What’s on in York: Roald Dahl at half term

The Twits (Colour Edition): Amazon.co.uk: Dahl, Roald, Blake, Quentin:  9780141369341: Books

With half-term coming up York Library have some special treats for children of all ages.

Storyteller John Kirk is going to be appearing on YouTube live with an exclusive telling of Roald Dahl’s The Twits on 24 October and again with Spooky Stories for Halloweenies on 31 October.

The sessions are free, but people need to register to receive the YouTube link see below.

Our partners at Hoglets have created 6 exclusive online storytimes for the under-fives featuring stories from around the world for children, every Tuesday morning from 27 October on our YouTube channel.

We have a page on our website dedicated to bringing you information about reading, fun and learning for children and families, including our Bloodaxe Challenge in partnership with the Jorvik Viking Centre, Mumbler’s Halloween Train and online stories and activities.

Opportunities at first York Council meeting for 8 months look set to be squandered.

4 Tips For Hosting a Successful Virtual Event - FindSpark

The York Council will hold a “virtual” Council meeting on 29th October. It will be the first since the start of the pandemic.

Those hoping for glimpses of firm leadership and evidence of cross party cooperation will be disappointed.

The agenda is dominated by bureaucracy.

ian-floyd-city-york-council | YorkMix
Ian Floyd

A replacement for the long departed Chief Executive will be announced. Ian Floyd will be announced as “Chief Operating Officer” although apparently the Labour leader decided to boycott the interview process. Instead Trades Union officials observed the proceedings (and pronounced that they were satisfied with the process).

The ill-timed reorganisation of local government boundaries will take a step forward, “minor amendments” to the constitution (reducing still further accountability) will be tabled, and polling stations will be changed (and no there aren’t actually any elections scheduled).

The rest is mostly a ritual look backwards although Andy D’agorne has raised his head above the parapet on controversial transport initiatives such as the double resurfacing of Tadcaster Road, the failed Bishopthorpe Road closure and the underused Monk Bar taxi service.

Will anyone be able to nail these mistakes? We doubt that those using “Zoom” will manage to do so.

A report from the Executive member with responsibility for housing, completely fails to identify the problems with re-letting services and the growing number of empty properties.

It is not just under-used Council houses that are at issue.

Homeless people have tried to get access to long term empty properties like Willow House for temporary use, only to be “cold shouldered” by Councillors.

Willow House

No mention is made of the senior management level vacancies in the housing department which have contributed to the decline in standards.

Probably what takes the biscuit though,  for posturing and time wasting, is a contribution, in the form of a motion, from Labour.

It claims that it wants to see  Councillors “acting responsibly and collaboratively at all times”.

 It then proposes unilateral changes to delegated budgets. £100,000 would be sequestered from wards and allocated centrally in some unnamed way to “voluntary groups working with the vulnerable”. 

This is not a Marcus Rashford style attempt to ease the burdens of those hit by the pandemic.

Instead it would rob the least well-off wards like Westfield of the resources needed to identify and address local needs.

One of the successes, of the Councils approach, has been the local “hubs” which have provided neighbourhood level support over the last few months. They have been supplemented by other initiatives like surplus food giveaways some of which have had financial support from some ward budgets.

In addition, the Council allocated £1.25 million to a local hardship fund earlier in the year.

Zoom Meeting GIFs | Tenor

Perhaps if Labour Councillors want to build up another hardship fund then they might consider donating 20% of their pay?

That would put them on a par with many workers in the City who have suffered a similar – or higher – reduction in income. Councillors are, after all, attending fewer meetings these days and their costs are therefore much reduced.  Indeed, for some, this will be the first meeting they have “attended” since February.

A 20% reduction in pay across the board would produce a fund of over £100,000.

Likely to happen?

In New Zealand maybe?

In the UK, less so we suspect!

Praise for new housing schemes in York but reality on the ground is different.

‘We’re going above and beyond’ … CGI of Burnholme View.
New estate design at Duncombe barracks

An article in The Guardian has highlighted some of the new housing schemes being progressed by the York Council. It praises new Passivhaus low-energy standard designs. Plans for low energy estates on the Duncombe Barracks and Burnholme sites are being discussed today by the Councils executive.

Unfortunately both the article, and today’s Council report, fail to recognise the downsides of this type of building programme.

Two years into the controversial development of the Lowfields site, fewer than half the homes being built in the first phase have been reserved.  Not entirely surprising you might say, with an average size 3 bed semi priced at nearly £300,000. Sure, you can expect lower energy consumption bills but what good is that if you can’t afford a mortgage?

Being told that a communal “cargo bike” is available for hire is unlikely to provide much solace

Communications by the Council’s own “Shape” development company with neighbours are poor and promised regular bulletins have not materialised.

Lowfield building site slow progress

All six of the “self build” plots on the site have been allocated but we seem to be no closer to seeing the “Yorspace” communal housing group complete the purchase their allocated site. That process has dragged on for nearly 2 years now.  Surely the time has come to use this plot for other purposes – most obviously to extend the space available for self-build units?

There is an element of urgency.

Neighbours were promised that the site would be fully developed within 3 years. The inevitable disruption, noise, dust and mud associated with building works would then come to an end and community cohesion could begin to re-establish itself.

The Council claimed that the neighbourhood in general would benefit from a new “health centre”. A police station was mentioned. A new playground would form part of a new “village green”. A care home would provide a boost for older people.

None of these seem likely to happen in the foreseeable future.  None are mentioned in the Councils progress report, which limits itself to reporting on progress on Bishopthorpe FC’s expensive pavilion which is in part funded from sales at Lowfields. (The pavilion and football pitches are almost complete but the promised improvement work on the adjacent cycle track has not started)

Football club pavillion

The Council’s housing department is leaderless and lacking in direction. Like much of the rest of the authority, responsible Councillors seem to be focussed on the next “photo op”.

The hard work involved in  forcing up public service standards seems to be of no interest to them.

If it was, then they would ensure that unused council houses – some of which have been empty for months and, in some cases, years – are brought back into use quickly.  

But then  “Council House Let” is unlikely to be a headline that you will see in The Guardian.

Coronavirus York updates; 22nd October 2020

Deaths and test results

There have been no further Coronavirus deaths in the York hospital today.

There were 56 (FIFTY SIX) additional positive test results announced today. This is the smallest number for some days. The total number of COVID infections in the City has now reached 3072

The 7 day moving average, per 100k population, peaked at 307.2 on Sunday before showing a small fall.

We are currently seeing on average around 80 additional cases in the City each day

The neighbourhood profile has changed little over the last week with Heslington having around 3 times more cases than the next worst affected neighbourhood (Tang Hall).

The least affected neighbourhood is now Poppleton/Rufforth/the Askhams which, with 5 cases, is below the national average.

The government has also updated its stats on the number of Pillar 2 tests carried out in the City in the period up to 14th October. As expected, the additional capacity introduced at the Heslington testing site has increased the number of tests undertaken. As the graph below demonstrates, the percentage of positive rule continues to rise but is still below 1 in 5.

Other information not yet available

Employment and business grants improved

The government has announced changes to business and jobs support arrangements today.

Cash grants of up to £2,100 a month will be given to firms in Tier 2 areas – enough for all affected hospitality, accommodation and leisure premises.

They will be retrospective, so any region which has been under enhanced restrictions can backdate their claim to August

For self-employed people, the size of the grant they can access will also be doubled to £3,750 – with the amount of average profits they can claim for rising from 20% to 40%.

And there will be changes to the Job Support Scheme, which is for companies experiencing lower demand due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Employees will only need to work 20% of their normal hours – instead of the original 33% – to be eligible.

And the government will significantly reduce the amount employers have to contribute – from 33% to 5%.

Government grants

The government has announced it is allocating £1 billion of additional support to help local authorities get through the winter. City of York Council is to £941,155 of that money.

Coronavirus York updates; 21st Oct 2020

Deaths and test results

There has been a further COVID related death at the York Hospital Trust. It occurred on Monday

Unfortunately today sees a record high number of new cases announced. There were 142 (ONE HUNDRED AND FOURTY TWO) additional positive test results today.

That means that there have been a total of 3016 cases in the City.

The 2000 case milestone was passed as recently as the 8th October.

The rate per 7 days peaked at 91.86 on Sunday. The trend is still upwards but is not as steep as seen earlier in the month.

The infection rate per 100k population has peaked at 305.30 (Sunday). This is higher than the regional and national averages.

The university area still has the highest rate of York neighbourhoods.

Universities

The University of York said that as of yesterday (Tuesday), it was aware of 304 individuals within the university community who were currently self-isolating because they had had a positive Covid-19 test.

It said the university had about 4,500 members of staff and a student body of around 18,000.

York St John University said, as of yesterday, 57 members of its community were currently self-isolating because they had had a positive Covid-19 test, adding: “Close contacts have been identified and advised to self-isolate.”

York launches local contact tracing system

City of York Council is launching a new local test and trace system to help people who have recently tested positive and aid in the city’s ongoing efforts to stop the spread of the Coronavirus.

Following extensive lobbying efforts, the Council has been working with the national test and trace system to establish the service, which from tomorrow (Thursday 22 October) will see the local public health team contact those the centralised system has been unable to.

People contacted will be advised to isolate, talked through the local support available when isolating, and asked about details of their close contacts so these can then be followed up by the national team.

The service will run Monday to Friday initially, increasing over the coming weeks to a seven day service, with residents being contacted using a local (01904) phone number. Text messages will also be sent to people with mobile phones telling them to expect a call. If this is still unsuccessful, then a home visit will be made, and if no-one is at home, a letter with details of how to contact the team will be delivered to those advised to isolate, following Covid-19 guidelines.

Councillor Keith Aspden, Leader of City of York Council and Chair of the York Outbreak Management Advisory Board said:

“Together with partners across the city we have been lobbying the Government to provide capacity to establish a localised tracing program to support the national system, which unfortunately continues to fall short of expectations.

“Where contact tracing has been localised in other parts of the country it has been hugely successful in reaching more of those who have contracted coronavirus quickly, helping to slow the spread of the virus. Our trained contact tracers will contact those the national system have been unable to, and this work will be invaluable in helping to keep our city safe and open.

“I want to thank everyone who has engaged with the test and trace system so far and followed advice to self-isolate. We all appreciate how challenging this year has been, and we must work together to support our businesses, schools and key workers, and ensure that our collective effort and the sacrifices made by so many do not go to waste.

“Our public health teams are doing an excellent job, but it’s also the personal responsibility of each and every one of us to keep our city and people safe and the places we love open by ensuring that we follow the public health advice.”

Sharon Stoltz, Director for Public Health at City of York Council said: 

“Test and Trace is one of the key methods to support the lowering of transmission rates and keeping York residents safe. Our local contact tracers will work with the national Test and Trace to find those who have tested positive but have not responded to the National Test and Trace calls. The more people we contact, the lower we can bring the rate of transmission. This also helps us gather local intelligence, which enables us to provide a more effective response to the spread of the virus.

“We all have a role to play in keeping the people we love safe and the places we love open. Self-isolating when you have symptoms or are told to by test and trace and Hands Face Space are some of the key things we can all do for each other.

“Support is available for those who are self-isolating by contacting our helpline on 01904 551550 or emailing COVID-19help@york.gov.uk and I want to thank everyone who has, is and will self-isolate when asked to do so, it really does make a difference.”

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.

Unreliable vehicles hitting recycling collection quality in York

Recycling collections have become less reliable recently. The drop in public service quality reflects a similar drop in reliability seen last year.

Part of the problem can be traced to a lack of urgency shown by the Council in ordering replacements for an aging, worn out, fleet. Although new trucks have now been ordered there is an inevitable delay before they actually arrive in the City.

Recycling collections have been delayed on each of the last 5 days. Today Foxwood, Woodthorpe, Copmanthorpe and parts of Askham Bryan were affected.