Gale Lane flats plan grows larger

A committee will decide whether to agree to a proposal to provide 8 flats and 2 bungalows on the site of 61A Gale Lane.

While the redevelopment of the site has been on the cards for several years the developers plans have grown over the years.

In 2017 planning permission was granted for 5 apartments plus a pair of bungalows.

A year later and this had grown to 7 apartments plus the bungalows.

The latest revision would see an even larger development.

One of the main areas of objection is likely to be traffic generation with additional vehicle movements adding to those being generated by the adjacent “Lowfield Green” development.

Residents wishing to object to the plans can do so at the planning committee meeting (click) which takes place on Thursday 20th August.

Further objections can be registered through the Councils on line portal https://planningaccess.york.gov.uk/online-applications/ quoting Reference 20/00494/FULM &/or by email to  planning.comments@york.gov.uk

51% increase in unemployment in York

The latest claimant count figures for York show a total of 4995 residents now unemployed. This represents 3.6% of the population.

Perhaps not surprisingly – given the health restrictions – unemployment has increased by 51% compared to this time last year.

York’s employment rate, however, remains higher than either the regional or national averages.

The figures do not include those who are on “furlough”. It will become clearer in the autumn how many of these jobs will be sustained into the future. The country is now in recession (economy shrinking), so recovery may be slow.

In York the important visitor economy is slowly improving. Traders will be hoping that this trend is sustained in the important period up to the new year.

After that, things are less predictable with the roll out of an effective conronavirus vaccine likely to be a key driver of any recovery.

Coronavirus York updates; 11th August 2020

Deaths and test results

The latest government figures confirm that there have been no more deaths recorded in York care homes this week. The cumulative total remains at 78.

There have been no additional COVID-19 related deaths recorded in the City. The cumulative total remains at 169

The York Councils public heath director has been quoted in the media saying that there are four Coronavirus patients currently in the York hospital. Two of these are in the Intensive Care Unit. The figures have not yet been added to the Open Data web site.

As predicted earlier in the week, the York Council are to undertake their own “track and trace” system. It will be in place before the new school term commences. A meeting yesterday was told that “there have been 97 positive Covid-19 cases registered with the test and trace scheme in York – with 82 of them contacted, leading 176 contacts to be identified. Of those, 113 have been traced“. Again these figures haven’t been added to the Open Data web site

The test and trace system is to “go local” as the Government appears to acknowledge that the national system, described as “world beating”, is not fit for purpose.

It follows intense criticism over the reach of the national centralised service, which was set up an awarded to private companies, and its failure to tap into local knowledge to tackle outbreaks of the coronavirus in England.

Last month, it was revealed the system was failing to reach more than half the contacts named by infected people in areas battling acute outbreaks of the virus.

On Monday this week, DHSC announced the NHS Test and Trace programme will now provide local authorities across England with a dedicated team of contact tracers to ensure that as many people as possible are being reached, in what the department described as a “new way of working” and a “more tailored service”.

This could mean people who have been in contact with confirmed coronavirus cases may get a knock on their door if tracers are unable to reach them over the phone.

 “As the approach becomes more locally targeted the national service will adjust,” DHSC said. “NHS Test and Trace will reduce current extra capacity and reduce the number of non-NHS call handlers.”

They continued: “Data on the virus continues to be actively monitored through PHE and the Joint Biosecurity Centre so that staff numbers can be quickly scaled up, or down, depending on requirements for the national service and as part of winter preparations.”

An effective system of contact tracing is widely viewed as critical in keeping down the transmission rate of the virus by reaching out to those who have come into close contact with an individual who has tested positive, and urging them to self-isolate for 10 days.

However, last week’s figures showed that thousands of people are still not being reached by the test and trace program mme and the head of outsourcing company Serco, which employs over 10,000 of the tracers, admitted up to a fifth of contacts may be untraceable.

The data added that the national call centers were struggling to reach contacts, with only 56 per cent of close contacts handled online or by call centers being reached and told to self-isolate to stop the spread of the virus.

In stark contrast, a local contact tracing system set up in Blackburn with Darwen Council had reached 90 per cent of the people the Government’s national system was failing to contact in an area with one of the worst Covid-19 infection rates.

Council to tackle digital exclusion in Coronavirus response

City of York Council will be hosting a digital inclusion workshop with Citizens Online and Explore Libraries this week, to bring city partners together to share insight and best practice .

Going forward in partnership the aim is to join up activity, share information and resources and encourage collaboration.

Throughout lockdown, the Council have been working in partnership with organisations across the city to promote digital inclusion for residents and tenants who lack connectivity or access to digital devices.

As facilities such as libraries and the council’s West Offices were required to close at the beginning of lockdown, residents who did not have internet access or computers at home were no longer able to access these public facilities. As part of our emergency response to the impact of Coronavirus, the council and partners expanded and initiated a variety of schemes and work to address the growing need for internet access. These schemes included:

  • Eligible residents who lack internet access at home have been supported through lockdown with devices such as smart phones and laptops (plus data) through York’s emergency funding scheme. Households in need of devices were identified in partnership with support workers and charities across the city.
  • Around 50 laptops have been loaned by York Learning to learners wanting to continue their studies during lockdown who didn’t have the equipment to do so. Those already on accredited courses such as apprenticeships, computer skills and functional skills courses in maths and English have been prioritised.
  • Independent Living Centre tenants without online devices have been provided with smartphones and three months of mobile data to keep in touch with friends and family, and to ensure they can order any food and prescriptions they need. Where they have been allocated, the tenants are regularly video calling, ringing and texting friends and family members which, they say, has been a lifeline.  When the time-limited contract expires, tenants can continue to use the phone when they buy and add their own sim cards. This means they and staff can also keep in touch which helps break down isolation.

Throughout lockdown, York’s superfast broadband network has also been further extended to now reach 72% of the city.

Residents and businesses reminded about financial support

City of York Council is reminding residents and businesses that support is available for those who are currently in council tax or business rates arrears due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the next week we will be contacting people who are currently in arrears with their council tax or business rates offering support and information

Revenue from council tax and business rates is essential to ensure the council can continue to provide a wide range of services to support residents, our most vulnerable citizen and businesses across the city.

Several support schemes are currently in place, including:

  • Council Tax Support – the amount people get is based on their household income and savings, so are likely to qualify if on welfare benefits or a low income.
  • Council Tax Discretionary Reduction Scheme – provides extra assistance for people who are unable to pay their council tax bill. People can apply for this reduction whether or not they are eligible for, or receive Council Tax Support.
  • Some people can get a discount on their Council Tax bill, to check what discounts are available please visit www.york.gov.uk/counciltax

Adult learning in York must face up to COVID challenge

Shine programme

The Council will consider an update report tomorrow on how well its York Learning (further education) service is performing. Not surprisingly, courses have been interrupted with many of the venues used by the service not being available for hire.

The Council produced a “Shine” booklet recently outlining what was available this summer. Mainly aimed at families, it can be accessed by clicking here

Much of the York Learning’s £3 million budget is spent on providing educational opportunities for disadvantaged groups.

Some performance information has now been published click

It reveals that events such as “job fairs” have been shelved in the wake of the health scare. Given the likely increase in unemployment in the City, providing services like this must have a high priority even if they have to be established initially on a “virtual” basis.

Reskilling the workforce will be a challenge as the City – and country – tries to emerge from recession. Judging by the published report, York Learning has yet to adapt its priorities to address that challenge.

The report reveals a decline in student numbers – including refugees – undertaking English language courses. This is partly explained by the lower number of inward migrants to the area. Some courses are also now available on line using “zoom”.

The report to the meeting acknowledges that during recent months some residents have become more isolated than they needed to be because of lack of IT skills. Many services were only available “on line” during the crisis and libraries were closed.

Filling that skills gap is a top priority for the service

The learning team have been criticised in the past for being slightly remote from local communities. Residents Associations rarely receive any information about upcoming local activities.

The Council will need to engage more effectively in the future if those in greatest need of skills training are to receive  the support that they need.

Missing performance stats

Track the spread of coronavirus around the world | World Economic ...

The Leader of the York Council’s Liberal Democrat Group (Keith Aspden) has issued a statement asking the government to delegate funding for the Coronavirus Track and Trace (T & T) activities to the authority.

He says that;

“York has seen the highest percentage of contacts traced and completed (68 per cent) across the Yorkshire and Humber region, this highlights the extent of the amount of people failing to be contacted”.

That will come as news to most residents. The Council publishes no volume or success measures on T & T on its open data web site.

Currently we are seeing only 3 or 4 positive pillar 1 and 2 test results in the City each week. Following up contacts from such a small group should not be too demanding. As with many other issues, the fundamental flaw in York is a lack of openness.

Cllr Keith Aspden has been asked to add his voice to demands for more local information to be published.

He has not replied to a request for at least the following local information to be published

  1. The number of beds at York hospital occupied by Coronavirus patients
  2. The number of ICU beds at York hospital occupied by Coronavirus patients
  3. The number of tests (pillar 1 and 2) carried out (the positive result figure is published)
  4. The number and results of any anti body tests carried out in the City.

To this can now be added the number and proportion of successful traces completed following a positive test result.

Transparency

We raised the issue a few weeks ago of missing public service quality statistics. Many were available through the “open data” web site but recently updates there have been slow to appear (even for pre Pandemic information).

One performance area that was out of date was the number of fines (FPNs) issued for littering offences. The outturn figure for last (financial) year is now available, Three penalty notices were issue, half the number issued the previous year.

There is some good news with the number of street lighting issues reported having fallen for the third successive year (the Council has invested heavily in new street lighting columns)

But figures for transportation matters are mainly still at least a year out of date. The are no figures published for the number of journeys completed by different transport modes. Only bus service use (stable) and, separately, Park and Ride passenger numbers (down), have been added.

These are mainly figures for the period before lock-down and are important if the economic recovery is to be monitored.

The Council has failed to produce KPIs on air quality or carbon emission levels.

Risks, delays & cost increases as York Council struggles to manage its commercial portfolio

York Guildhall

Yesterday’s announcement that more than £15 million of infrastructure schemes had been secured in North Yorkshire over the next 18 months – with £300,000 of funding going towards the York Guildhall offices project – will have been welcomed by many.

The money comes from the Government’s “Getting Building Fund” which “aims to boost economic recovery from Covid-19”.

According to a Council spokesman, the funding will now be used “for internal fit-out works” on the business club which will occupy much of the building.

That will come as a surprise to those who thought that the agreed £20.18 million budget included all costs.  Indeed, the option approved by the Council in February 2019, specifically identified £300,000 for “fixtures, fittings and furniture”.

Council report 2019. Option 1 was agreed

It seems that the only change is that this expenditure will now be funded from general taxation.

Even with this subsidy, and assuming that all offices and the on site restaurant, are all occupied, York Council taxpayers still face an annual bill of over £500,000.

An Executive meeting which took place last week was told in an update on the Guildhall project that “additional delays have meant that it is presently considered that these additional costs cannot be contained within the agreed contingency”.

The scale of the over expenditure was not revealed.

The Guildhall is not the only commercial portfolio project to come under scrutiny.

Some independent commentators are sceptical about the timing of the Councils £2.8 million acquisition of 25/27 Coney Street. Rent levels are now dropping and with them property valuations in some high streets. Coney Street is struggling more than most.

Meanwhile large numbers of Council owned properties remain empty and unused.

These include Ashbank (empty for 8 years), 29 Castlegate (3 years), Oakhaven (4 years) and Willow House (4 years 6 months).

Willow House stands abandoned with no sign of redevelopment work starting.

We now understand that Willow House – which was advertised for sale with Sanderson Weatherall – has been withdrawn from the market. The Council turned down a £3 million offer for the prime site shortly after it became available.

None of these properties are accommodating anyone.

All are incurring maintenance and security costs for taxpayers, while at the same time attracting no Business Rates or rent income.

At a time when local authorities are on their knees financially, poor resource management is  a matter of concern.

Flooding report – February 2020 wettest on record

£4.9 million cost for pumping station to protect Fordlands Road area.

It cost the City of York council £180,000 to respond to and recover from the floods which took place in the City in February.  This was the wettest February on record, with the most flood warnings issued in any one day across England. Rainfall fell on already saturated ground increasing the impacts.

The Council will consider a report on the problem at a meeting next week.

There is some debate about the apparently conflicting advice issued by local agencies and the information included on government river gauge web sites.

Generally flood defences held well although there were issues in the Fulford/Fordlands Road/Germany Beck area. A separate report on flood prevention plans for that area can be read by clicking here.

The preferred option would include the construction of a £4.9 million pumping station. If funding for the project can be found the work could start on construction next summer.

The meeting will also consider the latest Environment Agency report on its flood prevention works programme

Environment Agency Work Programme 2020

Bootham Crescent redevelopment set for approval

Planning application to be determined on 13th August

Council official are recommending that planning permission be granted to build 93 houses on the site of York City Football Clubs existing stadium. The Club is expected to move to a new stadium at Monks Cross later this year.

Proposed housing layout

The development, which has been in the pipeline for over a decade, will comprise 12 one bed, 33 two bed, 37 three bed and 11 four bed properties. Of these 18 (20%) will be classed as “affordable”.

The plans incorporate a heritage proposal agreed with Historic England which acknowledges the significance of the football ground over the last 90 years.

It consequently incorporates the following elements that will give distinctive character to the development and evidence the site’s past use –

  • A memorial garden and a retained section of the west stand. The retained section of terrace along with evidence of the location of the centre circle within the landscaping will allow for orientation and evidence of the previous layout of the site.
  • The ‘proposed flag location’ annotated on the site plan relates to the flag present at the football ground (in a similar location). Historically the flag was lowered gradually towards the end of the game.
  • The west brick boundary wall, which predates use of the site by the football club will be retained (it will be lowered removing the blockwork).

The report goes on to say,

The retained terrace and tunnel will provide a lasting legacy of the stadium and create a focal point for memory and orientation. The location of the retained terrace and tunnel matches the desired position on the halfway line at the midpoint of the Popular Stand and in front of the POS. The precise length of the section will be determined by conservation, engineering and health and safety considerations but is not expected to exceed 6m.

The preferred location for the memorial garden is around the base of this
structure to provide discreet location for remembrance. The side walls of the terrace could be used to support memorial plaques etc, while caskets and ashes could be buried at the base of the walls. Some existing metal fencing and gates in the Popular Stand could be appropriated to secure the perimeter at the top of the terrace and ends of the tunnel. Similarly, the
wooden picket fence in front of the Popular Stand should be reclaimed to border the memorial garden.

Centre circle

The idea of recreating the centre circle in the middle of the POS is applauded, it would be in alignment with the retained section of terrace and provide a further place for orientation.

Flagpole

The flagpole was originally located between the south-east corner of the pitch and the stadium entrance. It is suggested that the new flagpole is erected as close as possible to this original location, and that it flies a replica of the club flag as a permanent and symbolic reminder of fans’ allegiance to Bootham Crescent. Its proposed location does not exactly match the original position, but it is as near as possible in the proposed layout. Ideally, like the centre circle, it should be slightly further south and east, closer to the new entrance.

Any development will not take place until both the football and Rugby Clubs have moved to the – much delayed – new stadium. Commissioning work there is still apparently held up by the after affects of the pandemic. Social distancing regulations currently make it impossible to stage large scale trial events there, an essential prerequisite for stadium certification.

Details of the planning committee report can be found by clicking here