Coronavirus York updates; 20th October 2020

Deaths and test results

There have been no further hospital deaths in York today. However an additional death in a care home has been registered (7th Oct) bringing the cumulative total there to 81.

There have been an additional 101 (ONE HUNDRED AND ONE) positive test results announced today. That brings the cumulative total to 2874

The rate per 100k population figure peaked at 295.48 on Friday. That is higher than the rates at regional and national level.

It may be worth remembering, though, that the rate in the majority of neighbourhoods is at, or below, the national average. It is the Heslington & Tang Hall areas that push the City into the Tier 2 restriction category

64% of positive test results are being recorded by people aged under 30.

Outbreak Management Board meeting tomorrow

A meeting of the City’s Coronavirus Outbreak management board takes place tomorrow. Its agenda has been published (click)

The meeting will receive a background report which will confirm that case numbers in York are now above both regional and national rates.

Council report to meeting on 21st October 2020

The meeting will also hear a report on communications. The presentations makes no mention of the big question – a lack of information on key issues like health capacity & or positivity percentages by neighbourhood.

It does, however, offer a glimpse of responses on some questions posed during the Councils “big conversation” survey.

Likely to be of particular interest, will be the report from the 4 higher/further education establishments in the City.

It says that they have 404 active positive cases across staff and students, resulting in around 3,000 students needing to self isolate in either their University or college accommodation, or in private homes across the City.

The Universities don’t seem to have any further initiatives to offer as they struggle to stem the spread of the virus.

If cases continue to increase, then it is possible that the campus and student accommodation units will be subject to greater quarantine restrictions or that they may have to close altogether for several weeks.

The meeting will also hear of plans for a local contact tracing initiative (click)

No safety audit completed on Groves traffic scheme

Contrary to claims made on social media a few months ago, a response to a Freedom of Information request has revealed that no road safety audits were completed on The Groves road layout changes before they were introduced in the summer.

Safety audits area mandatory for changes to highway layouts. Their purpose can be viewed by clicking this link

It is without precedent in York, for a scheme of this size to be implemented without the Stage 1, 2 and 3 audits being completed.

It is of no relevance that the scheme may have been labelled as “experimental” by Council officials.

It appears that a Stage 3 (post construction) audit will be undertaken when changes to the layout have been completed. It is unclear when this will happen and what changes may be planned*.

The revelation is the most serious of several concerns highlighted by the Councils refusal to respond fully to the request for information. In due course, this may be explored further with the Information Commissioner, but the safety aspect (including the controversial unsegregated contraflow cycle lanes) may require action from Grant Shapps the Transport Minister  who has been scathing about the quality of some “emergency” traffic changes introduced post COVID. The Groves scheme was funded from the governments “emergency transport budget”

Unsegregated contraflow cycle lanes on narrow road have been heavily criticised

The Groves scheme was designed in late 2019 and so preceded the start of the pandemic.

The response also raises the question of just what the scheme was intended to achieve?

Most commentators have pointed to improvements in air quality. However, air quality across the whole highway network in York has been good since the start of February and the Council has been unable to produce any figures suggesting that The Groves is any different in that respect.

Some said that there would be fewer collisions. Accident data – mostly pre lockdown –   reveals that there were no severe accidents in The Groves area and that there were no accidents at all involving children. The severe collisions that were recorded happened on the alternative route for traffic (Clarence Street, Lord Mayors Walk, Monkgate) with most at the road junctions which are still open to traffic. Thus, the scheme may actually have increased risks on the network as a whole.

The Council has refused to reveal the pre and post implementation traffic levels in the area. There is absolutely no reason why the 2019 base figures should not be in the public domain. The Council instead promise to include the figures as part of a public review of the scheme during the first quarter of 2021.

With traffic levels currently running at about 80% of pre COVID levels, we are not expecting to see a significant impact on congestion levels on alternative routes.

The removal of “through traffic” from The Groves will offer residents who live there a quieter lifestyle. Whether it is safer or less polluted may now be open to question.

The type of closure chosen and its impact on emergency services, deliveries and local businesses has been subject to criticism

There is no good reason for the York Council to be so secretive about the scheme and it is downright irresponsible to include elements which increase hazards for road users without undertaking, transparent, risk assessments.

Recent accidents in The Groves area. May not include most recent incidents.
  • The Council has now published the changes it is making. They are;

a. Change the position of the road closure on St. John’s Crescent, to relocate it at the junction with Garden Street. Removable bollards will be installed for part of the closure to provide a secondary emergency access route to streets off Garden Street/St John Street;

b. Remove 2.4m of on street parking on St John Street (both side) near the junction with Garden Street to facilitate turning movements at the junction;

c. Change the position of the road closure in place at the junction between Neville Terrace, Park Grove and Brownlow Street, to address issues with some drivers using the alleyways between Neville Terrace, Eldon Terrace and Amber Street to bypass the closures;

d. Remove the parking bay adjacent to 25 Neville Terrace to facilitate access and egress for larger vehicles, including emergency vehicles.

2. Approve a Temporary Traffic Regulation Order (TTRO) to waive Pay & Display charges for parking areas near the shops on Lowther Street and adjacent to the local shop on Townend Street (between Abbot Street and Del Pyke) for a duration of 6 months.

Changes published by York Council on 20th October 2020

Council set to backtrack on Spark lease conditions

It looks like the Council will abandon the most significant safeguards that it had intended to build into the new lease for the Spark Container village on Piccadilly.

A meeting next week will be told that the organisation cannot provide either a £5000 bond or nominate a Director to act as a guarantor for the new lease.

Spark is currently still trading despite the Tier 2 COVID restrictions which are now in place in the City.

The new conditions were agreed in February following a series of delays in fulfilling planning conditions on the controversial development. Expected rent payments owed to the Council were delayed and a share in the ventures “profits” never materialised.   Neighbours complained about noise nuisance, while it took over 2 years for external cladding – a condition of planning permission – to be installed.

Spark lease conditions agreed in February

The original lease ended on 1st July and the organisation has been operating on a “tenancy at will” since then.

Now it appears that the responsible Executive member (Cllr Nigel Ayre) will be a sked to remove those parts of the new lease conditions which were aimed at securing the Councils financial position.

Officials go on to say that the conditions of the planning permission mean, “it is not considered necessary to impose any additional restrictions on the hours of use that Spark may trade, under the terms and conditions of the new lease”.

The conclusion seems to ignore the difficulties that the Council has had in enforcing planning conditions on this site in the past.

It is ease to see what might happen if a watered-down lease were agreed.

 If payment arrears mounted, or nuisance levels increased, the Council would be left to seek possession of the site under tenant and landlord law. This could take months or even years to produce a result.

The Councils legal department has also warned that “temporary legislation is currently in place which severely restricts the ability of commercial landlord to forfeit(terminate) leases for non-payment of rent or to obtain an insolvency order against a company tenant which owes rent arrears to the landlord”.

A responsible Council would continue the existing arrangements unless and until financial guarantees can be provided.  There are other potential uses for this site, both in the short and long term, which would involve less risk for local taxpayers.