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!

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.

Millthorpe School sports centre

According to the Council, “A new £1 million sports facility at Millthorpe School will benefit schools and community groups across the city when it is completed at the end of October”.

The project’s progress compares well with the proposal to provide an alternative for the game area on Kingsway West closed by the Council two year ago. Discussions on a replacement have only just started.

The Council says that the “floodlit 3G artificial grass pitch will be available all year round to pupils at Millthorpe and nearby Scarcroft Primary School, together with other York schools and community groups.

It has been developed through the City of York Council scheme to create additional school places at Scarcroft Primary School and helps to increase the amount of outdoor space available to the school.

Community groups will be able to use the pitch outside of the school day and during the school holidays. Hamilton Panthers, York City Kick About and Bishopthorpe White Rose are already lined up to take advantage of the new facility.

The facility is close to the existing sports hall and will be accessible for outside users via the school’s Philadelphia Terrace entrance.  The development includes on-site car parking spaces next to the pitch, with provision for disabled visitors, secure cycle parking and electric vehicle charging.

The pitch is suitable for junior 11-a-side football and features include energy-efficient floodlighting, along with portable goals and pitch markings to meet the requirements of a variety of different game formats and age ranges”.

The charges that will apply for use of he facilities haven’t been published. 

More on financial threat to Energise and other GLL leisure facilities in York

In May, a media report confirmed that the GLL group – who manage several leisure facilities in York including Energise on Cornlands Road and the Yearsley swimming pool – were in financial difficulty.

Energise on Cornlands Road

They asked the York Council for support.

The move may partly explain why more progress has not been made in bringing new facilities at the York Community stadium site into use.

The York City Council said it “will continue to work closely with GLL.” 

At the time, Ian Floyd, the council’s interim head of paid services, said: “Throughout the city’s response to coronavirus we understand that the businesses we work with have had to adapt due to temporary closures, working differently and dealing with the financial demands this places on them.

We are working with our partners across the city to ensure we support them to work safely, and we continue to follow government guidance regarding our ongoing service contracts.

“City of York Council supports GLL through our leisure services contract via monthly payments. This is usually paid in arrears. Following government guidance, the council have paid three months of the contract fee upfront, covering April to June 2020.

“We understand that GLL have furloughed the majority of staff at these venues and have confirmed they are continuing to pay 100% of their salaries until May. City of York Council will continue to work closely with GLL, to work through the contract implications of the Coronavirus response which closed all public leisure facilities in March.

There has been no recent update from the Council although some facilities did subsequently reopen on a limited basis.

Coronavirus York updates; 17th October 2020

Deaths and test results

TWO additional COVID related deaths reported at the York Hospital Trust, That makes 6 in the last week.

81 (EIGHTY ONE) new positive test results were announced today bringing the cumulative total to 2555.

The peak cases (per 100k population) reached a new high of 279.19 on Monday although there may be the first signs emerging that the rate of increase has stabilised since then. Too soon to be sure though.

Regrettably, for the second day in a row, the government has failed to publish case level numbers at neighbourhood (MSOA) level. Given that this is the first day of the new Tier 2 restrictions in the City, we think that the government should be publishing more – not less – background information.

Government warning on ill judged transport schemes

The government has issued a warning to councils about squandering the money made available from the Emergency Active Travel Fund. It will be reported to a meeting next week.

… a significant minority of instances where schemes were, frankly,
nowhere near good enough

A notable number of councils used their funding poorly and were simply out of step with the needs of their local communities. I saw or heard from the public and parliamentary colleagues about far too many instances where temporary cycle lanes were unused due to their location and design, while their creation left motor traffic backed up alongside them; of wide pavements causing unnecessary congestion in town centres; and other issues that many have, rightly, reacted angrily too. Government Minister

Vitamin supplements

One aspect of the COVID pandemic which intrigued many people was the fall in infection rates during the summer period. While this might partly be the result of people not mixing so much indoors, some heath workers are pointing to the impact that vitamin D can have on resilience.

Sunshine is the principle source of vitamin D for many people. People get less exposure to sunlight between October and April.

The respected “Which” magazine concluded recently that, while there was little evidence that the consumption of vitamin supplements prevented coronavirus infections, generally balanced vitamin supplements did help the immune system.

We think that there is a case for the Council making vitamin supplements available free of charge to vulnerable groups including those making use of food banks.

The York Council is expecting to get an additional £600,000 in support payments from the government as a consequence of moving into Tier 2 restrictions

Community Stadium further delays

The York Council has confirmed that the new LNER Community Stadium will not now be completed until 2021. The latest problems, for the jinx hit project, apparently relate to drainage. Remedial works will take several weeks to complete.

At one level this makes little difference, as spectators are not allowed into sports events at present. It might, however, prevent York City switching their (behind closed doors) matches to the new stadium pitch which, in turn, could delay their leaving Bootham Crescent.

The start of the Rugby League season is also creeping closer while tickets for the Rugby World Cup games – now less than a year away – are already on sale.

A further threat to the project is now emerging.

The complex operator GLL – who also run the Council’s Energise sports centre in Cornlands Road – have said that the COVID restrictions have impacted on their finances. The suggestion is that this will mean job losses and possibly the permanent closure of some facilities. GLL are a social enterprise company with operations across most of the country.

The sports centre and pool at Monk Cross – although completed several weeks ago – have yet to open.

With the cinema also now closed, units like the NHS centre and library locked up and “no takers” for the restaurant units, the whole business plan for the complex now looks increasingly shaky.

Wrong time, wrong priority

Can a Group of Policy Experts Prevent an Election Catastrophe in 2020? –  Mother Jones

We have made no secret on our distaste for the “mayoral” style of local government systems. They put enormous amounts of power in the hands of one person. That looked wrong even in at best of times.

Now the governments apparent determination to move ahead quickly with another reorganisation of Local Government in York and North Yorkshire, in the middle of a pandemic, looks to be at the extreme end of irresponsible.

Local government Leaders should be able to devote all of their energises and resources to addressing the health crisis.

Some already look exhausted by the pressures of the crisis.

Reorganisation is an unnecessary distraction which the government should shelve at least until the pandemic, and the outfall from BREXIT, are behind us.

Against that background the York Council and North Yorkshire County Council have prepared a policy proposal which would see the City’s boundaries left as they are. York would still have a – ceremonial – Lord Mayor and local electors would get what they voted for (rather than what their counterparts in Scarborough thought that they should have).

The Council have issued the following statement prior to an Executive discussion next week. The Executive paper is published here: https://democracy.york.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?MId=12298&x=1

“Council confirms there is no functional, historical or logical reason for merging York

Devolution for York and North Yorkshire and Unitarisation for North Yorkshire

structures and so, unlock the devolution process, City of York Council today (16 October) proposed there is no functional, historical or logical reason to merge York with surrounding rural and coastal areas.

In a report to the Executive, it is proposed that York’s footprint should remain the same, to retain local decision making in York, focus on recovery efforts, avoid significant disruption and cost, and continue to deliver value for money services to residents, businesses and communities. 

If agreed, Executive will refer to Full Council on 29 October to decide whether to provide a submission to government that demonstrates York should remain on the existing footprint by providing evidence that there is no functional, historical or logical reason to merge York with other local authorities.

To reduce the 2-tier county and district structures in North Yorkshire, there are only two options being put forward.  The first, the council’s preferred option, would mean York remains on its existing footprint and North Yorkshire creates a new single council, serving the whole of North Yorkshire and based on its recognised geography and identity. This would bring together the eight councils currently providing public services there. The second, proposed by the district authorities, is an east/west split that would see York merge with Ryedale, Scarborough and Selby, covering a geography that would stretch 65 miles north/south, and 45 miles east/west.

To achieve greater efficiencies between City of York Council and North Yorkshire County Council, a Strategic Partnership agreement has been created, which describes how seizing opportunities to share resources or lead different aspects of service delivery, whilst respecting the differences between the two places, will better support the region.

There are several benefits of York remaining as a unitary on its existing footprint:

  • The speed at which devolution maybe achieved
  • The continuity of services at a time critical for Covid recovery
  • The continued identify of the City

However, should any change be made to City of York’s existing footprint, there will be a series of detrimental impacts, including

  • an anticipated £117 increase for Band D taxpayers in York (representing an 8% increase).
  • disruption to services across York and the districts during this crucial recovery period
  • end of the 800 year connection between the city and the council, impacting on the very identity of the city.

Over the past few months, consultation has taken place with local residents, businesses and communities regarding devolution and unitarisation, which has been used to feed into the analysis of proposals included in the report.  As part of Our Big Conversation, residents have been sending their views on the topic, with 65% of residents believing council services won’t be improved by covering a larger area.  As part of the consultation, the Council has also held two devolution focused Facebook Live Q&A’s, and has set up numerous briefing sessions with local businesses, charitable and voluntary groups, and local civic organisations.

The council has not been consulted on the east/west proposal and therefore does not know the detail.  As a result it is not possible to accurately assess the impact. 

York has a strong case for remaining the same:

  • t is a median-sized unitary authority with the 7th lowest level of council tax of any unitary.
  • It’s geography (compact urban and sub-urban) is distinctly different to it’s surrounding area (rural and coastal)
  • It has maintained financial stability since it was formed in 1996.
  • It supports a successful, sustainable city, recognised as one of the best places to live in the UK, with world renowned universities and an education system amongst the best in the country.
York responds to the criteria set by central government

To support Executive make an informed decision, the council has summarised evidence for its case to continue on its existing footprint against the criteria provided by government”. 

Lincoln Court independent living apartments completed

A development of 35 apartments on Ascot Way has now officially been completed by the council. It offers older residents “high-quality apartments where they can live independently and well”.

Nominations invited for new Lincoln Court apartments

Opening Lincoln Court is the latest phase of City of York Council’s Older Persons Accommodation Programme and the apartments are available for new and returning tenants. The council will be operating a local lettings system which will enable tenants in the west of the city to downsize into these bright modern homes.

The £3.4 million project offers 15 new build and 20 completely refurbished one-bedroomed apartments.

All the generously-sized homes are available for social rent by eligible people aged 60 and over or who have a specific need for this type of accommodation. This is the council’s first independent living community extension designed specifically to meet the needs of wheelchair users.

The development has a large communal lounge, meeting rooms and a salon which people living in or outside the scheme can use, and it has a communal kitchen where residents can prepare meals and enjoy them in company if they choose. A new guest suite for visiting family and friends of tenants will help maintain family links. All of these facilities will be available along with a range of social activities once restrictions on their use and socialising in groups are lifted.

Facilities include two on-site laundries and a buggy store, there is a good choice of shops, cafes, health facilities and parks nearby. Lincoln Court’s newly landscaped gardens are next to the open spaces of historic Hob Moor nature reserve which is overlooked by the new balconies on the first and second floors.

The apartments can be bid for via North Yorkshire Home Choice at www.northyorkshirehomechoice.org.uk/.

You can find out more about independent living with City of York Council at www.york.gov.uk/IndependentLiving

Please contact one of our friendly advisers for more information by email at ILCextracare@york.gov.uk or phone at 01904 554095.