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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.
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4% increase in Council Tax in York

Budget plans for next year published as residents say  highways maintenance is top priority for them

York residents will have a month to comment on the York Councils budget plans for the next financial year.

Plans for some of the key expenditure areas were published over the weekend.

Council Tax will increase by 3.99% with 2% of the increase being earmarked for social care services. The latter will get a £4.5 million boost.

The results of the Councils consultation on budget options are also published. Only 691 residents responded. Their top expenditure priority was, unsurprisingly, road and path repairs.

The Council plans to make £4 million in savings although many of these are, largely opaque, financial management tweaks.

Council staff will get a 2% pay increase.

£11 million will be invested in services as part of the Council budget plans.

  • As much as £1 million will be invested in a new waste and street environment services. This is in addition to capital investment of £6 million on new refuse collection vehicles.
  • Capital investment of over £12 million will support, repair and improve the highways network. This includes £275,000 for the creation of a reactive pothole repair team,
  • A long term investment of £3 million in planting more trees is proposed as part of the “northern forest”
  • Borrowing for house building results in a £1.5 million bill for interest charges on money already borrowed although £7 million is also allocated for modernisation works to the Council housing stock

Corporate

Savings include centralising communications budgets, fee increases and “making best use of Council assets”.

Growth includes £141,000 extra for Councillors pay and £80,000 for   an “organisational development programme to ensure delivery of key Council priorities”

As well as the welcome commitment to invest more in highways maintenance there are some, surprises in the capital programme . There is £100,000 for a trial of robotics monitoring of social care clients. It will utilise AI. £230,000 is earmarked to replace rising bollards on Bishophill, while a whopping £6.6 million will go on new refuse collection vehicles. This, in effect, confirms that the reason for the multiple vehicle failures last year was poor replacement programming (3 of the new vehicles will be electric powered).

29 Castlegate

More is to be spent maintaining and extending the electric car recharging network. £270,000 is to be spent renovating 29 Castlegate which has been empty for several years. The report says “The condition of the building both internally and externally is deteriorating whilst unoccupied” (Quelle Surprise!)

Theatre Royal

The York Theatre Royal will get another £500,000 to spend on heating, lighting and access improvements. (NB. The Theatre received a £770,000 grant 3 years ago to complete refurbishment work & was supposed to be self-supporting by now).

Installing “hostile vehicle” prevention barriers in the City centre will cost £1.6 million.

Health and Adult Social Care.

Savings include changes at Yorkcraft and revised charging arrangements.

Growth mainly reflects price increases from suppliers and increased demands from an ageing population.

Children and Education

Savings include reducing child placement costs & less for community centre maintenance.

Growth  items include an extra £250,000 for “safer communities” and £50,000 to create a Mental Health early intervention fund.

Environment and Climate change

Savings: Increases in fees and parking charges including evening charges, Minister badges and an “additional diesel duty” in 2021.

Growth items extra litter /poop scoop bins, better tree maintenance (halleluiah!), “ review of waste collection, including plastics and food waste” and including  adding two extra green waste collections each March from 2021 onwards, additional staffing on waste rounds, improved city centre cleaning, effective weed control (praise the Lord!), another study into re/opening Haxby railway station (the fourth in  the last 2 decades) and additional Taxi Licensing enforcement .

Housing

Savings  Extended use of smart mobiles, reduced use of sub-contractors, reduced void times plus new James House rents,

Growth   Electrical safety check programme, water hygiene testing, quicker repairs & “improving the care of estates

Capital investments include an average of £8 million a year to be invested in Council house modernisation and building insulation programmes.

NB. The report pointedly does not make any reference to Council House rent levels.

We will publish other details as they become available  

That was the year that was – April – June 2019

It was to be a good Spring mainly due to the efforts of volunteers across the community.

Volunteers clear up litter as part of the national Keep Britain Tidy spring campaign
Acomb Wood

Volunteer efforts also helped to conserve key environmental sites like local woodland.

Vandalised fencing

Crime levels rose with anti social behaviour once again the biggest source of complaint in sub urban areas.

Scarborough footbridge

Work progressed on a £4 million cycle/pedestrian footbridge linking the railway station to Bootham. Its opening later in the year was to highlight the fact that the City still had a long way to go before it had a comprehensive, and safe, cycle route network.

Lendal Bridge

Another bridge over the Ouse attracted comment. Corrosion on Lendal Bridge served to emphasis the on going cost of maintaining the transport infrastructure in the City

Potholes on carriageways

By far the worst aspect of the transport system was the condition of roads and paths. Potholes became more pronounced in many streets. The maintenance budget was to be increased later in the year but by then frost had already taken its toll

Full recycling containers

There was little change in the recycling rate in York. There was no lack of enthusiasm from residents who regularly filled recycling banks to the point where some overflowed.

Goal posts on Westfield Park

Some simple tasks seemed to confuse the York Council. A request for the goals posts on a local park to be repainted has been outstanding now for 2 years.

Scarborough Bridge

Another area of poor performance earlier in the year was the removal of graffiti. Following sustained criticism from residents, the Council was to completely change its graffiti removal service later in the year. Early results have been encouraging although there have been no recent prosecutions for graffiti (criminal damage).

Balfour Street trees

A self seeded tree in Balfour Street had grown to the point where it was engulfing the adjacent railings and damaging the public footpath. This represented a safety hazard. It would be two years after the problem was first reported before the tree was felled. The felling provided space for two replacement trees to be planted.

Changes made to redevelopment plans for Bowling Green site
Acomb Bowling Club
Site compound

The Council granted planning permission for the (privately owned) Acomb Bowling Club to be demolished and replaced with housing. The owners were required to make a Section 106 contribution towards replacement facilities but this money found its way into a club located in the Holgate area.

Meanwhile, without any consultation with residents, Council officials agreed that land earmarked for a library extension could be used as a site compound and spoil heap. This caused considerable annoyance to some neighbours.

The Council published details of the number of Council homes that were affected by “standing water” . The number had changed little over the years.

On a happier note, the highly successful, Knights Rugby community team organised community events during the Easter holidays.

With the local elections on the horizon the Council revealed the number of issues that had been recorded by Councillors during the previous 4 years. Mostly those who raised the most issues were the Councillors who got re-elected in May.

Labour, LibDem and Green Council candidates. Some Tories weren’t on speaking terms.

There was big choice of candidates in the local elections.

The election manifestos were more significant for what they didn’t say rather than what was proposed. The slow progress on the Community Stadium was air brushed from history, as was the escalating costs of repairing the Guildhall.

In the end, the results showed major gains for the, now 21 strong, LibDem Group who subsequently formed a partnership with the Greens to run the Council.

The Tories fell to their second worst election result ever while Labour made only modest gains.

A few weeks later the LibDems topped the poll in the Euro elections in the City beating off a challenge from the BREXIT party. It was to be a different picture though later in the year when views polarised during an unexpected General Election campaign.

Euro election results June 2019
Castlegate

The Council was criticised for the large number of commercial properties which it owned and which had been left empty. These included former elderly persons homes like Oakhaven & Willow House together with offices like those on Castlegate. The properties were costing taxpayers several hundreds of thousands of pounds each year in lost rent income and maintenance costs.

Camera Van

The Police and Crime Commissioner was criticised for an over reliance on income from speed camera vans. The 6 vans concentrated on trunk roads apparently because that was where the greatest number of offenders could be caught and fined. Critics said that accident and average speed trends on monitored roads should be published. This would allow the the success of the initiative to be judged

Woodthorpe Post Office Closure

It wasn’t just the central Post Office that was under threat. The Woodthorpe sub Post Office closed suddenly.

Minster precinct

A new neighbourhood plan covering the area around the Minster was published. It generally received a positive response.

Hollyrood Drive
Front Street
A59 entrance to the City

By late May it had become clear that something was seriously amiss with street public service standards. Hedges and trees were obstructing paths. Weeds scared key entrances to the City. It would later become clear that the weed killing programme had simply not taken place on many roads. There would be some improvements towards the end of the year but several issues were never fully resolved.

Work started on demolishing Windsor House
York staged its first County Cricket match for over 100 years
…..and the Community Stadium pitch started to grow.

It became clear that the new York Community Stadium would not be completed by the final, final deadline on June. A later Autumn opening date was also to pass with key Rugby matches having to be rescheduled to the Bootham Crescent ground.

Council report.

There were also ongoing concerns about the viability of some of the facilities to be provided as part of the stadium deal. It seemed that the Council were now underwriting more of the risk on the commercial side of the development

Meanwhile, the cost of providing new football pitches for a Bishopthorpe based football team was revealed to be nearly £1.5 million

The cost included a high specification clubhouse.

Most of the funding was to come from taxpayers.

What annoyed some residents were claims by officials that the facility was a replacement for the playing fields being built on at Lowfields. It was pointed out that the new site (near the York College) was some 3 miles from Lowfields and lacked a direct public transport link.