29 Castlegate, which is located next to Fairfax House, and is owned by the City of York Council continues to be left empty.
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.
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.
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 reportthen 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.
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.
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.
Liberal Democrat and Green councillors are calling on Labour to rethink a decision to close the Castlegate Centre in York.
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…)
Savings include centralising communications budgets, fee increases and “making best use of Council assets”.
Growthincludes £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).
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!)
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 agoto 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.
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 .
It was to be a good Spring mainly due to the efforts of volunteers across the community.
Volunteer efforts also helped to conserve key environmental sites like local woodland.
Crime levels rose with anti social behaviour once again the biggest source of complaint in sub urban areas.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
It wasn’t just the central Post Office that was under threat. The Woodthorpe sub Post Office closed suddenly.
A new neighbourhood plan covering the area around the Minster was published. It generally received a positive response.
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.
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.
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.