The environment and informal leisure

The government has launched a welcome initiative this week aimed at encouraging more active lifestyles. There has been a lot of support for cycling as a way of keeping fit and losing weight. That is very welcome and we hope that it soon translates into a Council initiative aimed at improving maintenance standards on off road cycle paths, many of which are in poor condition in York.

Less attention has been paid to leisure walking – an option open to virtually everyone.

There has been renewed interest in the use of local Public Rights of Way (PROW) as residents sought to follow daily – social distance – exercising guidelines. The route across Acomb Moor to Acomb Wood became more popular. A local bulletin board has seen several people criticise the farmer who blocked off all entrances to the moor before ploughing it.

Access to Acomb Moor blocked

While the owner is entitled to cultivate his land, he should not have blocked the Foxwood Lane access at least while the current PROW application is being actively considered. We have asked the public rights of way officer to intervene.

More needs to be done to enhance and improve access to the natural environment at least on the west of the City.

The Councils own annual survey of opinion revealed that  44% of panellists thought that the Council was not doing well at improving green spaces.

59% thought that the Council wasn’t doing well at reducing air pollution.

The Council planted 515 trees last year. It had previously claimed that it would plant “50,000 trees by 2023”. It had also promised to expand the City’s strays and introduce more wildflower meadows in an attempt to encourage pollinators.

We understand that a report will be considered by the Council in August which will  set out proposals to acquire land which will enable the creation of a “large new area of woodland in close proximity to the city to provide green amenity space for residents and plant trees that will contribute to the council’s commitment to become net carbon neutral by 2030”.

There has to be balance. The country does need to be more self sufficient in food production, so the retention of good quality agricultural land is also important.

However, the creation of a country park on land near Askham Lane would be a welcome step forward. It has been a vision for several years. It would allow hedgerows to be re-established and PROWs to be maintained in good condition.

It would also provide some compensation for the sports and leisure land lost through recent developments in the area.

 It only now remains to be seen whether Councillors have the drive and determination to deliver on their promises.Tree Walking GIF - Tree Walking Tired - Discover & Share GIFs

Lowfields – new homes not ready for occupation until next year

This Lowfields site will include 140 mixed tenure homes of which 56 will be affordable homes. The contractor has been on site since December 2019 and the Council says that it is “progressing well” with significant progress on “infrastructure work along with substructures”.

However the first 34 homes are now not due to be completed until early in 2021.

The Council decided to develop the site itself at a meeting held in July 2018

It later formed a company called Shape homes and said it would recruit staff to work with it. The latest financial report suggest that this had not progressed by the end of the financial year with over £1.2 million of the available budget slipping into the current year.

The Council also failed to invest £1.9 million of the budget that it set aside for the repair and modernisation of existing homes.

Football pitches

Meanwhile the football pitch project on Sim Balk Lane has stalled. The pitches were nominally supposed to replace those lost at Lowfields as a result of development, albeit they are 3 miles away. The land near London Bridge became waterlogged over the winter and is only now beginning to grass over.This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is New-football-pitches-Sim-Balk-Lane-4-4th-Aug-2019-858x1024.jpg

The biggest problem though is the expensive “pavilion” which incorporates changing rooms.

A report to a meeting being held today says, “The construction of the pavilion / changing rooms has been put on hold due to the Covid-19 restrictions and it is not known when the work will be able to restart. The final procurement for the access road has also been put on hold”.

We wish that project well, but would have preferred to see some of the £850,000 cost (to taxpayers) invested in outdoor sports/leisure facilities in the Westfield area.

Huge £1.8 million overspend by Council on James House project

The conversion of James House from offices to 57 self-contained apartments for temporary homeless accommodation was completed on 14th April 2020, fifteen months behind schedule.

The Council says, “For homeless households the self-contained apartments will offer safe, secure and comfortable accommodation before permanent housing can be found for them. James House was open to residents in June 2020”.

The Council now admits that, as well as being 15 months behind schedule, the final costs are currently £1.782m above the agreed budget of £12.4m.

The council says that they have appointed independent experts to review the programming, delay, and quantity surveying aspects of the project.

York Council spent £4.5 million on buying commercial property last year including £2.8 million on 25/27 Coney Street

Community Stadium not completed, Guildhall business club costs rising

The Council has revealed, in the small print of a report to a meeting taking place this week, that “as part of the council’s response to the COVID_19 pandemic all major procurements are on hold in the short term”. This comes as no surprise with the Castle/Piccadilly development one of these projects now shelved

Council progress report July 2020

The Council has expected to recover its investment there using “long term revenue from commercial space”. Speculative building of that sort looks to be that thing of the past for a few years at least.

The same report reveals for the first time that, late last year, the Council purchased 25-27 Coney Street for just under £2.85 million This is the block containing the Holland and Barrett store. Just how the rent freeze during the health scare will affect income from this and similar commercial property investments is not explained in the Council report. Generally speaking, in the long run, the City has always benefited from civic investment in land and property ownership. Values in the past have always risen faster than inflation. In the short term, though, such purchases may place additional burdens on taxpayers.

25-27 Coney Street

There may be a bigger issue emerging at the Guildhall where delays have caused an escalation in the cost of the £20 million renovation and remodelling project. The report is, however, still claiming that the hugely expensive project will provide “a comprehensively refurbished and renewed Guildhall complex to provide a contemporary business venue for the City, the works include a green energy solution and dramatically improved facilities for community, civic and council use, with a riverside restaurant unit alongside”. Time will tell.

The report confirms that the “Community Stadium” is still a “live building site”.  “All certification and testing will only recommence once Government allows the gathering of people to resume, but only at that point. When all contractors and partners are able to return safely to the site to fully complete the works, they will. Only at that point can the Stadium look to hold test events required and open thereafter”. There is no comment in the report about the commercial and community uses planned for the site or the likely timescales for bringing all spaces into use.

Anyone’s guess when the Community Stadium complex will be fully occupied

Without test events being possible, it now seems unlikely that the football or rugby clubs will be able to play at the stadium from September (the likely start of the National League football season) .

York Learning Summer Festival

Adult Learning: February 2014

York Learning (part of City of York Council) is hosting their first ever Summer Festival, offering residents a variety of fun and uplifting activities for the whole family.

Taking place throughout August, residents will have the opportunity to perfect their skills or learn new skills with a series of classes ranging from foreign language to mask-making; painting to dancing; or BBQ cooking to photography.

This year, the festival will have a special focus on supporting local resident’s wellbeing. York Learning will be offering Pilates, Yoga, Tai Chi, Dancefit workshops and mindfulness classes designed to help people come to terms with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

There will also be the chance to prepare fun ways to get your kids ready for school, perfect your writing skills and enjoy fun-filled family activities. All Summer Festival courses and workshops are available to pre-book online at www.yorklearning.org.uk.

York Learning has been offering an extended range of online classes for all to enjoy during the coronavirus outbreak, and will continue during the summer holiday period.

To see all the Summer Festival workshops and courses, visit www.yorklearning.org.uk and keep an eye on the York Learning and Family Learning Facebook pages, Instagram, and Twitter.

Coronavirus York updates; 17th July 2020

Deaths and test results

There have been no further positive test results or hospital deaths in the City according to government figures published today.

Sometimes “late” test results are retrospectively added to the daily totals but the trend may be encouraging.

Restrictions to be eased further

  • From 25th July indoor gyms, pools and other sports facilities can reopen
  • On 1st August the government will update its advice on going to work, asking employers to make decisions about how and where their staff can work safely
  • From the same date, most remaining leisure settings, including bowling, skating rinks, casinos and all close contact services, such as beauticians, will be allowed to reopen
  • Live indoor theatre and concerts will be able to resume with socially distanced audiences
  • Wedding receptions for up to 30 people will also be allowed from next month
  • From September, schools, nurseries and colleges will be open for all children and young people on a full-time basis, while universities are also working to reopen as fully as possible
  • From October, the government intends to allow audiences to return to stadiums, while conferences and other business events can recommence, subject to the outcome of pilots

Shop local

City of York Council is encouraging people to shop local and stay safe this weekend.

Whilst face coverings are mandatory in shops from 24 July, city leaders are coming together to urge residents and businesses to consider the use of face coverings within the safety guidelines.

There is growing evidence that face coverings can stop the spread of Coronavirus. Face coverings, alongside regular hand washing, social distancing and staying home and getting tested, if you have symptoms, remain the best defence we have against the virus.

If you have a medical condition that means you are unable to wear a face covering, you do not need a letter from your healthcare professional to prove this.  In this situation, you will still be able to enter shops and you will not be fined for not wearing one.

Councillor Keith Aspden, Leader of City of York Council said: “Our local business community have worked hard to reopen safely, and to support them, the council has been issuing guidance packs to businesses and licensing premises to support them through this difficult period”.

“If every resident spent £5 with a local business, we would add £1m into York’s economy, and that is why we are encouraging residents to shop local and stay safe this weekend.

“Supporting York’s local businesses and independents puts your money straight back into our local economy and helps support the businesses who make York such a unique city. So, let’s continue to shop local and stay safe.”

Andrew Lowson, Executive Director at York BID, said: “We have seen other countries successfully introduce the use of face coverings without it impacting on people’s ability to enjoy shopping and socialising within the safety guidelines. We hope residents will continue to support their local businesses as they continue on the road to recovery.”

Marc Bichtemann, Managing Director of First York, said: “We have been increasing our services over recent weeks to help more people to travel as retail and leisure opens in York, including more frequency on the park and ride network, so we are able to carry customers safely to their favourite shopping destinations.

“Wearing a face covering on the bus is already the law unless someone is exempt and we encourage everyone, especially customers who may be using the bus first the first time, to bring one with them and help fellow passengers and our drivers to keep safe.”

Information on face coverings, including how to make them and also information on those exempt from wearing a face covering for medical reasons are available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/face-coverings-when-to-wear-one-and-how-to-make-your-own/face-coverings-when-to-wear-one-and-how-to-make-your-own

Children’s playgrounds all now open in Westfield

Children’s playground in the Westfield area have all now been reopened. Some are displaying “best practice” signs outlining health restrictions. Judging by the numbers in the Acomb Green play area this has proved to be very popular with children (and probably parents).

Acomb Green
Cornlands
Dickson Park
Foxwood Lane
Grange Lane

That was the week that was in west York in photos

Bachelor Hill looking very smart including the wildflwoer meadow.
We’ve reported the damaged fence at the Cornlands park play area. The play area is due to officially reopen later this week following the health lock-down.. The fencing was provided to prevent fouling by dogs.
Another shopping trolley has made a break for freedom. This one on Tennent Road
We are still waiting for the goal posts on the Westfield park to be repainted. Been outstanding for three years now. Pitch also needs remarking before the new season starts.
Lots of weed growth as a result of the weather this week. Particular problems in Chapelfields and on Askham Lane.
Weeds overgrowing the bus shelter on Foxwood Lane again. The Council owned shelter is now looking very shabby now.
Damaged utility marker sign on Grange Lane is still lying on the verge despite being reported in January.
More snickets now obstructed by overhanging trees.

Coronavirus York updates; 5th July 2020

Test results and deaths

The government has revised its stats to show an additional positive test result in the York area on 29th June. This took the cumulative total to 899.

There has still not been any comment from the authorities about the success or otherwise of the contact tracing process in the local area. The next meeting of the York Councils “outbreak management board” is not due to take place for another week.

The cumulative total of deaths at York Trust hospitals remains at 214.

Where is the plan?

Some traders are reporting that takings yesterday were down compared to the previous Saturday.

The Council has been criticised for multiple failures with its parking strategy. It appears that the “phone only” 2 hours free parking was not applied if a shopper tried to pay for an extra hour (they were liable to be billed at full rate for the first 2 hours).

As we said when the scheme first started it was simply to complicated to be understood by casual visitors (even assuming that they had downloaded the mobile RingGo parking app).

Key shoppers car parks like Castle & Marygate were excluded from the scheme.

The Council compounded the problem by saying that the Castle car park would be closed, but without saying when. (They need to forget that idea for at least 12 months. This would give the City centre economy time to recover and for alternatives to become established)

Some traders have suggested that there should be free parking at all car parks from 3:00pm each day. That would at least have the merit of being understandable (and would also help the evening economy).

Shop Local - Serving the WI & IL State Line Area

The Councils’ preferred alternative transport mode – cycling- still suffers from a lack of secure parking. This is also an acute issue at some suburban shopping locations.

The provision of additional “social distancing” space – at the expense of highways and car parking – has been largely random. In most cases like Marygate car park the provision has mostly been ignored by users.

In others, contraflow cycle lanes have introduced additional hazards.

All in all then, the lack of a thought through recovery strategy is becoming of more concern each day.

Marketing alone will not be enough.

In an occasional lucid moment the York Council has displayed some advertising flair. Not least with the widely applauded “Don’t be a Tosser” anti litter campaign.

They may also say that people are right to be very cautious about visiting busy locations. They would be right in saying that safety must come first.

But that doesn’t excuse the absence of a 3 – 6 month revitalisation strategy.

Press Archives - Keep Streets Live!

As regulations allow; arts, music, poetry, comedy and sports should come to open spaces throughout the City. Sub-urban areas and villages must be included. Most shops, takeaways, restaurants and hairdressers in those areas have now reopened.

They – like the arts – have had little support from the authorities.

A festival atmosphere would provide a huge lift for the morale of residents and visitors alike. It should encompass large visitor magnets like the Minster, Museums and Guildhalls.

But it does needs to start quickly now.

Community seeks right to buy bowls club

 The Council will be asked on 24th July to list the New Earswick and District Indoor Bowls Club, Huntington Road, Huntington, York as an asset of community value.

The same meeting is already scheduled to consider a similar request relating to the Murton Arms Public House.

The Executive Member will be asked to make a decision on whether the above listed property should be added to the list of assets of community value.

If they are added to the list then the community will have 6 months in which to put together a bid to buy the properties should they come onto the market.