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York Business Improvement District performance review

320,000 pieces of chewing gum removed from pavements.

York Councillors will be considering  a report on Wednesday that reviews the work of the York BID.  The, mainly business funded organisation, was formed in April 2016 and aims to improve the attractiveness of the City centre.

The report includes an impressive list of achievements. The blight of chewing gum on footpaths is produces a particularly eye catching headline. In addition, 961 pieces of graffiti and fly posters have been removed.

The BID ranger service has also helped to reduce anti-social behaviour and address other criminal activities.

There has been a 1.9% increase in footfall in the City.

The report comes at a time when the government has announced that it will not be funding an initiative to regenerate the York  “Future High Street” The shortlisted cities include places like Wakefield and Sheffield, but North Yorkshire has been snubbed.

Last month the government, the Architectural Heritage Fund and the National Lottery Heritage Fund announced a £62 million package of support to breathe new life into historic high streets across the country, to restore historic buildings, create new work spaces and cultural venues. As part of the overall funding, £55 million had been allocated from the Future High Streets Fund. We still hope to see York benefit from this type of government support.

The York BID has been successful initiative and has made a real difference to the quality of the City centre. It has been criticised for drawing Council resources away from sub-urban centres like Acomb but overall the BID is viewed positively.

There are ongoing issues with more improvements needed to the streetscape – too many weeds and too much graffiti – and of course empty properties. The latter in areas like Coney Street now look to be intractable problems, which is why the governments attitude to the City is so disappointing.

Some underused sites and buildings – including those owned by the Council – need to be redeveloped quickly now. The meeting on Wednesday will hear from the Executive member with responsibility for “Economy and Strategic Planning”. Members will no doubt be hoping to hear some positive news about the use of empty property economic development activities in the whole of the City.

We hope that corporate interests will similarly ensure that prominent, but derelict, sites like that next to the Barbican will also now be developed (or at least tidied up).

Overall the BID has had a successful 3 years and can look with confidence to an extension of its mandate.

NB. “Make it York” is reporting separately on its activities click here to read their report

York Councils empty property list revealed

Freedom of Information response confirms that buyer has pulled out of deal to buy 29 Castlegate
List of long term empty properties in York owned by the Council

The York Council has confirmed that it owns 12 substantial properties in the City which have been empty for over 6 months.

Two of the properties, Ashbank and the Guildhall, have been unused for over 6 YEARS.  

Ashbank was reported as being sold for £1.3 million a year ago. The Council now just says it is “sold subject to contract”.

The new Executive is expected to review the affordability of a £20 million scheme at the Guildhall which would see the creation of a “business club” there. If the project goes ahead, work will start in the autumn with reoccupation expected in 2021.

The estimated total value of the assets is put at between £30/40 million.

Little attempt has been made to secure short term lets for the properties which include prime sites like 29 Castlegate, the former youth advisory HQ.

Most of the properties have been exempt from paying business rates. Had they been occupied then Council taxpayers would have benefited from an additional £200,000 a year in income.

To this would be added rental income of around £400,000 a year or a substantial capital receipt.

The Castlegate property was to have been purchased by the York Conservation Trust with the York Civic Trust hoping to subsequently  lease the building as part of its expansion plans for the adjacent Fairfax House.

The agreed purchase price of £430,000 was criticised at the time as being “too low” for a building in such a prime site.

29 Castlegate

Now the Council says that it was notified on 21st May that the Conservation Trust would not be purchasing the building. However, the York Civic Trust had been told the same at their AGM last year. The Council say that they are now “reviewing” the position.

No public reports have been made on asset utilisation issues at the York Council this year.

The Council is spending around £80,000 a year on maintaining and securing the properties.

Only one of the properties has a temporary occupant (20 Piccadilly)

The table does not include underused assets like 19/21 Piccadilly (Spark) or land with a development potential. The latter includes land purchased in 2008 to accommodate an extension to Acomb Explore Library and which has been unused ever since.

19/21 Piccadilly

The Council says that it has only one Council house, at Glen Lodge, which has been empty for longer than 6 months.

The Council Housing department has been criticised in the past for allowing some of its estate garages to remain empty for extended periods of time.

The revelations have led to calls for a more proactive approach by the Council in the use of its assets. The new Council leadership has been advised to reintroduce a 6 monthly public report on empty property issues.

It may be that the time has come for the York Council to seek outside help in managing its huge commercial building portfolio

Askham Bog planning application set to be refused

The Planning committee is being recommended to refuse planning permission for the erection of  516 houses on Moor Lane near Woodthorpe.

The application caused an outcry last year because of concerns about its effect on the nearby Askham Bog. A host of celebrity experts lined up to oppose the plan. They pointed to the disastrous effect that changes to the hydrology in the area could have on the Site of Scientific Interest.

The report describes the existing site.

The application site extends to approximately 40.5Ha of farmland to the South of Moor Lane in Woodthorpe approximately 3.5km from the city centre. The farmland is divided by mature hedges, trees, a number of farm tracks and field drains. Marsh Farm sits within the centre of the site and consists of a farm house with a mixture of period and modern barns”.

The site is shown as Green Belt in the latest York Local Plan. This plan will be subject to a public examination over the next few weeks.

The need to preserve the Gren Belt boundary in the area forms the basis for the likely refusal of the application. However, concerns are also expressed about traffic generation from the site as well as other issues

Objections to the application were raised By Natural England, Historic England and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (who manage the Bog site). A wide range of other organisations and local Councillors have objected to the proposal. There were also 401 individual letters of objections and 7210 emails!

The Planning Committee meets to determine the application on Thursday 11th July at 4:30pm.

If the application is refused, the developer has a right of appeal to the Secretary of State.

This might result In a Public Inquiry.

Building works problems increasing

Residents are hoping that some solutions, to the problems caused by widespread building works in the Westfield area, will emerge from last nights public meeting.

There are acute congestion, parking and noise problems at and near sevral sites.

Contractors have been digging up Hob Moor as they proceed wit the Newbury Avnue development. To do so they have cut two gaps in the perimeter hedge (although its is still the bird nesting season)
Parking problems are increasing on Ascot Way. The Lincoln House forecourt parking has gone and the Council have not provided even a temporary facility near the gable end of the building (where there is adequate space). The area is currently fenced off. The parking crisis in the estate has been exacerbated by the demolition of the |Newbury Avenue garages.

Litter still blighting suburb

Despite several requests for a root cause analysis of, and action to address, littering hot-spots problems continue to grow. There are particular issues on routes used by some students on their way to and from school (although this may be a coincidence).

Hot-spots include snickets and bus stops.

We believe that the Council should increase its surveillance of such locations and issue penalty charge notices to offenders.

Litter at Cornlands Road bus top near school entrance. We need a new litter bin here.

The Thoresby Road snicket, near the shops, has a particular problem with litter
The snickets linking The Reeves to Thoresby Road need cleaning and resurfacing
The Tithe Close snicket is subject to littering. The main problem at present though is a thorn bush which is obstructing the footpath. It is potential hazard after dark

Some progress on local problems in the Westfield area

We reported that 2 BIFFA bins had been left in the little Green Lane garage area. These have now been removed. Nearby garages have been secured by the Council. A boundary hedge has also been trimmed. Cllr Simon Daubeney is raising the issue of anti-social behaviour in the area with the police.
York’s worst highway surface? We’ve again reported School Street as being in need of resurfacing. UFO contractors are currently in the street reinstating the concrete footpaths
We’ve reported problems with litter and weeds on back Front Street
Residents are being advised to check that local watercourses and drainage ditches are kept free of obstructions. Many become overgrown at this time of year. It may become a potential flooding issued if we get a period of heavy rain.

Westfield Councillors to debate what to do about building works at public meeting tomorrow


Bowling club building site not on the agenda?

The Westfield Councillors are right to insist on more information being provided on building works in the area, when they meet tomorrow (Wednesday)

However, they will be meeting only a few metres away from the spoil heaps and site compound which has been constructed on the Council owned land to the rear of the Library.

Large spoil heap on Council land at the Acomb Library

Some explanation for the decision to allow the contractors to use this Council owned site will be expected. It is an issue that is not likely to go away.

Some residents still hope that Council will offer some sort of compensation for the problems that have been caused by the use of the compound

Elsewhere, the Lowfields development saga continues.

There has still not been any explanation about how the York Council came to mislead residents about the inclusion of a “police station” and health centre/GP surgery in the original consultation plans.

Both these promises turned out to be bogus. It is unclear what will happen to what, otherwise, will be unused plots on the east of the site.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Carriageway-cracking-on-Kingsway-West-1300hrs-5th-May-2019-.jpg
The Kingsway West carriageway is already breaking up

On Ascot Way, access arrangements, for the heavy plant needed to complete the demolition of Windsor House, remain unclear. It seems that access for the plant will be via Kingsway West and Ascot Way It is clear that the roads are too narrow in the area to avoid major damage to adjacent verges and paths. A “one way” system has been suggested but not confirmed.

There are real concerns that the bus route will be obstructed by the likely congestion

The original hope had been that more parking lay-bys would have been provided by now.

…..and the problem of the promised replacement for the all weather games area seems to be no closer to resolution. The existing MUGA has already been converted into a building compound.

Games area is now a building compound. No alternative provision for children has been provided

There is no word about the proposed alternative site on the Thanet Road Sports Area although officials were asked to follow this up 3 months ago.

Residents will no doubt be hoping that some answers emerge from the meeting

Spoil heaps dominate neighbouring properties on Lowfields Drive