Plan for North Yorkshire “Mayor”

Would include York with elections scheduled for 2022

Mayor GIFs - Get the best gif on GIFER

The York Council has revealed that it is in discussions with other local authorities in North Yorkshire about forming a “combined authority”. Government policy is to devolve some funding to regions but only if they agree to be governed by an elected Mayor.

West Yorkshire has a “combined authority” while South Yorkshire has already elected its own Mayor.

It seems that York may have little choice in the matter.

Details can be found by clicking here.

Consultation is promised prior to the Councils executive meeting on 23rd July. That meeting will apparently detail the Councils expectations of any deal. Council media releases refer to the, ludicrously titled, “big conversation” as the preferred conduit for resident comments (although there are no questions about devolution on the “on line” survey).

While more funding for the region would be welcome, the prospect of power being put into one persons hands in such a large an area as North Yorkshire will give many a sinking felling.

York extracted itself from the North Yorkshire County Council in 1997 in the hope that a unitary authority would be more sensitive to local priorities. The results have been mixed, partly as a result of the highly volatile local political scene.

The only current post which is in any way similar is that of the Police and Crime Commissioner (now incorporating fire) which has been a lamentable failure. The post is hopelessly remote, is not accountable in any real way and, so far, has attracted poorly qualified candidates. The current post-holder seems to have little empathy for the problems of York.

The PCC powers would probably transfer to any new Mayor.

All in all, the obsession national politicians have with the American “city boss” model is profoundly depressing. Decisions taken in Northallerton (or Craven) are unlikely to be any more sensitive to York concerns than those currently determined in Whitehall.

But it does look like this is where things are heading.

Spy camera fines increase in York

Some motorists may be in for a surprise according to the latest figures published by the York Council in response to a Freedom of Information request.

The number of drivers fined for access breaches on Coppergate and Low Poppleton Lane had, in the past,  been published on the Councils web site.

 These stopped abruptly last October.

Now a Freedom of Information request has revealed that the number of offenders caught fell to zero at both sites in January.

Penalty Charge Notices issued

However, more recently – and despite “lock-down” – the numbers are on the rise again.

During May 268 drivers on Coppergate and 90 on Low Poppleton Lane fell foul of the cameras.

The Council hopes to receive around £1 million in fine income.

There was little justification for enforcing access restrictions during April and May.

Vehicle numbers – mainly used by key workers – on York streets were very low and those bus services which continued encountered no congestion.

Lowfields development complaints increase as Council confirms that Yorspace have failed to purchase land allocated for them.

Completion delays forecast

Yorspace plans 2017

The York Council has confirmed that the Yorspace communal housing project has failed to purchase the development plot allocated for them nearly 3 years ago.

Although the 19 home site wasn’t as controversial as some other parts of the development, neighbours had been assured that a prompt start would be made on site. This was considered to be  essential if a maximum 3 year site build was to be achieved as promised by the Council  It is understood that the area which is allocated as a play area, will first be used as a building compound for the Yorspace development.

The Yorspace development became controversial when it was revealed in January 2019 that no conditions had been attached to the sale which required occupiers to be in housing need, have low incomes or, indeed, even be York residents. There was some scepticism about the sale price of £300,000 as a similar nearby plot had been sold for 50% more than that figure.

A Council official, at a private meeting held in August 2017, had agreed an “exclusivity agreement” to sell the land to what was then styled as a  “Mutual Home Ownership Society”

Planning permission was granted in March 2019 despite concerns about lack of parking provision and the absence of “affordable housing”. Yorspace was forced last year to extend its funding appeal deadline for investors, although it later announced that it had reached its income target. This should have allowed funds to be transferred to the Council but a Freedom of Information response has today confirmed that this did not happen.

With other elements of the development also now in delay – there is no sign of the “self build” homes, elderly persons sheltered housing or community buildings being started – the development timetable is likely to stetch to 5 years or more.

This is bad news for some neighbours who have complained bitterly on the Save Lowfields Playing Field Facebook page about noise, dust and the disruption and damage being caused by plant & supplies accessing the site. Residents claim to have complained to the Council and the local MP without a response.

Verges and roads in Dijon Avenue have been damaged.

The adjacent “self build” plots are also stalled. A year ago the Council agreed to market the plots through “Custom Build Homes”. Buyers were supposed to start construction “within 12 months” and have completed all works “within 2 years”.

The Council needs to get a grip on what is happening at Lowfields. Work is continuing on constructing the speculative housing development although whether the Chancellor’s recent decision on reduced stamp duty will prompt a queue of buyers remains to be seen.

The Council must put a clear deadline by which work on the other sections of the site must be completed. Residents don’t want o spend half their lives living on, or adjacent to, a building site.

If Yorspace or others can’t complete then the parcels of land should be sold to those who are able to get on and provide additional housing quickly.

Front Street -pressure for investment grows

Some residents have reacted to yesterdays article by saying investment is urgently needed to regenerate the Front Street shopping area. Although the number of empty units is currently relatively low, there are concerns that sub-urban shopping areas may be hard hit during any recession.

Barrier prevents vehicular access during pedestrian hours

Fortunately many Acomb businesses built up a new customer base during the period of lockdown.

Most though failed to benefit for the Councils marketing campaign.

Even today, the only indications of Council support are two small “social distancing” signs.

The rest of the precinct looks neglected with weeds gaining a foothold in many areas.

Weeds growing though footpath surfaces in Front Street

We have asked for action to clean up the existing disabled parking bays. However, what is really needed is a more general a “deep clean” Banners, flowers and display lights could also lift the area. A major marketing campaign could emphasis the value and variety offered by many of the indie outlets in the village.

Something more fundament may be needed. The option to reopen the pedestrianised carriageway to blue badge holders on some days of the week, has received some support. There are three parking laybys in the area which together could accommodate 8 or 9 cars. That could provide a worthwhile increase in footfall.

We’ve asked for the gutters to be cleared of weeds and detritus

The lay-bys could, at other times, provide space for pop up stalls. Some mobile shops might also want to visit the area to add to the variety which si available.

Front Street was at its best, and most popular, when hosting the Minster FM roadshow at Christmas. Although it is too soon to plan for the return of  large crowds, more modest arts and entertainments activities could be staged.

It will require investment by a Council which seems, at the moment, to be entirely preoccupied with the City centre (where, in fairness, traders also faces major hurdles,)

Front Street lay-bys could be used to increase footfall in te area

As a sign of good faith, the York Council could fund a precinct concierge who – as well as regulating access and providing blue badge holders with help with carrying shopping – might also help to keep the area tidy.

In the longer term, a more radical solution could see the pedestrian area extended although this would have far reaching implications not least on some residents and the bus service.

However, the Council does need to explore all options as part of, what it terms as, its “big conversation” with residents.

There should be no delay.