Government grant settlement for York Council announced.

Council Tax levels set to be frozen

The York Council has fared relatively well in the grant settlement announced today.

The Councils “spending power” will fall by only 0.1% against a national average of 1.8%.

The “spending power” figure combines regular central government funding with one-off grants and things like Council Tax, a proportion of business rates and other fees and charges.

The government has also confirmed that it will underwrite the costs of freezing Council Tax levels. The new Labour leadership have promised to accept the offer of support unlike their predecessors who hiked up Council Tax rates unnecessarily.

Lib Dems challenge £9.2million ‘media hub’ plans

Councillor Andrew WallerCllr Andrew Waller

Liberal Democrat councillors say plans to spend £9.2million on a ‘Digital Media Hub’ at York’s Guildhall should be reconsidered.

The proposals were rubber-stamped by the Labour Cabinet last night despite concerns raised at the meeting by Lib Dem Cllr Ian Cuthbertson. Under the plans, City of York Council will spend an initial £500,000 on the project. The overall scheme is due to cost £9.2million with cash coming from council capital funds, borrowing and the council’s ‘Economic Infrastructure Fund’. £1.7million in funding is yet to be found.

The Lib Dems say there is not enough evidence on income to justify the spending and have ‘called-in’ the decision for review. The proposal will now be reconsidered at a cross-party scrutiny meeting in January.

Cllr Andrew Waller, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Finance and Performance, commented:

It is astonishing that the Labour Cabinet has brought forward these proposals without a proper business case which shows how the council hopes to get a return on its investment to justify the spending. There is also currently a £1.7million black hole in Labour’s plans.

“If this plan proceeds, York taxpayers will be asked to underwrite £9million of risk on the project. As well as a huge upfront capital cost the plans would greatly increase the council’s long-term borrowing commitments, a burden which has already increased under Labour.

“The report passed presents no evidence that other options for the Guildhall have been properly considered, that this is the right location for the use being proposed or that the private sector will take on any of the risk of this project.

“At a time when Labour are cutting frontline services for ordinary residents and considering moving to monthly rubbish collections, we cannot support this sort of speculative spending on vanity projects in the city-centre.”

Muddle, confusion, division and delay – York’s Local Plan

Yesterday’s York Council working group meeting should have sorted out a way forward which would have led to majority support for a new Local Plan for the City.Green Belt campaign logo

Instead a maverick Tory Councillor, Joe Watt, voted against his own parties policies when he sided with the “Big City” proposals which Labour have been touting around for the last 3 years. The high growth proposals were rejected at the October Council meeting having attracted a record number of objections from residents (over 15,000).

The latest proposals envisage an average of 926 additional homes being built in the City each year leading to a total build of 14,816 by 2030.  The character and setting of the City would be changed for ever.

The majority of the houses would be built on Green Belt land and would be occupied by inward migrants.

Existing York Green Belt boundaries. click to enlarge

Existing York Green Belt boundaries. click to enlarge

On average the City has seen – over the last 15 years –  just over 600 homes built each year.

Lack of planning permissions and identified development sites has rarely, if ever, been a problem during that period.

Over 80% of new homes have been provided on previously developed (brownfield) sites during the last 2 years.

The Council has been totally opaque in its dealings over the Local Plan. Even now Freedom of Information requests are subject to ongoing delays.

The York Council has also still to come up with a workable governance system which will see it through to the “all out” local elections in May.

We doubt that many existing Councillors will be re-elected if they don’t step up to the plate and respect the wishes of York residents.  Cllr Watt, in particular, is leaving an unwelcome legacy with 4000 new homes now likely to be built on Green Belt land on the doorsteps of  Skelton and Clifton Moor electors.

The Local Plan is the biggest remaining issue for the present Council to sort out.

It needs to find a consensus approach and quickly.