Thursday December 5th
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
A return of former journalists John Wheatcroft and Alan Smith in conversation with Alan Gillott about their latest novels exploring sex, death, and romantic love: no fools like old fools.
Alan Smith and John Wheatcroft bring their experience as journalists and prison teachers to their new novels, Virginia, and Rocket Boy. Virginia is an actor whose lover Dan dies slowly and awfully, leaving her wishing him both alive and dead; until she meets Hank, who is also trapped between lives. In Rocket Boy, Simon Waiters’ life is defined by a childhood meeting with Yuri Gagarin; revisiting his past, and lost loves, sounds dangerous but could just be the break he needs. Alan and John discuss their books with Stairwell publisher Alan Gillott.
“Yorspace” – the organisation trying to build “communal homes” on the Lowfields site – have announced that they still haven’t achieved their fund raising target.
For the second time in 6 months, they are extending the crowd funding deadline – this time to the end of January 2020.
This will add to the overall development timetable for the whole site.
There are concerns that the (minimal) play and open space provisions on the development will not be available when new residents move in.
The main Council development is not now expected to start on site until the new year.
The playground is scheduled to be used as a building compound by Yorspace – shades of the situation a few hundred metres away where the Kingsway all weather pitch has become a builder compound.
There are other similarities with Lowfields as at both sites sports facilities have been lost without adequate replacements being provided.
With the York Council having made some recent progress in getting to grips with the problem of graffiti in parts of the City, it is disappointing to see an upsurge in fly posting.
Fly posters have always been a problem with fairs, circuses and music venues among the main culprits.
But now the City centre is being covered in stickers.
These are mainly from fringe political groups. Ironically one of the main offenders is a climate change group who seem to be blissfully unaware of the environmental costs of removing the stickers
Given the move towards digital communications , there really is no justification for despoiling the City’s historic core in this way in the 21st century.
The Council, police and amenity societies need to take a stand against this trend.
The York Councils decision to spend over £2 million adding further properties to its investment portfolio has produced a backlash.
Critics have pointed to the ongoing delays in bring empty properties into use. Six months ago, a Freedom of information (FOI) request revealed a long list of under-used Council buildings. These included Oakhaven, Ashbank, Willow House, the Guildhall and, of course, 29 Castlegate.
The latter is one of the prime properties in the City centre and was valued at £575,000 in 2016. Since then there have been further increases in property prices in the City.
A further FOI tried to discover what progress has been made in selling the property following a decision by the York Civic Trust to pull out of a purchase deal 12 months ago. The FOI has been rejected (see right) on the grounds that there are ongoing commercial discussions taking place. It fails to reveal who is talking to whom about the empty property. No attempt has been made to let the property for temporary use in the busy Christmas period (it includes a frontage onto the Coppergate shopping centre).
At last week’s Executive meeting, Councillors were challenged over their stewardship of the Council’s property estate.
They responded by claiming that the portfolio was “worth £335m and produced an income of £5.8m a year”.
This claim has prompted a further FOI request. A local resident now wants to see a list of all Council owned commercial properties, their value and the net income that each produces.
This is the kind of information that should be routinely provided for the Councils “scrutiny” committee. A six monthly review of investment returns is the least that taxpayers would expect to be published for public review.
Sadly, this no longer happens at the York Council.
The delays in disposing of empty property is now a major issue for the authority. It some cases there may be good reasons for the delays but, if so, then there must be more transparency about the process*.
If the Council cannot effectively manage its estate, then there are companies in the City who would be delighted to help.
*The Council has agreed to receive a staffing report on a 6-monthly basis. The reports will cover FTE numbers, Equality Data, Absence and Well Being, Starters and Leavers, reasons for leaving (i.e. retirement, redundancy, dismissal, settlement agreement) and Agency staff numbers.
Its not just the transport systems that have been under pressure in York this weekend.
People have been pointing to issues with street cleansing in the City centre. Can’t be easy for Council staff and the BID team to keep on top of the problems with such high volumes of pedestrians around (not to mention the security zones).
Even in suburban areas we’ve been finding examples of full bins and badly littered streets. All have been reported for Council attention.
There has been a lot of congestion in York over the last week or so. With many visitors coming for the Christmas markets and the “Winter Wonderland” the influx is potentially good news for the local economy.
But transport systems have capacity limits and these were reached at times with the Designer Centre car parks effectively full and Park and Ride services compromised.
Queues at the hospital car park have caused delays on bus services while even cyclists have found it difficult to find vacant City centre cycle racks.
Add in the arrival of General Election campaigners eager to be filmed with a backdrop of crowds of people and the new security barriers, which hinder movement in areas like St Helen’s Square, and things have turned decidedly awkward even for pedestrians.
So, what’s to be done?
We have criticised the Council before about its failure to utilise modern technology to ease travel woes. The real time parking space availability map was removed from their web site last year.
Many of the parking space availability signs which can be seen on arterial roads didn’t work for a long time.
A promised link through GPS to car navigation systems – which would help to direct vehicles to car parks where there were spaces – has not materialised.
As a result, vehicles still circle the City looking for spaces, which sometimes don’t exist, adding to congestion and pollution levels.
The York Council needs to raise its game.
On busy days, it should be tweeting updates on at least an hourly basis. Variable message signs on approach roads should be similarly updated. Local Radio has a part to play.
It would be relatively easy to add a CCTV link displaying the conditions at key locations to the Council web site. North Yorkshire already do this (albeit mainly to provide information on road conditions)
Modern problems need modern solutions.
Sadly at the moment there seems to be little sign of urgency at West Offices on the need to further improve traffic management in the City.
Includes key details for Lowfields building site
Below are the latest planning applications received by the York Council for the Westfield ward.
Full details can be found by clicking the application reference
Former Lowfield School Dijon Avenue York
Conditions 5, 8, 12, 21, 24, 35, 36 of 17/02428/FULM
Ref. No: AOD/19/00365
These documents include plans for:
- Energy generation and insulation standards (the houses will use gas combi boilers and have photovoltaic roof panels)
- Landscape maintenance (grass cutting standards etc.) and equipment specifications
- Tree planting plan Detailed with species type
- Open space plan
- Adopted highway plan (shows extent of publicly maintainable highway when development complete)
- Boundary treatment plan
- Sewer diversion, Flooding and drainage representations
2 Bramham Avenue York YO26 5BE
Two storey side extension following demolition of existing side extension (revised scheme)
Ref. No: 19/02325/FUL
Representations can be made in favour of, or in objection to, any application via the Planning on line web site. http://planningaccess.york.gov.uk/online-applications/
NB. The Council now no longer routinely consults neighbours by letter when an application is received
Tuesday December 3rd
6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Join us for a peek inside The Quality Street factory with author Penny Thorpe whose novel The Quality Street Girls is just out in paperback.
What is Christmas without Quality Street? And who better to let us into the secret of Quality Street than Penny Thorpe?
Penny was the company archivist for Nestlé for over 10 years. She has amassed a wealth of stories about the manufacture of chocolate in York and the people involved in the industry. She is writing a series of novels, under the pen name Penny Thorpe, based on her knowledge and experience, the first of which is The Quality Street Girls.
The “Make it York” (MIY) Quango is to get a new chair with former York University Chancellor Greg Dyke set to replace Jane Gibson.
A council report says, “an open, objective and rigorous recruitment process was undertaken supported by specialist head-hunters, Perrett Laver. The role was advertised through the Guardian jobs. Over 100 individuals were involved and these were shortlisted down to a final four. Following an interview with a panel of city stakeholders Mr Dyke emerged as the preferred candidate”
Mr Dyke holds non-executive roles with the London Film School (Chair), Trafalgar Entertainment Group (Chair), BAFTA (Vice President) and was previously Chair of the Football Association, the Ambassador Theatre Group and the British Film Institute amongst others.
His executive career included spells as Chief Executive of London Weekend Television and Director General of the BBC. He knows the city well having been Chancellor of the University of York for 11 years, and has very senior-level experience of working across a number of sectors.
The new Chair will join the organisation at a difficult time. Other tourism bodies (MIY supervises the work of “Visit York”) like “Welcome to Yorkshire” have been criticised for having a cavalier approach to the use of public funds.
MIY itself has been involved in wrangles with local traders and is often accused of a lack of transparency in its processes.
It is 100% owned by the City of York Council.
A review of governance arrangement is overdue.