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Empty Council owned Castlegate property – future still uncertain

29 Castlegate, which is located next to Fairfax House, and is owned by the City of York Council continues to be left empty.
29 Castlegate

Hopes that the property might be purchased by the York Conservation Trust have disappeared following a change of Chief Executive. They had been expected to purchase the iconic building for around £431,000. The discounted sale price was justified in 2017 by claims that significant repair works were needed.

At the same time, the York Civic Trust said that they were set to lease the building with an investment of £2.8 million to be made, as part of an expansion of activities at Fairfax House.

It became clear 6 months ago that the York Civic Trust had suspended their plans.

The building – which also benefits from a valuable showroom frontage onto the Coppergate Shopping Centre – was used for many years as a photographic gallery. When the gallery moved to Bradford, the Council allocated the space to be used as a youth advice centre.

In 2012 the, then Labour controlled Council, commenced negotiations to move the youth facilities elsewhere. The proposal was widely condemned.

The building has remained empty for over 3 years. Potentially this has cost the Council tens of thousands of pounds in rent and rates income.

Addressing the problems with empty Council owned properties should be a top priority for the new administration when it is elected this week. Too many expensive, high profile, properties like 29 Castlegate and the Guildhall have been left to rot. In future York Councillors must insist on receiving an “unused asset” report on a regular basis. It needs to be transparent.

If the Civic Trust deal on Castlegate has fallen through, then the property should either be leased or sold on the open market.

Because of its prestigious location there is likely to be a lot of interest.

This might include bringing part of the building back into residential use.  With apartments at the nearby fire station site selling for over £700,000 each, the opportunities at this address will be obvious to many developers.

Either way, something needs to be done quickly.

Castlegate sale – Now Council and Civic Trust have more questions to answer


Castlegate

As long ago as 2012 The Council started negotiations to move its youth facilities centre from premises in Castlegate. Various other locations were considered for the centre before the Castlegate building was declared surplus to requirements about 3 years ago.

The youth facilities were subsequently relocated to Sycamore House.

A series of email exchanges revealed the extent of the “behind closed doors” dealings that the then Labour controlled council had been involved in during 2012.

By April 2017 a Council report revealed that the empty building was worth around £575,000 on the open market.

The report then  went on to justify a sale to the York Conservation Trust for a reduced £431,000 claiming that major repairs were required.

The York Civic Trust promised a £2.8 million upgrade to the building and the adjacent Fairfax House (already owned by the Trust).

This would stimulate tourism for the general benefit of the City centre economy.

So, getting on for 2 years later, what progress has been made?

Very little it seems, with two peak shopping seasons having passed without what is a key location being exploited.

Taxpayers will want to be reassured that the deal, agreed nearly two years ago, is still on course to provide the benefits claimed by officials.

Council set to sell Castlegate property for £431,250

Castlegate

The former youth advice centre premises at 29 Castlegate are set to be sold to the York Conservation Trust for over £431,000.

The building was the centre of a controversy three years ago when the Council seemed to be set on moving the youth advice service to unsuitable premises at West Offices in order to force a sale.

That issue now seems to have been resolved leaving the building – which is adjacent to Fairfax House  – empty.

The York Civic Trust intend to expand their Fairfax House operations into the building

A council report says that the open market valuation of the property is £575,000 but the discount can be justified by the new use for the building which will stimulate tourism and education visits to the City and its nearby attractions.

The new owners face bills of around £40,000 for repairs and redecoration of the property over the next 5 years.

It is expected that around £2.8 million will be invested in Fairfax House  and the adjacent building. The work will include providing full disabled access facilities.

This seems to be a  satisfactory solution to an issue which was surrounded in secrecy when considered by the last Council administration.

 

 

Castlegate sale – private emails published

Castlegate

Fairfax House (left) and Youth Advice Centre (right)

The York Council has been forced to publish internal emails on its proposed sale of the youth centre in Castlegate to the Civic Trust.

The Emails reveal that secret negotiations started as early as 2012, when an alternative building for the youth facilities centre was identified in Monkgate (later the Council said the centre should move to West Offices).

The Email trail also reveals that the Council had not agreed a market value for the Castlegate premises, nor had the Trust made a formal offer.

Given the under-estimate of the value of the Oliver House building, that alone will raise some questions about the plan.

The Email exchanges can be downloaded by clicking here

Castlegate closure – York Council backs down

Labour admits “Could have done better, should have gone further with consultation”.

The future of the Castlegate youth advisory centre has been the subject of further debate today.

A few days ago details of the number of young people using the centre over the last few years was published by the Council, together with the reason for their visit.

Customer numbers Castlegate

  • Around 20 people a day use the centre.
  • Over half the visits each year were connected with job searches.
  • The majority of the users are aged between 16 and 19.

After an unnecessary game of pass the parcel the Labour Cabinet have tonight caved in and agreed to reprieve the youth advice service in York.

A working group is being set up to consider options for the continuation of youth advice and help services. It will first consult widely

The Council is expecting to receive proposals in early January. They will be discussed at a YorOk Board on 12th January.

The responsible Cabinet member admitted

We need to make West Offices a better experience for visitors

Castlegate youth services saved

The York Council has agreed to review its decision to close the young peoples advice services provided from 29 Castlegate.

Castlegate centreThe decision to move services to “West Offices” was heavily criticised by opposition Councillors at a meeting yesterday.

The decision is the second major rethink on policy – following the decision to reject Labours Local Plan – which has resulted from Labour losing control of the Council.

Castlegate youth centre set for reprieve?

Opposition parties on the York Council have called in for reconsideration a plan to close the Castlegate youth advice and help centre.

Castlegate centre

The meeting will take place on 31st October and the reports can be read by clicking here

The Castlegate centre provides information, support and counselling for young people aged between 16-25 in York,

Probably the main issue concerns the proposal to transfer some youth advice services to West Offices.

It is difficult to think of a less suitable location.

The building can be intimidating, reception arrangements busy (see article above) and occasionally chaotic – despite the best endeavours of staff.

It is also noisy because of the atrium design.

The Council may wish to move the service to a more affordable location but West Offices would be a poor choice.

Calls for Castlegate rethink

Liberal Democrat and Green councillors are calling on Labour to rethink a decision to close the Castlegate Centre in York.

Castlegate centre

Last week the Labour Cabinet rubber-stamped proposals to shut Castlegate.

The centre was opened by the Liberal Democrat Council in 2007 and offers information, support, advice and counselling to young adults aged 16 to 25.

Under the plans, counselling services will be cut and then transferred to West Offices. An online petition urging the council to withdraw the plans has already attracted more than 350 signatures.
(more…)

Risks, delays & cost increases as York Council struggles to manage its commercial portfolio

York Guildhall

Yesterday’s announcement that more than £15 million of infrastructure schemes had been secured in North Yorkshire over the next 18 months – with £300,000 of funding going towards the York Guildhall offices project – will have been welcomed by many.

The money comes from the Government’s “Getting Building Fund” which “aims to boost economic recovery from Covid-19”.

According to a Council spokesman, the funding will now be used “for internal fit-out works” on the business club which will occupy much of the building.

That will come as a surprise to those who thought that the agreed £20.18 million budget included all costs.  Indeed, the option approved by the Council in February 2019, specifically identified £300,000 for “fixtures, fittings and furniture”.

Council report 2019. Option 1 was agreed

It seems that the only change is that this expenditure will now be funded from general taxation.

Even with this subsidy, and assuming that all offices and the on site restaurant, are all occupied, York Council taxpayers still face an annual bill of over £500,000.

An Executive meeting which took place last week was told in an update on the Guildhall project that “additional delays have meant that it is presently considered that these additional costs cannot be contained within the agreed contingency”.

The scale of the over expenditure was not revealed.

The Guildhall is not the only commercial portfolio project to come under scrutiny.

Some independent commentators are sceptical about the timing of the Councils £2.8 million acquisition of 25/27 Coney Street. Rent levels are now dropping and with them property valuations in some high streets. Coney Street is struggling more than most.

Meanwhile large numbers of Council owned properties remain empty and unused.

These include Ashbank (empty for 8 years), 29 Castlegate (3 years), Oakhaven (4 years) and Willow House (4 years 6 months).

Willow House stands abandoned with no sign of redevelopment work starting.

We now understand that Willow House – which was advertised for sale with Sanderson Weatherall – has been withdrawn from the market. The Council turned down a £3 million offer for the prime site shortly after it became available.

None of these properties are accommodating anyone.

All are incurring maintenance and security costs for taxpayers, while at the same time attracting no Business Rates or rent income.

At a time when local authorities are on their knees financially, poor resource management is  a matter of concern.

If you want to influence these decisions then you are too late!

The York Council has revealed a whole raft of decisions taken on Wednesday at “behind closed doors” meetings. Although the Council could have chosen to publish the agendas and supporting papers (such as they are) before the meeting took place, it chose not to.

Even those sympathetic to the current administration are now losing confidence in the leadership and its aversion to transparency.

This is likely to weigh against the status quo when the future of the unitary authority is considered during the next few months.

Wednesday’s seance apparently considered;

 COVID 19 – Business and Planning Act 2020 – Officer Delegation

The Business and Planning Act 2020 came into force w/c 20th July and has
immediate operational impacts associated to the Covid 19 emergency requiring officers to take actions on behalf of the Council in order to comply with new legal obligations. This therefore requires officers to have appropriate delegations to implement this new legislation.

NB. This legislation provides for

  1. A new “Pavement Licence” regime, to be administered by local authorities, designed to make it easier for premises in England serving food and drink such as bars, restaurants and pubs to seat and serve customers outdoors through temporary changes to planning procedures and alcohol licensing.
  2. Alcohol licensing changes that will allow operators with existing alcohol on-sales licences to also serve alcohol for consumption off the premises and to make deliveries. 

So with the Alcohol Restriction Zone/PSPOs  policy still up in the air, we seem likely to have nameless officials nodding though even more alcohol consumption on the streets of central York.

 COVID 19 – Economic Recovery – Blue Badge parking;

Additional blue badge parking spaces on Duncombe Place, Dundas Street, St Saviourgate and Carmelite Street

 COVID 19 – Economic Recovery – Revised Café pavement Licence fee;

The fee for an annual café licence has been set at £100/application, with the option to apply for a shorter, 3 month licence, for a £25 fee “to enable shorter term trials by business who have previously not operated licences and who need to accommodate Covid distancing measures to re open”

Cliffords Tower land ownership

COVID 19 – Granting English Heritage a licence for Land at Clifford’s tower to accommodate Covid 19 mitigation measures

License for English Heritage to expand the area that it occupies at Cliffords Tower for  9 months (see left).

 COVID 19 – Economic Recovery – Castlegate traffic management

To approve a Temporary TRO to change existing access restrictions on Castlegate, implementing the following:
a. No vehicular access between 10:30 and 20:00 seven days a week (no exemptions for cyclists or Blue Badge holders, extended hours in line with extended footstreet hours) – between number 12 and number 28 Castlegate;
b. Loading ban between 10:30 and 20:00 for the whole length of Castlegate; and
c. Enable two way traffic between number 28 Castlegate and the junction with Tower Street 24h/day.

 COVID 19 – Not to Extend the Closure of the Southbound Lane of Bishopthorpe Road Between Darnborough Street and Scarcroft Rd from 4 August 2020

This was the decision publicised on Wednesday. Turns out that the meeting did not receive any statistical analysis or impact assessment. The background is restricted to 13 lines of hand wringing.

Having reviewed the current impacts of the TTRO on Bishopthorpe Road, it is evident as the economy reopens there is increased traffic in the area, in particular there is a negative impact on queue lengths on the inner ring road and the level of traffic on adjacent residential streets e.g. St Benedict’s Road. There will also be additional traffic diversions operating in the area when the Micklegate Bar is closed on 10th August due to gasworks which have already commenced on 24 July. Having considered the latest public health advice and traffic impacts, I confirm the decision to not extend TTRO. This location will be kept under review in light of prevailing Covid 19 advice and further considerations of sustainable traffic interventions at this location will be considered as part of the Local Transport plan development. The feedback collected on the scheme will be reviewed and presented in a future decision session.