Castle “Gateway” development will cost £55 million

Officials recommend York Council borrows £45.8 million to fund major development

The York Council is being asked to fund phase 1 of the Castle Gateway development next week. The development includes

  • Providing the replacement MSCP at St George’s Field that will allow Castle Car Park to close and be replaced with new public realm
  • A new pedestrian cycle crossing over the inner-ring road
  • A new pedestrian cycle bridge over the Foss
  • A new public park at the rear of the Castle Museum and a riverside pocket park on Piccadilly
  • 106 new apartments at Castle Mills – 20 of which would be new council housing – above street level commercial spaces suitable for small independent traders
  • New apartments above further commercial spaces at 17-21 Piccadilly

Contrary to expectations, the Council is planning to undertake the development itself putting potentially £55 million of taxpayer’s money at risk.

Masterplan for Castle Gateway

There is an estimated viability gap of £3.3 million even if all flats and commercial spaces are sold. £532,000 will be spent diverting a sewer on St Georges Field.

20 Council apartments would be built at Castle Mills at an estimated cost of £3.7 million.

The “delivery strategy” for the, long unused, 17-21 Piccadilly site (currently occupied by Spark) would not be determined before summer 2020. Officials want to build apartments above ground floor commercial units on the site. It is not clear why such a development could not be private sector led (reducing risks to taxpayers).

There is a danger that the Council, is now giving some elements of the £1.5 million “Masterplan” a “Moses” status.

The location of the £2.4 million Foss bridge, the £1.5 million Castle Museum park and the (frankly slightly odd) £800,000 inner ring road surface level crossing may all be nice to have but they are scarcely essential.

Even the multi storey car park at £14.2 million now looks like a very expensive way of facilitating the provision of a new park.

Simply selling the development sites – as surely the Council should have done with 17-21 Piccadilly by now – would produce a receipt of £6.6 million. This might be a useful insurance if the Councils other reckless property gambles (like the refurbishment of the Guildhall) go belly up.

Other major Council funding commitments like York Central and the outer ring-road are also imminent.

If the Council decides to go forward with the recommendations, then they would be wise to adopt a parallel path approach and seek alternative proposals from the market.

They would then be in a position to make an informed choice when they make a final decision later in the year.

A small change in the national economic picture could leave the Council with empty properties and no way of paying interest charges on its borrowings, without prompting massive public service cuts.

The Castle Mill development is scheduled to be completed in spring 2023; a few weeks before the next Council elections are scheduled to take place.

Issues reported in west York today

Hedges need cutting back during winter
More potholes
Snickets need sweeping
Verges need tidying up and damaged equipment replaced.
Fly tipping needs removing
Another one for the new graffiti removal team
Acomb Moor damaged stile still not repaired. We understand that local Councillors are dealing
Council bus shelters are filthy

Dumping and litter blights nature area

“Investment in waste and environment services to include additional staffing on waste rounds, improved city centre cleaning and effective weed control”. That’s what the York Council is promising in their newly published budget for next year.

In total – over two years – an additional £1 million will be found for a new system of “neighbourhood working”.

This, says the Council, will “improve the waste collection service to residents by increasing the number of green waste collections, adding two extra green waste collections each March from 2021 onwards.

The pilot of 3 free replacement boxes per property will continue and be made permanent.

The Council will develop neighbourhood working models across public realm and waste to better respond to the communities needs building on the success of local management, ownership and responsibility elsewhere in the council.

The Council will work with York Business Improvement District to review how city centre cleansing can be improved. The resilience of the services will be improved by removing the reliance on fixed term staff.

In addition they will invest in the weed control service to increase the areas treated and, in response to the world wide ongoing challenge about the use of glyphosate,  will trial alternative methods for dealing with weeds such as foams etc”.

The proposal is short on detail but improvements in cleaning services can’t come soon enough for some sub-urban areas.

Several amenity areas are now overwhelmed by fly tipping and litter.

The Westfield/Grange Lane park and adjacent nature area is a case in point and is particularly bad at present.

Westfield Park which is located between Grange Lane and Westfield Place

T

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  

York Council spends £2.5 million buying unidentified property

The Council has completed the purchase of an unnamed property to add to its commercial portfolio. No details of the transaction have been released although assurances were given that the property would be identified when the sale had been completed.

The Council has invested heavily in property purchases recently. Mostly these are commercial premises in the City Centre. The Council is able to borrow money at preferential rates and claims to be making a 6.75% return on a portfolio valued at £333.48 million .

The Council has recently responded to a FOI request and provided a listing of 398 properties that it owns. Many were purchased in the last century.

The Council has declined to provide individual updated property valuations or reveal the details of the rate of return it gets on each.

The full list can be viewed by clicking here.  

Swinegate Court owned by York Council

York Councillors pay hike approved

A huge pay rise for Councillors was agreed at a meeting last night.

On average it is worth an extra 18% although some will get more. It will also be backdated. The cost to taxpayers will be around £770,000 a year.

The increases were justified by a series of, largely bogus, claims that work volumes had increased since the previous review. In reality the time commitment for Councillors is broadly in line with levels experienced since local government reorganisation in the late 1990’s. Councillors also now benefit from new technology and casework support facilities.

While Independent Councillor Mark Warters has consistently criticised the increases, two Tory Councillors – who had both attended “behind close doors” consultation meetings with the review panel during the Autumn – got cold feet at the last minute and opposed the hike.

The notes from the autumn meetings, at which Councillors made their case for an inflation busting increase, are being circulated on social media. They are quite a revelation.

Councillors don’t of course have to accept the increase. They can choose to draw down less that the maximum allowed.

We will publish the actual amounts claimed by each individual next year

Other York Council news

  • Cllr Chris Culwick from Huntington will be next year’s Lord Mayor. His Sheriff will be Cllr Ashley Mason from Dringhouses & Woodthorpe
  • The Autism motion was supported by the Council yesterday as were pleas for more trees to be planted in the City.
  • The Council will look again at the Labour plan to ban cars from within the City Walls. 

 

York Council seeks help in balancing budget

Without apparently any sense of irony, in the wake of a decision yesterday to hike Councillors pay levels by an average of 18%, the City of York Council is now asking residents, partners and businesses for their help in balancing the council’s budget for 2020/2021.

The consultation is now open and asks which areas the council should invest in and prioritise and where people feel savings could be made.

This year, there are a number of different ways to get involved with the council consulting sooner and holding special budget decision sessions which the public can attend or watch online. People can have their say by:

  • Taking an online survey at https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/York_20-21_Budget_Consultation by Tuesday 31 December
  • Completing the straw poll in Our City (the council newsletter for residents), distributed to York houses throughout December or available at West Offices or libraries and return it freepost by Sunday 12 January
  • Coming along to one of the following decision sessions in the new year at West Offices to tell us your thoughts:
  • Housing and safer neighbourhoods 13 January 2020 at 2pm
  • Economy and strategic planning, Environment and climate change and transport 13 January 2020 at 5.30pm
  • Children and young people and Culture, leisure and communities 14 January 2020 at 4pm
  • Health and Adult Social Care 15 January 2020 at 12noon
  • Leader and finance and performance 15 January 2020 at 5.30pm

Papers for these sessions will be published from Friday 3 January. The decision sessions will ensure that residents can view the budget proposals significantly in advance of previous years to ensure higher quality consultation.

The online consultation closes on 31 December 2019 and all printed questionnaire responses from Our City will need to be received by Sunday 12 January.

Councillor Keith Aspden, Leader of City of York Council said:

“We have recently agreed an ambitious council plan that promises to support and invest in our communities despite the financial challenges we face. 

“Demand for our services is increasing and in the last decade our funding from government grants reduced by £52m, equating to a 44% real terms reduction. Next year we need to save a further £4m with further savings needed in the coming years.

“We are committed to continuing vital services and making sure the right support is there for those who need it most.  Whilst we have set out an ambitious strategy for our city over the next four years; we want to ensure that York continues to make history and build communities. It is really important that we hear from residents, businesses and communities to make sure we invest in the right areas.”

Councillor Andy D’Agorne, Deputy Leader of City of York Council: “York is in a sound financial position which allows us some flexibility to invest in all our futures.  However, growing demand for adult social care as our population grows older is a continued challenge and as more and more savings are needed the decisions get tougher.

“We want to make sure our spending reflects our priorities to protect the most vulnerable and respond to the climate emergency.

“Your feedback in the council plan consultation helped us shape our priorities and we are looking forward to hearing where residents think we should focus our spending against each priority.”

For more information, please visit www.york.gov.uk/budget

Local suppliers are invited to join in the Guildhall’s historic renovation.

Guildhall

City of York Council are hosting a Local Supplier Event in partnership with VINCI Construction UK to invite the city’s local supply chain to take part in the ongoing work to restore the Guildhall.

The £20 million Guildhall project will see a “business club” established in the building. The viability of the project has been strongly criticised by some taxpayers

The Guildhall is one of the city’s most prestigious and historically significant buildings. The complex contains a collection of Grade I, II* and II listed buildings built around the 15th century hall and riverside meeting room. The site is undergoing a full restoration and redevelopment to secure its long-term future, offering high quality office space, community use, a cafe, a new riverside restaurant and better access for local residents.

The event will take place on Wednesday 8 January 2020 at West Offices, Station Rise, York, YO1 6GA.

At this event York’s local businesses will be provided with information on the work packages VINCI Construction UK have available at the Guildhall. This invitation extends to businesses in York who may or may not have worked with the council before.

Chris Winspear, Regional Director at VINCI Construction UK, said: 

“One of the key contributing factors in the success of our business is securing the support and services of a high-quality, skilled supply chain of businesses and specialist trades within the local areas in which we work. We look forward to meeting as many local suppliers as possible at this dedicated event, to learn how the tradespeople of York can support the regeneration of the Guildhall.”

VINCI Construction UK were awarded the contract to restore and renovate of the city’s Guildhall which began in September 2019. As part of their procurement submission, VINCI outlined their ambition to engage with the local supply chain in York to advertise packages of work.

This work may include:

•           Painting and Decorating

•           Carpentry

•           Joinery

•           Cosmetic Repairs

•           Timber flooring/doors and other repairs

•           Stone Mason

•           Pavement Lighting

•           Roofing (single ply, slate tiling, zinc, glazed and lead)

•           Windows and Doors (Aluminium)

This event will allow City of York and VINCI to inform and engage local businesses in the work that has been completed so far at the Guildhall and what work is required moving forward. Details of packages, values and timescales will be provide at the event on Wednesday 8th January 2020.

To register attendance or find out more please contact Chloe Wilcox chloe.wilcox@york.gov.uk or call 01904 551307. Capacity is limited and therefore, attendance is restricted to one person per organisation.

Still no profits at Spark

The Council has confirmed that the promised profit share on the Spark container village development on Piccadilly has still not materialised.

Spark York

Payments should have been made at the end of the last financial year.

Only one single “rent” payment of £13,333.33 has been received by the Council.

In their original pitch to the Council in 2016, the operators promised a share of the profits on the project which were expected to more than cover the £40,000 costs of the Council providing mains services to the site.

No explanation for the failure to make a payment has been published nor is there any item on the Council forward decision-making programme which would suggest when an explanation may be forthcoming.

It is estimated that, had the site simply been used for car parking, the Council would have received around £200,000 in income over the last 3 years.

The containers are due to be removed in June 2020 although the Council has been very slow to market the availability of the site for permanent redevelopment.

There have been ongoing problems on the site with several planning conditions not being observed.

Over £4000 in Business Rate payments are also owed to the Council.

Business rates at Spark FOI Reef IGF/13909

NB. Under EU regulations, which are still expected to apply after 31st January 2020, government bodies are specifically prohibited from subsidising private companies.

Some York Councillors in line for pay bonanza

An independent pay review panel is recommending substantial pay increases for York Councillors.

Under the proposals, basic pay would rise from £9198 to £10,371 pa (13%). This element of pay has already seen rises in line with inflation each year since 2015.

In addition, major increases are lined up for those Councillors who are judged to have additional responsibilities. Their “SRAs” haven’t been increased since 2015 and have fallen behind inflation.

The Council Leader will receive £41,484 when his SRA is added to his basic pay.

The biggest (50%) increase in SRAs is reserved for the Chairs of the Scrutiny Management, Area Planning, Licensing and Audit Committees.

The proposed increases are revealed in a report to next weeks full Council meeting. The publication of the report was delayed until after voting in the General Election had concluded.

The plans would see taxpayers having to find £770,000 a year to fund the payments.

The proposals are bound to be controversial, not least because some of the evidence, submitted to the panel to justify the rises, doesn’t seem to stand up to scrutiny.

NB. Some Councillors may also receive other payments as a result of their membership of national, regional and sub regional bodies.