Road repairs – little progress by York Council

The Councils Executive committee will discuss the vexed question of highways maintenance next week.
Foxwood Lane

If there is any basic public service likely to raise public ire,  it is the number of potholes and cracks in roads and footpaths.

 The conditions simply reflect many years of under investment in maintenance work.

The new Council was elected on a manifesto which promised improvements. They quickly moved to allocate an additional £1 million budget although half of this was earmarked for new cycling and footpath projects.

School Street

The expectation was that the, all too obvious, major problems would be quickly identified and a programme agreed for repairs. Anyone reading the report will be very disappointed.  There is no refreshed list of roads that will be resurfaced this year.

Officials even plead for existing policies to continue.

Councillors have had long enough to get a list of repairs on a ward by ward basis. With only 6 months to go in the current financial year, contracts for these repairs needed to be issued quickly.

Ideally this should have been done before ice took a further toll on the vulnerable surfaces of poorly maintained surfaces.

Morrell Court

The report talks of an annual condition survey. The survey details condition of every highway. All are graded between 1 and 5 with 5 being those in worst condition. (Grade 1: very good, • Grade 2: good, • Grade 3: fair, • Grade 4: poor, • Grade 5: very poor)

Over 13,000 stretches of highway are categorised as grade 5

That is little help.

A more detailed assessment is needed if the worst roads are to be prioritised.

The list is available for download from “open data” click here It is unfortunately categorised by ward names which were superceded over 15 years ago.

Walton Place

Still we can say that streets like Foxwood Lane and School Street are amongst the worst in the City. The 50 year old potholed access roads to Spurr Court and Morrel Court are graded at 4 (poor). Footpaths in streets like Walton Place don’t even get a mention.

We hope that Councillors will ask some searching questions next week.

All is not as it should be with highway maintenance operations at the York Council.

Fake news or wishful thinking?

Council publishes new “Our City” newspaper

No doubt the York Council would be criticised if it failed to keep residents informed about what goes on in the City and how the Council spends taxpayers money. Whether spending £10,000 on putting a magazine through everyone’s letterbox represents a prudent use of resources may divide opinion.

The current edition of “Our City” is tidier and therefore more accessible than previous editions. But it fails an important test.

It isn’t objective.

Telling people that things are going well when patently many street level public services in the City are far from that, transforms an information source into a propaganda channel.

There are major problems with keeping the streets tidy and free of weeds. The refuse collection service is now chronically unreliable. Many roads and paths are potholed. Some are dangerously obstructed by trees and hedges. These issues don’t merit a mention in “Our City”.

The Council does praise the hugely expensive community stadium project without telling people precisely when the stadium will come into use. Apparently the IMAX cinema (a plus for the City) will open in December but there is no explanation for the delays that have dogged the future home of York City FC and the York Knights Rugby team.

But the main concern will be the failure to be frank about the risks involved in some of its projects.

The Council is acting as its own housing developer and hopes to build 600 homes in the City over the next few years. It has recruited a significant number of additional staff to do so. It could have used local companies to undertake the work but chose not to. It is a high risk venture but, at the end of the day, in York any new homes will be occupied one way or another.

The same can’t be said about the £20 million Guildhall redevelopment. There is little evidence to suggest that a “business club” is needed in the City and even less that the York Council would be the best organisation to manage one.

The “Our City” article disingenuously talks of the project generating £848,000 a year in rents. It fails to point out that would involve renting out all the available space and that, even then, the income would be barely sufficient to pay the interest payments on the money that the Council intends to borrow to fund the scheme!

Sadly similar mistakes have been made in the past. £12 million was spent on the Barbican concert hall. The Council chose to manage that facility itself despite a complete lack of experience in the field. It later turned out that the hall manager had failed to apply for an entertainments licence for the building and had operated it unlawfully for several months. The Barbican ran at a loss of £800,000 a year and eventually had to be sold on to the private sector.

Whether anyone will come forward to rescue the Guildhall project remains to be seen.

Westfield Primary gets £1m+ investment

Westfield Primary School has undergone an £1m investment programme over the last two years, with £425,000 being spent this year on refurbishing the east wing.

Westfield school

The most recent phase of the refurbishment has focused on the area of the school which houses foundation stage children through to Year 1 pupils. It has included replacing 104 windows, re-roofing two sections and removing a 40-year-old temporary double classroom.

The work has not only improved the condition of the school, but has also increased the school’s ‘environmental credentials’ by reducing energy wastage.

Re-organising the classrooms has also enabled the school’s nursery pupils to be brought into the main building so, besides being supported by teachers, they’re now co-located with the other pupils.

Last year, the school’s dining room, roof and kitchen area underwent a £695,000 refurbishment, enabling children to spend less time queuing for food and more time eating a healthy meal.  The former vast kitchen and dining spaces were reorganised, creating a pleasant, calming place to eat.

Parents and members of the community will be invited into the school during school holidays to experience the new space for themselves.

Lamara Taylor, Headteacher at Westfield Primary School, said: “The support we’ve had from the building team and City of York Council has been great and the scheme has led to considerable improvements to our school. The result has been amazing.

“I’m proud to show prospective parents around Westfield and the investment in the school will have positive benefits to the whole school community in the future. It’s all very exciting.”

£20 million contract signed for the conversion of the Guildhall into a business club

Almost comatose leadership has allowed the York Council to slip into a £20.2 million project which will see the Guildhall and neighbouring development site converted into a business club and restaurant.

Weed infested, stonework stained, windows caked with dirt. The neglect of the Guildhall since 2012

Neglect of the Listed building since 2012 means that some of the money will be needed to underpin parts of the old building while an new roof will also be necessary.

On even the most optimistic of income estimates, York Council taxpayers will be left with an annual bill of £574,000. Most of this is interest charges on additional borrowings of £16 million.

The York Councils PR department has been busy working on a, very awkward looking, video seeking to justify the £20 million scheme. Their time might have been better spent updating residents on what is being done to address failings with the bin emptying service, overgrown paths etc.

There have been numerous occasions over the last 8 years where decisive leadership interventions could have reduced the risk to taxpayers. (click)

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So now we move on to managing the contract and subsequently letting the newly created space.

The Council has committed itself to a £20 million cost envelope and an opening date in “spring 2021”.

The Councils record on major capital projects has not been good in recent years. The £42 million Community Stadium costs escalated from an original plan to invest £16 million and, 3 years after its target completion date, it is still not open.

Taxpayers will be monitoring progress on the Guildhall project with anxiety. Even after completion the authority will be faced with the task of renting out the new office space for £595,000 per annum. Failure to do so would mean an increased subsidy from taxpayers.

 Ironically the Council may then find that it is in competition with itself as some of he office space being built at the Community Stadium site has still not found an occupier.

Contract awarded to begin shaping the York Central site.

A road, access bridge and rail link essential to the development of York Central have moved a step closer with the announcement that City of York Council has selected John Sisk & Son as construction partner to deliver infrastructure to open up the site.

York central

The contract, the first to be awarded, is for a detailed design review which will lead to a Reserved Matters planning application, due later this financial year.

The approved plans for the York Central site include proposals to build up to 2,500 homes, and a commercial quarter creating up to 6,500 jobs adding a £1.16 billion boost to the economy.

John Sisk & Son will work with the council and partners to refine and finalise the design of the first phase of essential infrastructure for the access bridge, the spine road and the NRM rail link. This will inform a decision by Executive to proceed with a costed construction programme for York Central enabling infrastructure.

Cllr Keith Aspden, Leader of the council, said; “The delivery of York Central is a once in a lifetime opportunity to build much needed affordable homes and new public spaces, attract better paid jobs, and create sustainable transport links for the city.

“We look forward to working with the York Central Partnership to secure further improvements to the scheme and with Sisk to begin this essential first phase of work in preparing the York Central site for development.”

Ian Gray, Homes England on behalf of York Central Partnership, said: “This is a really exciting and important milestone towards the delivery of our ambitious plans at York Central. 

“A lot of hard work has been put in by York Central Partnership to get this far and this contract demonstrates our commitment to delivering the ambition and vision for the site.”

Paul Brown, Managing Director, UK Civils at John Sisk & Son, said:

“We are delighted to have been selected by the City of York Council to work with the stakeholders on this exciting project and to progress the design of some of the key enabling infrastructure. This is a project of huge ambition which will transform underused land in the centre of York into vibrant and distinctive residential neighbourhoods, cultural spaces and a high-quality commercial quarter. We are really excited to be able to bring our broad range of experience and commitment to a collaborative approach to the project.”

The budget necessary to commission this work was agreed by Executive in July 2019.

The York Central Partnership (YCP) members, Homes England, Network Rail, the National Railway Museum and City of York Council, have been working collaboratively for the past four years to develop proposals to unlock the potential of the brownfield site.

The partnership has secured planning approval, subject to the finalisation of the S106 agreement, for its outline planning application and assembled a potential £155m funding package for infrastructure works.

This includes £23.5m of a total of £37.2m from the West Yorkshire-plus Transport Fund and Leeds City Region Growth Deal, which will also fund the ambitious plans to transform the front of the railway station.

The West Yorkshire-plus Transport Fund has been part-funded through the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Growth Deal, a £1 billion package of Government funding to drive growth and job creation across the Leeds City Region. The aim is to create around 20,000 new jobs and add £2.4 billion a year to the economy by the mid-2030s.

City of York Council has also received a Local Growth Fund contribution of £3.1m, from York, North Yorkshire and East Riding LEP and has agreed to borrow £35m to be repaid using retained business rates from the York Central Enterprise Zone.

The council’s £77.1m bid for the government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund is at an advanced stage, with a decision expected in the autumn.

Council taxpayers to foot £605,000 bill for sports pavilion

The Council have now appointed a contractor to build a “Pavilion, Clubhouse and Changing Rooms” on Tadcaster Road near Sim Balk Lane.

It will become the home of a football team currently based in Bishopthorpe.

The contract was won by Fullwood of Pontefract

The cost is an eye watering £605,000.

In total the project is expected to cost £1.5 million. £491,000 has already been spent on new pitches.

Taxpayers money

This compared to the costs of new modular changing rooms which are available from less than £40,000 from a number of companies.

These include Sports Changing Rooms and York’s own Portakabin

The cost of the pavilion is controversial because it is being partly funded from monies generated by building on playing fields at Lowfield.

More modest changing facilities would have allowed the surplus to be used to provide an all-weather games area to replace both the facilities lost at Lowfields and also the Kingsway West children’s games area which the Council demolished earlier in the summer.

The Council has still not made any public announcement about the replacement games area which could be located on Thanet Road.

No profits for Spark?

The Council has confirmed that it has not received any payments from the Spark container village as part of the “profit sharing” arrangements agreed nearly three years ago.

The payments were expected to help offset the £40,000 of taxpayers money spent in providing electricity and other services to the site.

Spark

The first payment was due in April

The company also haven’t yet provided the cladding required by a planning condition dating back nearly 2 years. The Councils planning department is coming under increasing pressure to take enforcement action.

The Spark owners were recently quoted in the local newspaper as wanting to continue to use the site when their current lease expires in June!

York Council appoints temporary Chief Executive.

Its nearly 2 months since the York Council’s Chief Executive was last seen at West Offices.

Her diary is now published on “Open Data” and reveals that she had a meeting with the Strategic Director of Yorkshire Sport on 30th May. There is nothing in the diary since then.

In her absence on – what is assumed to be – sick leave, Ian Floyd will fill in. Ian Floyd is an able and experienced local government officer and he deserves the full support of the whole of the Council during what will be a taxing period

The Council also has a vacancy for a Director of Governance so the headquarters team looks particularly light at present.

It may be another 4 months before the Chief Executive’s position is resolved.

The additional costs of covering the absence are reported as being around £3000 a month.

Labour wants to plunge York further into debt

£75,000 salary for “Children’s Commissioner”

A huge increase in borrowing is proposed in a Labour party amendment to the York Councils budget plans.

£2.5 million extra will be borrowed with more being taken from reserves currently earmarked to provide additional social housing.

They say, most of the extra money will be spent on reducing “damp” in Council housing. The Council had already let a contract for £2 million to address this issue on 11th May.

The Council has record debt levels with over 22% of what a resident pays in Council Tax set to be spent on interest charges by 2022.

Plans for a “Children’s Commissioner” on a fat cat £75k salary, appear to be equally misguided. The Council has a well-paid Executive Councillor with responsibilities in the same area.

Labour also plans to cut £1/4 million from the “safer communities” crime reduction budget. This is an extraordinary misjudgement of the problems that exist in parts of the City with anti-social behaviour, drug misuse, graffiti and vandalism on the increase.

Instead money would be spent on two additional talking shops; a “Human Rights Commission” and a “Carbon Neutral City Citizens Assembly” are proposed.

The only part of the Labour plan which might gain some support is a proposed investment of £40,000 in reducing, to one day, the target time taken to remove “fly tipping”. Some may, however, feel that the first step should be to improve bulky waste collection arrangements and reintroduce regular visits by “skips” to key estates.

The Council’s revised budget proposals will be debated tomorrow (Wednesday)

York Council has a plan

The new leaders of the York Council say they will publish a new “Council Plan” in the autumn.

This will be preceded by public consultation.

The Council’s Executive will hear on Thursday that they intend to concentrate resources on a list of challenges. These are:

a. Good Health and Wellbeing

b. Well-paid jobs and an inclusive economy

c. Getting around sustainably

d. A Better Start for Children and Young People

e. A Greener and Cleaner City

f. Building homes and World-class infrastructure g. Safe Communities and culture for all

h. An open and effective Council

So, in effect, everything will be a priority!

The electorate told Councillors in May that the top priority should to get basic street level services back up to decent standards.

That means that performance on key services needs to be monitored regularly and publicly published.

The Council needs to concentrate on its core responsibilities. Those that affect most residents are:

  1. Road repairs
  2. Footpath repairs
  3. Litter/Fly tipping prevention
  4. Weed control
  5. Poop scoop/ litter/ salt bins
  6. Hedge/tree maintenance
  7. Street cleaning
  8. Amenity & garage area maintenance
  9. Reducing Dog Fouling
  10. Improving Policing visibility
  11. Car parking
  12. Grass cutting (e.g. verges and open spaces)
  13. Recycling
  14. Street lighting
  15. Schools
  16. Refuse collection
  17. Bus service improvements

To this list should be a commitment to openness and a drive to devolve power to local communities

The Council should concentrate on getting these service right before being tempted to roll out “beer and skittles” prestige projects.