Reaching zero carbon with an ambitious approach to housebuilding in York

Plans have been submitted by City of York Council for the first stage of what the Guardian recently has called “arguably the UK’s most ambitious council-led housing programme in a generation”.

As a Liberal Democrat led council we are embarking on our biggest housebuilding programme since the 1970s. Work is already under way to deliver more than 600 new homes across the city, including at least 250 affordable homes, each designed to have a net carbon emissions figure of zero.

This plan is just one element of our work to deliver more housing and tackle the climate emergency. Our target of reaching zero carbon by 2030 requires a bold and holistic approach to tackling the climate crisis.

Currently, we are leading the way nationally by introducing ambitious plans across the city to improve York’s air quality – from the largest zero emission Park&Ride fleet in the country and the first voluntary Clean Air Zone in the UK, with ambitions to become the first all-electric bus city.

This is on top of major investment in refurbishing and improving council housing, using the very latest low carbon technologies in construction, maximising the generation and storage of renewable electricity on council land and buildings, and planting 50,000 trees in 3 years as part of the Northern Forest initiative.

Our ambitious housing delivery programme focuses on taking a holistic approach to the low carbon future of our city. It is not just about energy efficient materials – it’s about rethinking the approach to sustainable neighbourhood building. Every element of the scheme, from the front door out into the transport network, is aiding in our efforts to tackle the climate emergency head on.

A new Design Manual ‘Building Better Places’ (available here) is key to the wider programme, and sets a new standard for zero housebuilding. As one of the many proposals for the new planning system set out in the government’s Planning for the Future White Paper is using Design guides at local plan making stage, manuals such as this will be the cornerstone for the next generation of communities and neighbourhoods.

Given the decades of central government underfunding, particularly for northern authorities, we have had to make the development model self-sustaining, with 60% of the homes set for market sale in order to cross-subsidise 40% affordable housing, half of which will be for social rent.

The decision to deliver this programme through the Housing Revenue Account (HRA), rather than through a separate development company, was informed by a clear purpose and vision to meet housing need and deliver positive social outcomes rather than for revenue generation. More than £153million will be invested in the programme, funded by market sales, the HRA resources and equity sales.

Zero carbon housing has been an ambition for innovative local authorities for the last 20 years. However, first the lack of technological know-how followed by the lack of political willpower from the Conservative government, has meant that housebuilding has failed to reach the zero carbon standards necessary to aid in cutting carbon emissions across the country.

As Sally Godber, director of Warm, the Passivhaus consultancy working on the York project, said to the Guardian, “… there’s no aspiration or leadership from government. It’s left to progressive councils, like York, to lead the way.” It is councils leading the way in delivering for residents with ambitious and progressive long term thinking to build for the carbon free future. All of this despite decades of underfunding and outdated and counterproductive national policies. It comes down to Liberal Democrats in local government to make real, tangible change happen for our communities.

* Keith Aspden has been the Councillor for Fulford Ward in York since 2003 and for Fulford and Heslington Ward since 2015. Since 2019 he is the Leader of City of York Council, and the Liberal Democrat Deputy Chair of the LGA Fire Services Management Committee.

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  • David Garlick 21st Oct '20 - 2:26pm

    Great work. Very well done all in York Lib Dems.

  • David Evans 22nd Oct '20 - 1:58pm

    Excellent idea. Remember though that the hard bit starts now – making it all work together properly. Just remember though, when it comes to flooding, Low Field was called *Low* Field for a reason. Make sure you have an extra close look at the Flood risk assessments etc.

    All the best to our friends in and around York.

  • Helen Dudden 24th Oct '20 - 9:01am

    I’ve asked Age UK for support on housing for Power Wheelchair users and older people.
    A Power Wheelchair is not a scooter, it is a medical aid. It can’t be left outside as easily stolen. Worth around £8,000, and if left outside and stolen or damaged the insurance cover is waived. The law is not clear on Health and Safety.
    Not enough housing for those who are disabled is being built, I’ve suggested that all ground floor properties are made accessible. This could be one idea. Also, could flat pack housing be an option?
    I agree, we can’t simply keep building and building, like many other’s, I love the green of our country. Empty properties are still there to be had. Larger properties are another subject, can conversion be viable with those in a derelict state?
    I further believe, it could be an exciting option to look for a new approach in housing, planning with a true commitment for our children and grandchildren.

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