The Council has today issued a media release claiming that the £20 million Guildhall project, “has managed to progress whilst implementing government social distancing restrictions and the team has achieved 90% of all scheduled work on site in the last month”.
That is good news. Earlier in the year long delays had been forecast
The Councils performance in allowing the listed building to slip in a shocking state of disrepair was disappointing. The conservation work needed to be completed and the letting of a repairs contract, after so many delays, was broadly welcomed.
Unfortunately the Council also agreed to embark on, what some viewed as, a financially reckless bid to provide more offices and a “business club” on the site, with part of the work being paid from rent generated by a large restaurant. Last year the Council let a £16,000 contract aimed at attracting a restaurant operator
The mix of uses always looked risky. The private sector declined to take on any of that risk. The business case looks even less convincing in the light of the recession that will grip this country over the next few years.
Taxpayers already face paying a £574,000 a year subsidy – mostly for interest charges – on the project. Office rent income of £549,000 a year is assumed. If any of the latter doesn’t materialise, then the operating deficit will have to be paid for by cuts in other pubic services in the City.
In seeking to let the office and start up space, the Council will in effect be in competition with itself as there is spare accommodation at the Community Stadium, at the eco small business centre and, potentially, on Piccadilly.
Even the Councils own offices may soon have spare space as more staff find it possible (and desirable) to work from home – one of the possible positive benefits of the current health crisis. (To see other empty property click)
Against that background, residents would have expected the Council to undertake a “root and branch” reappraisal of all aspects of the project.
Instead they seem to be adopting an “it’ll be alright on the night” approach.
In this case, as with several other projects, it most certainly won’t be alright, unless the Council comes up with and implements a convincing economic recovery plan.
NB. Separately it appears that the new £700,000 City centre “direction signs” project is set to go ahead. 50% is being funded by the York BID.
Leaving aside the controversial appearance of the signs, this is surely expenditure that could have been delayed at least until an economic recovery is well underway and tourists are returning to the city in larger numbers.