester TACT; Patricia Rowe, Taunton tenant; Eileen Short, Tower Hamlets Against Transfer; Heather Wakefield, national secretary UNISON; Alan Walter, chair Defend Council Housing.

Attend workshops on ‘Stock Options and Stock Transfer; ‘Housing Finance – how it works’, ‘What tenants want from Review of Council Housing Finance’; ‘Post transfer experience’; ‘ALMOs: avoiding ‘two-stage’ privatisation’; ‘Tenants Movement and tenants representation’; 'Tenants Against the Nazis'; ‘Organising effective local campaigns’

Letters to the Yorkshire Evening Post

We've had a number of letters published recently in the Yorkshire Evening Post.

1 September 2008:

In response to the horrifying story on 26 August 2008 that the 'affordable' housing units in a city centre residential development had been fitted with 'plastic' gas pipes, we wrote:

'Danger in our homes'


YOUR article on the "plastic timebomb" in the YEP of August 26 made interesting yet worrying reading.

So a housing development can be created, part of which is classed as "affordable". Only the affordable section happens to contain gas piping made of polythene "which would have been quicker to install and therefore cheaper".


That really must be reassuring to those residents of Leeds who face the loss of a council house as part of a "regeneration programme" who then have to purchase alternative accommodation in private sector developments which will have some "affordable" housing.

Having saved a deposit of £20,000, paid an arrangement fee of £1,000, paid solicitors and removal fees, the once happy council tenant could find themselves in a property that is not only not up to standard but could be potentially dangerous while still having to meet mortgage repayments of £600 each month.

Maybe Leeds's housing policy should come with a Government warning – your new home will not be affordable and may also damage your health.

John Davies, Hands Off Our Homes

Then, on 7 October 2008, we responded to a news story in the Yorkshire Evening Post that called for more family homes in the Holbeck and Beeston Hill PFI Regeneration Scheme.

We wrote:

Housing plan fails to add up


Published Date: 07 October 2008

AS you point out in your comment in the YEP of October 1, it is always necessary to look behind the numbers when looking at house building particularly if the 'Folks who live on the hill' are to be helped.
The demolition planned for Holbeck will remove 685 council housing units yet the "social housing" element of the proposed regeneration programme will only provide 350 housing units. The rest of the development will be homes for sale.

We have seen in Gipton that when private developers are relied upon to provide homes they fail to provide houses which are affordable to those who have been "cleared".

Coun Congreve says he is not keen on PFI (private finance initiative). We fear that the good people of Holbeck and Beeston Hill will, in due course, discover that the private sector will not be providing them with decent and affordable housing.

So where will people go? With the council house waiting list getting ever longer and people "bidding" for a home each Wednesday in competition with hundreds of other people we expect that many people will join the desperately unfortunate Thackray family described in the YEP of September 30 who have been split up to live with members of the extended family.

It is about 45 years since Ken Loach produced the TV drama Cathy Come Home but the problems of housing provision still remain. The Government has the money for banking bail-outs and wars so why no money for housing of a decent standard?

John Davies, chair of Hands Off Our Homes, www.handsoffour homes.org.uk

Thursday, 28 August 2008

House prices dip 10.5% in 12 months


Annual house price falls hit double digits during August for the first time in nearly two decades, figures showed.

The average UK property has lost 10.5% of its value during the past 12 months, the biggest drop since the final quarter of 1990, when the market was in the grips of the last house price crash, according to Nationwide Building Society.

Prices fell for the 10th month in a row during August as potential buyers continued to shun property in the face of the market downturn and the mortgage drought.

The rate at which values are sliding also accelerated during the month with prices falling by a further 1.9% in August following drops of 1.5% and 0.9% in July and June respectively.

The average property in the UK is now worth £164,654, after losing £19,244 of its value since August last year, with 10.3% wiped off prices since the beginning of 2008 alone.

The recent price falls are likely to have pushed many people who bought homes with deposits of only 10% or less between August last year and the beginning of 2008 into negative equity.

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Vince Cable said it was likely around 300,000 people now owed more on their mortgage than their property was worth, and he warned that the figure could quadruple if price falls continued over the next year.

The latest housing market data received a gloomy reception from economists with many warning there was likely to be worse to come.

Jorg Radeke, an economist at the centre for economics and business research, said: "Today's figures defy hopes that the housing market is bottoming out any time soon."

Seema Shah, property economist at Capital Economics, said: "The sharp decline in house prices persisted into August as weak buyer confidence and tight lending criteria continued to weigh on the market. Unfortunately, with the economy set to contract over the next year, the outlook for the housing market remains bleak."

Affordable housing scam in EASEL

Hands Off Our Homes has discovered that the cheapest house available in the first phase of the EASEL Regeneration Scheme is a 2-bed mid-terrace Townhouse in Seacroft going for a whopping £117,950!!!

Yes, that's right, the so-called 'affordable housing' that EASEL promises is nearly £120k. How many people in East Leeds are going to be able to afford that?

So, if you can get a 80% mortgage (assuming you have a clear credit rating, which is unlikely if you have been a council tenant), you will need to have £23,600 deposit plus a mortgage arrangement fee (£1000), plus solicitors fees and other costs to buy this home, and you'll then have to find £600-odd a month to pay your mortgage. And you really don't want to miss those payments at the moment given the huge rise in repossessions.

We think this is a shocking betrayal of what the Council promised for the people of East Leeds.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Leeds property sector enjoying boom - YEP

20 August 2008


PROPERTY sales might be falling through the floor but lettings of city-centre flats are going through the roof, according to agents in Leeds.
While less than a year ago forecasters were warning there would be a huge oversupply of apartments in the heart of Leeds, since the credit crunch put the brakes on many schemes, the city's letting agents say there could well be an undersupply.


And it looks like the days of a flat in Leeds being seen as a cheap option could soon be over, as rents rise in line with the increasing demand for a limited number of homes.

Jonathan Morgan, of Morgans City Living, said lettings with the firm were up between 30 and 40 per cent on last year. He has recruited extra staff and extended opening hours to cope. Mr Morgan, the first estate agent to deal exclusively in the fledgling flats market 11 years ago, said: "People recognise that at the moment if they are serious about moving they are making very quick decisions because if they don't, flats they look at have gone and they have to go back and start looking again."

He added: "Believe it or not the challenge we may face in five years time is undersupply."

As revealed by the YEP, thousands of homes planned for the city centre have been axed. The credit crisis has pushed up the cost of mortgages and first-time buyers need to find deposits of 10 or even 25 per cent to get the best rates from some lenders – equating to more than £30,000.

Mr Morgan said a random sample of 80 Morgans properties had shown rents had risen 2.5 per cent between April 2007 and April 2008 and that was expected to increase to around four to five per cent this year. A typical one-bedroom flat without parking in Leeds city centre is now a minimum of £600 a month, while a two-bedroom pad with parking is £825 upwards.

Hayley Miles, sales and lettings manager for King Sturge, Leeds, said this was the first year the firm had offered a lettings service but it was three times busier than expected and rents were starting to rise. She said: "There's always been talk of an oversupply in times gone past but in fact we still have few properties in Leeds city centre compared to other cities." Miss Miles added: "The future development pipeline has dramatically reduced due to the mothballing of a number of high-profile schemes so there's going to be less stock coming on the market over the coming years."
She said: "If the letting market continues to boom the way it is, it's conceivable that the demand could outstrip the supply."


James Douglas, of Leeds city centre online estate agent nest, said the firm had had its best year yet, taking on extra staff to cope with demand and reporting record profits.He said: "nest is open seven days a week – til 8pm five days a week.
"This year we are up probably 35 to 40 per cent compared to last year."

Mr Douglas, 29, said: "People who had put aside £800 or £900 a month for a mortgage are thinking they're not going to get that mortgage but they're still aspiring to live in nice properties even now they can't buy them." He added: "Now that we are having to work with what we've got to hand there will be an undersupply."

Andrew Carter, deputy leader of Leeds City Council and executive member for development, said the vacancy rate for city-centre flats was around 11 per cent, which he described as "pretty good". Estate agents sold an average of 15 properties in the three months to the end of June, figures from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) show.

That is nearly 40 per cent below the same period last year and the lowest figure since records began in 1978. Even during the depths of the 1991 housing crash agents sold 26 properties in any three-month period.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) said nationally instructions to let properties had increased at their fastest pace since its survey began, during the three months to July. Overall 43 per cent more chartered surveyors reported seeing a rise in the number of new landlord instructions than those who saw a fall, up from 30 per cent the previous quarter.

Record numbers being evicted in Leeds - YEP

20 August 2008
By Mark Hookham
Political Editor

THE number of homeowners facing eviction for failing to meet mortgage payments in Leeds has jumped by a third.

A total of 319 mortgage repossession orders were made by the county court between April and June this year – up by 33 per cent on the second quarter of last year. The Ministry of Justice figures provide worrying evidence about how the credit crunch is impacting on the poorest households in the city.

A mortgage repossession order is granted by a court and entitles the claimant – usually a lender – to apply to have the occupier evicted. Not all orders result in the properties actually being repossessed because homeowners and lenders can still negotiate a compromise to prevent eviction.

The number of mortgage repossession claims – the earlier first stage of the repossession process – has also increased in Leeds by 6 per cent, with 432 claims made in the second quarter of this year. Similarly, the number of claims jumped by 33 per cent in Pontefract, 27 per cent in Wakefield and 23 per cent in Dewsbury between April and June this year compared to 2007.

Across England and Wales there were 39,078 claims in the courts for the three month period, up 17 per cent. The number of repossession orders made by the courts nationally rose by 24 per cent to 28,658.

Housing Minister Caroline Flint said: "While we are not seeing repossessions on the same scale as the early 1990s, we are making sure the right advice and support is available for the minority of borrowers who may need it at the moment because of global economic pressures."

Earlier this year Ms Flint announced a package of measures to help those who face losing their homes, including free legal representation at county court.

But Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Vince Cable warned: "The level of growth of repossession orders suggests we are on track for a repossession crisis very similar to the early 1990s.

"It is absolutely vital that the Government should intervene and require a proper code of conduct to be implemented by mortgage lenders."

Last week lenders' data for actual repossessions also showed a leap in numbers. In a further worrying development, the British Chamber of Commerce yesterday became the first business group to forecast that Britain would fall into recession. It predicted the economic slump will force unemployment to soar by between 250,000 and 300,000 in the next two to three years, adding that total unemployment of more than 2 million could not be ruled out.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

YEP - Is Leeds' flats boom over?

Nearly 800 homes will not now be built at Manor Road/Sweet Street, Holbeck, Leeds.
19 August 2008
By Debbie Leigh
New figures obtained by the YEP today show a dramatic fall in the number of city-centre flats being built.

Of the 12,700 apartments in the pipeline at the beginning of last year, 7,170 units have been axed or mothballed – equivalent to seven and a half Lumiere skyscrapers.
That means 4,250 flats delayed or ditched in addition to high-profile schemes which have recently fallen victim to the credit crunch like Spiracle, Kissing Towers and Lumiere.

Over five years Leeds had become a symbol of the building boom, known for the number of cranes on its skyline but there were fears the market had reached saturation point.

With the credit crunch making mortgages hard to get and little funding available for residential building projects, many developers cited "current market conditions" as the reason for shelving their schemes.

Units that will not be built include:

1,009 flats at Temple Works, Holbeck;
788 homes at Manor Road/Sweet Street, Holbeck;
584 apartments at Caddick Development's Quarry Hill project;
490 homes at Brunswick Place;
Between 280 and 330 flats at MEPC's Wellington Place;
272 apartments at the Mayfair scheme at Cropper Gate.

Delayed schemes include:
720 units at Crosby Lend Lease's Latitude site, on Globe Road
57 flats at Manor Road.

A spokesman for Kenmore Property Group said it was looking to amend its plans for Cropper Gate, swapping the homes element for commercial uses as Leeds was "probably oversupplied now in terms of residential schemes".

And when Castelmore abandoned its scheme at Brunswick Place it blamed a lack of appetite for large-scale mixed-use developments in the economic conditions.

A spokesman for Crosby Lend Lease said work on its Globe Road site was on hold until market conditions improved.

Andrew Carter, deputy leader of Leeds City Council and executive member for development, said: "The fact that a number of schemes have been put on hold is just a sign of the current economic situation.

"I'm as worried as everybody else about the economic downturn in the UK, I think we are in a for a bumpy ride, but Leeds is better placed than any other northern city – in my view."

Leeds Chamber of Commerce's policy director Ian Williams said the last decade had seen 59,000 jobs created and the estimated value of the city's economy was set to grow from £13bn to £17bn by 2016.

He added: "Leeds is actually in a good position. And even with the recent talk of recession we still have businesses speaking with us on a daily basis, outlining that they are performing well in the current economic climate."

The dwindling property market in Leeds has already seen 1,974 apartments ditched by developers, such as Spiracle on the site of Leeds International Pool, Kissing Towers at Criterion Place and Green Bank.

Work on Lumiere dramatically halted last month because of lack of funding and despite developer KW Linfoot's claims that building could re-start early next year, the scheme remains on hold.

And there could be more homes to bite the dust yet.

Montpellier Estates has outline planning permission for City One, a mixed-use development with 450 homes.

A spokesperson said: "With regards to the residential element of the scheme, this is still under review and has yet to be decided."

City living expert Rachael Unsworth, from the University of Leeds School of Geography, said the building downturn could prove a blessing for the city's future.
"We were heading for a major oversupply of a particular kind of accommodation. We were going down the wrong road and we can reconsider."

Around 850 city-centre flats are expected to be completed this year and there are long-term projects like the 282-unit Isis Waterside Regeneration development at Granary Wharf and 410-unit Saxton by Urban Splash, due to be completed at the end of 2010.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Our letter to the Yorkshire Evening Post

'Don't leave us at mercy of market'
16 August 2008

In July the YEP reported on the demise of the Leeds Lumiere development.
What you did not point out is that "the market" that has shelved this development is the same market that is proposed to "regenerate" Leeds and provide it with affordable homes.

Vast areas of mainly council housing are being flattened to provide to provide land upon which private developers can build housing for sale, a small proportion of which will be called "affordable".

With council housing lists at bursting point, inflation continuing to rise, unemployment increasing and the cost of borrowing remaining high what chance do first-time buyers or those people being removed from areas such as Gipton and Seacroft have of finding a decent, affordable place to live?

Leeds City Council's policy of relying on the private sector to provide homes must be a risky strategy. The leader of the council, Coun Richard Brett, recently remarked that "there is a real question mark about whether Bellway can build and sell houses in Seacroft and Gipton when we are in a credit crunch."

Bellway Homes are the "preferred" partner with Leeds City Council in the EASEL regeneration project across east and south-east Leeds.

This shows the danger of expecting the private sector to deliver public services such as affordable housing: they will only do it if they can make a certain profit.

So here's an idea: if private builders like Bellway are reluctant to build houses in case they can't sell them, why doesn't the council take them over to provide for rented accommodation? Building jobs will be saved and truly affordable housing will have been achieved.

Housing is too vital to be left to the market and we urge the council to rethink the current policy. Oh and by the way – if there are so many empty riverside flats unoccupied then why not take them over as well?

John Davies, chairman, Hands Off Our Homes

Monday, 11 August 2008

Using the Freedom of Information Act

Many tenants and residents are increasingly using the Freedom of Information Act and the Data Protection Act to gather vital evidence about what local authorities and other public bodies are up to.

Here is a great new website that helps you to find out 'inside information' about what the UK government is doing. You choose the public authority that you would like information from, then write a brief note describing what you want to know. The website then sends your request to the public authority. Any response they make is automatically published on the website for you and anyone else to find and read.

Go to: http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/

Problems with Local Government Ombudsmen

One possible route to stopping local authorities from demolishing or privatising our homes is to complain to the Local Government Ombudsman. However, there is growing evidence that these organisations are not on the side of ordinary people, but are instead acting on behalf of local authorities.

Check out the following websites for more information about people having a rough time with Local Government Ombudsmen:

Local Government Ombudsmen Discussion Forum: http://www.amv3.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=9

Public Service Ombudsman Watchers: http://www.psow.co.uk/

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Housing crisis 'hits cash for roads and schools'

Developers want to build only individual homes
Published Date: 07 August 2008
By Tom Smithard Political Correspondent

ROADS, playgrounds and schools could fall victim to the housing crisis as developers in Yorkshire become increasingly powerful, an influential report warns.
Money currently extracted from developers to pay for new infrastructure could soon dry up with councils desperate to fulfil the Government demands that more than 22,000 new homes are built the region each year.

Local authorities had planned on forcing developers to build high-density apartment complexes within town centres in order to meet the targets. But the bottom has now fallen out of that market and developers are unwilling – or unable – to build high-rise flats.

Instead, they are expected to tell local authorities that they are only prepared to build individual houses on desirable, greenfield land – and that they are no longer prepared to stump up for new infrastructure, known as Section 106 funding, as they look to maximize profits.

That could lead to Yorkshire seeing more houses built on greenbelt, without any additional rise in roads and schools, with councils too scared of missing Government targets to refuse developers' demands.

The fears emerged in a comprehensive report into the current housing crisis, put together by officials at the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Assembly.

It reveals that:

Work started on 21 per cent fewer homes in the first quarter of 2008 than the last quarter in 2007, and starts were 24 per cent down on a year earlier. Completions fell by 12 and 18 per cent respectively.

The Government's housing market renewal areas, flagship schemes to regenerate deprived parts of South Yorkshire and Hull, are in danger of relapsing due to the credit crunch and slowing down of the market.

Housing associations in Yorkshire have at least 300 homes that they haven't been able to sell for at least three months.

The average house price in Yorkshire is now £163,500 – a 4.51 per cent increase on last year – and a 44.16 per cent increase on four years ago.

For the first time since 1996, more new homes are being completed by builders than are being started.

Developers, desperate to get new flats off their books are offering discounts of at least 20 per cent to housing associations. But they are unsuitable for family housing.

Estate agents are in the process of closing offices in Yorkshire or laying off significant numbers of staff; small building firms are in danger of collapsing, and manufacturers of building materials are suspending production in the region.

The report states that the amount of money developers can get from apartment complexes has fallen from 37 per cent of the build costs in 2003 to nine per cent last year, and that there is no appetite to build more.

Last night a spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government, which sets housebuilding targets, said: "There is an overwhelming case for building more housing and we must remain as ambitious as possible but there is no question of greenfield land becoming up for grabs.

"Councils can insist that new homes are in suitable locations thanks to our tough brownfield first policy. We have also just announced a £6.4m incentive grant for councils in Yorkshire and Humberside who ensure that there is a 10-year supply of suitable brownfield sites for development."


Thursday, 10 July 2008

Lumiere construction stopped!

Construction of Leeds' Lumiere put on hold
James Buckley 09/07/2008 15:45


Work has stopped on a scheme in Leeds which was to have featured the tallest residential tower in western Europe.

Developers KW Linfoot and Frasers Property Developments say they have put the scheme, known as the Lumiere, on hold as a result of the increasingly uncertain financial climate.

Plans for the scheme's two towers, comprising 55 and 33 storeys each, include 952 flats, shops and offices.

Design firm YOO is involved in the design and branding of the flats and is also a shareholder in the scheme.

The joint venture partners have confirmed that plans will progress when funding can be secured.

"We are of course disappointed that we are unable to progress plans for Lumiere to the anticipated timescale but we have to take heed of the current climate," said Richard Dean, joint managing director at KW Linfoot. "We have made a sensible and pragmatic decision to put on hold construction at a time when the piling works are complete and before we embark on the next phase."

"We have already invested a considerable amount of time and money to deliver this iconic structure for Leeds and remain committed to progress plans when the market stabilises. Hopefully this will be sooner rather than later."

KW Linfoot confirmed that its marketing of the flats will be unaffected.

All existing purchase contracts will remain although completions will be delayed in line with a revised construction programme.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

House prices falling at fastest rate for 16 years

Hilary Osborne
Tuesday July 1, 2008

House prices in the UK fell by 0.9% in June, Nationwide building society said today, and are dropping at their fastest rate in 16 years.

The average price of a home in the UK has fallen by 6.3%, or £11,500, since last June, and by 7.5%, or £13,629, since reaching a peak last October, according to the figures. It now stands at £172,415.

The year-on-year fall is the biggest recorded by the society since December 1992.

Although the pace of decline slowed last month after May's 2.5% fall in prices, this is the eighth month running they have fallen, and a continued slowdown in the mortgage market suggests there are further falls to come.

Yesterday, the Bank of England said the number of mortgages approved for house purchases had fallen by 64% over the year to May to reach a record low of just 42,000.

Recent figures from the government showed the number of sales was down 37% compared with the figure for May 2007, while the latest Land Registry figures on house sales showed that they were running at half last year's level.

Nationwide's chief economist, Fionnuala Earley, said: "With house purchase transactions so far below their long-term trend it seems unlikely that there will be any rapid turnaround in housing market fortunes in the coming months.

"However, as prices continue to fall affordability measures become more favourable for those in a well-financed position to be able to buy."

Regional figures from the society showed prices were down year-on-year in 12 out of 13 areas of the UK in the second quarter of the year, and had fallen in all areas since the first three months of the year.

It said Scotland had proved most resilient to the market downturn so far, with prices falling 1.8% over the quarter but up 0.6% on the same period last year.

Earley said the reason that this correction in prices was "less drastic" than elsewhere was that housing affordability had remained better in Scotland than in many other regions of the UK.

Northern Ireland saw the biggest fall in prices over the quarter, with the average cost of a home falling by 9% between April and June.

However, despite falling 18% over the past year prices in the region are still above the UK average at £183,476.

The city which saw the biggest decline in prices over the quarter was Sheffield, where 17% was knocked off the value of a home between April and June.

Prices have been falling steeply since the end of last year as a lack of mortgages, affordability problems and concerns about the market have deterred potential buyers.

Howard Archer, chief UK economist at Global Insight, said the data did "little to dilute concerns that we are headed for a sharp correction in house prices".

"The marked deterioration in sentiment over the housing market also heightens the risk that house prices will fall sharply over the next couple of years," he warned.

"On top of this, unemployment is now starting to rise, which along with a substantial number of homeowners having to remortgage at higher rates, is increasing the likelihood that people will have to sell their house for 'distressed' reasons."

Monday, 30 June 2008

Keeping track of housing privatisation

For those of you who want to keep up to date on the number and location of council housing units being sold off and lost to the public sector, then the Government's Live Tables website is a good place to start.


Have fun!

Friday, 23 May 2008

Planning permission not required

East End Park is a blighted area. Denueded of long-term residents, replaced with properties being being to rent. Grade One back-to-backs being converted into flats WITHOUT PLANNING PERMISSION. The Planning Office simply ignores residents' requests to explain the situation or to outline whether Fire, Health and Safety regulations have been adhered to. One resident was informed (on the 'phone) that the property owner was not breaking the law 'just taking a risk'? Is there anyone out there who has come across this situation? Any comments?


Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Slump forces City Island to rent out rather than sell

02.05.08, http://www.propertyweek.com/story.asp?sectioncode=530&storycode=3112434&c=3

Middle Eastern backers of scheme turn down ‘bulk’ sales of second phase. Doug Morrison reports

the Middle Eastern investors behind a high-profile residential development in Leeds City Island are considering renting out the entire second phase of the complex after failing to sell any of the 185 flats.

Mayfair Developments, the project management company overseeing investors, confirmed the switch in strategy after it emerged that Savills had walked away as the sole agent for the flats.

Property Week has learnt that, over the last six months, Savills has negotiated three separate ‘bulk’ deals involving investors willing to buy all 185 flats.

But Mayfair and its Middle Eastern backers turned down each offer, despite the continuing downturn in demand for flats in Leeds.

Completion due

The uncertainty surrounding City Island, which was designed by local architect Brewster Bye, comes as construction of the second phase, on Gots Road, is weeks from completion and at a time when Leeds has become known in property circles as ‘the empty flats capital of the UK’ as a result of the credit crunch and the collapse of the buy-to-let market.

A spokeswoman for Manchester-based Mayfair told Property Week that the group and its investors were considering changing tack and renting rather than selling the flats in the 20-storey scheme.

‘Because of the change in the market we have to consider it,’ she said. ‘But nothing has been decided. They would still ideally like to sell it.’

She said Savills’ ‘exclusivity’ on City Island was under review and that other agents might be brought in: ‘Savills are still our agent at the moment and they’ve had a few offers from various investors but they’ve just been too low to accept.’

However, a spokesperson for the agent said: ‘Savills is no longer marketing this development.’

The turn of events at City Island reflects the changing fortunes of residential developers in Leeds. Mayfair used local agent Morgans for the first phase of development and, as was common in most schemes until last year, all but a handful of flats in that 404-unit phase were sold off plan.

The scheme has been mired in controversy, however, after it emerged last year that flats had sold for up to £50,000 less than they were bought for through Inside Track, the investment club group, which this week went into administration.

Savills replaced Morgans as agent for phase two of City Island.

Although discounted bulk acquisitions by groups such as Inside Track have declined during the housing slowdown, Savills is understood to have negotiated three sales for all 185 flats over six months, albeit at progressively lower prices.

The agent declined to reveal the identity of the prospective purchaser or comment further on its position at City Island. However, one agent familiar with the scheme suggested that Mayfair had ‘unrealistic expectations’ of values for the second phase.

The downturn in house prices and the fragility of the ‘city living’ market for flats in Leeds have already resulted in one high-profile casualty.

Late last year, market conditions forced Taylor Wimpey to mothball Greenbank, its £100m scheme for 800 flats in the city.

Stark changes to supply and demand are evident from Savills’ latest report on Yorkshire and the Humber, revealed exclusively to Property Week.

The report shows that in 2001 as much as 91% of new residential supply across the region was in the form of new homes on greenfield land.

By 2007 the level of new flat development had increased from 9% to 50%. Savills estimates that greenfield land values fell 14% in the first quarter of 2008. Urban and brownfield values have fallen 10%.

Development viability has been further eroded by rising construction costs and section 106 contributions set against the prospect of lower sales values.

Yet housing delivery needs to increase by 35% from existing levels to meet the latest government targets for the region, the report says. The surplus of flats on the market in Leeds, in particular, is also at odds with local authority housing policy.

Leeds City Council is encouraging the development of family homes but the report suggests there is limited potential to attract families into the large stock of vacant, new-build flats.

‘Without significant amounts of investment in both the immediate and wider city area, families are unlikely to be encouraged to buy on a large scale,’ the report says.

As for buy-to-let investors, the report warns that investors are unlikely to account for such large proportions of new-build flats as they have done in the past.

The report adds: ‘While investor demand is expected to pick up when market sentiment recovers, current conditions are a reminder to developers that they must design units that appeal to owner-occupiers, as well as investors.’

Sheffield steeled

In another report, on property’s ‘most turbulent period for 10 years’, Knight Frank claims that one positive upshot in Sheffield has been rising residential rents.

Unlike Leeds, the strength of its rental market is thanks to the limited number of high-quality schemes, Knight Frank claims.

Tearle Phelan, Knight Frank’s head of residential development in Sheffield, said: ‘The current situation has meant that most residential schemes on the drawing board will remain just that for the time being.

‘High construction costs and the lack of investors because of the mortgage squeeze have seen developers mothballing schemes and not considering new opportunities.’

But Phelan added: ‘City living is here to stay and new schemes will continue to come forward but perhaps not on the large scale witnessed to date. New schemes will be smaller and finished with higher quality and better design with attention to detail.’