Issued by City of York Council
A new report supported by City of York Council has identified potential to develop some 800 homes or small-scale office/retail space above shops in the city centre, as funding in confirmed for converting the site of the old White Swan hotel.
In October 2012, using the Delivery and Innovation Fund, the council helped pay for a research project by the North of England Civic Trust (NECT) to determine the extent of disused upper floors above commercial property within the City Walls.
The study shows that in the historic core of York, some 36 per cent of upper floors are not fully used. Even after reducing this figure by 75 per cent to take account of margins of error and constraints on the suitability of some buildings for conversion, the study still concludes that there is potential to create up to 800 one-bedroom flats, which could house 1,000-1,500 people – or a similar number of smaller-scale offices.
The NECT study re-affirms the economic, social and cultural challenges facing the High Street, and the wider potential economic and social costs associated with any decline in its appearance, viability and sustainability. Diversifying the city centre economy, reducing car dependence and reinvigorating the centre of York, are all tangible benefits of an increased residential presence, which this study deems possible.
With shifts in retail practice, notably in requirements for stock storage, more upper floor space is freed for alternative use and makes investing in converting it to generate a new income stream from rents, a more attractive option – especially with York’s strong rental sector.
An early outcome initiated by the research is the announcement of a successful bid for Empty Homes funding from the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA). This was made by Tees Valley Housing, part of Fabrick Housing Group, to secure support for the creation of 18 affordable flats at the former White Swan Hotel, Piccadilly. A £450,000 grant was confirmed on 19 June and negotiations between the owners of the building, Tees Valley Housing and the council are progressing.
The extensive, unused upper floors of the White Swan, its central location and the partnership approach to the conversion of this substantial resource, stand to make it an exemplar ‘city centre living’ scheme.
Councillor James Alexander, Leader of City of York Council, said: “The encouraging news from our partnership work with the White Swan conversion project, coupled with the conclusions from the study, provides evidence of a wealth of potential accommodation for people or businesses which supports our ambition for new homes and jobs as outlined in the Local Plan.
“Our part in helping bring the White Swan back into use is indicative of our willingness and innovation to help convert city centre premises into homes.”
Councillor Tracey Simpson-Laing, Cabinet Member for Health, Housing and Adult Social Care, said: “Where possible we will be working with owners to support conversions, in the same way we will be supporting landowners who have identified sites suitable for development for the Local Plan.
“Supporting the conversion of existing properties is not only exploiting a sustainable building resource, but will provide much-needed homes in the heart of the city, bring additional business to city-centre retailers by adding to the resident population, generate additional income streams for owners from rents and also help the conservation of the architecturally-important historic core.”
Graham Bell, Director of North of England Civic Trust, said: “Much discussion nationally about the future of the High Street has focussed on shops, but for every shop there might be two or three times that area in the floors above as an untapped resource. Think of what that could be unlocked in terms of jobs or housing and the benefits for York.”
Martin Hawthorne, Director of Development and Regeneration for Fabrick, the parent company of Tees Valley Housing, said: “This is a fantastic project that’s brining much-needed homes into the heart of the city. We’re delighted to be working with City of York Council to make this development a viable option.”
Richard Panter, Area Manager at the HCA, said: “I am delighted that our investment will help bring forward this landmark city centre project.”
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