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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) .

Ascot Way disabled centre to open “in October”

Disabled centre on Ascot Way

The Council has changed its forecast completion date for the Centre of Excellence for Disabled Children which is currently being built on Ascot Way. They originally forecast an (unlikely) opening date of June. They have now revised this to October.

The Council says that the facility “will provide short breaks for young people with disabilities in a purpose built facility and also expand the service support offer in the community and assist in reducing the need for out of authority placements by providing much more flexible provision in the city

Lincoln Court

Work on upgrading the adjacent Lincoln Court sheltered accommodation units had stalled during the Coronavirus lock-down. No opening date has been given for reoccupation of the building although this may be influenced by the continuing work on the adjacent site. The refurbishment involves the creation of 15 new fully wheelchair accessible properties and 20 fully refurbished apartments.

We are still waiting to hear when work on the replacement for the all weather play area (MUGA) will start!

York Council breaks even, but only after calling on £1.9 million from reserves

The York Council exceeded its expenditure budget during the last financial year by nearly £2 million..

Road repair programme failed last year

It was able to fill the gap by drawing on £1/2 million from its contingency allocation. It also raided its reserves to find an additional £1.4 million which it had previously earmarked for pay and pensioners liabilities. The final £309,000, held to repay unlawfully issued fines connected to the Lendal Bridge closure, was also utilised.

While this juggling of funds allowed the authority to emerge with a £128,000 surplus on its 2019/20 £123 million budget, the moves camouflaged large overspends on Education and Social Care. Promised efficiencies there failed to materialise.

The £1.5 million overspend by the Education department will no doubt result in a renewed focus on inessential expenditure. One trenchant “citizen auditor” has reported finding that the department apparently spent £10,000 renting rooms at a luxury hotel and golf complex in Humberside last year. The nature of the activity is being investigated.

Clearly the Council will now need to clamp down on anything other than essential expenditure.

The Council faces a new multi-million pound shortfall on its income this year as a result of the Coronavirus epidemic. It will not be able to call on the above reserves again but does have a buffer provided by the £7.4 million held in general reserves.

A meeting to discuss the report takes place on Thursday

Quality of Public Services in York

The Council has also released some information on public service quality. Unfortunately, many of the figures are not up to date. There is likely to be some cynicism about some of the results with only 20% of road surfaces in the City classified as “poor” or “very poor” by Council officials!

York Council performance indicators

Council net debts mount to £289 million.

The Councils net debts increased to £289 million in the year up to April 2020. 

That was an increase of £43.4 million over 12 months.

The figures are revealed in a report to a meeting taking place this week.

The Council net debts are forecast to increase to £452.4 million within the next 5 years.

This will mean that nearly 25% of Council Tax income will be spent on interest and redemption charges.

The figures don’t take into account the toll that Coronavirus has had on finances over the last 4 months.

Although interest rates are at historically low levels, the Councils income steams have been badly hit. In turn this affects the authorities ability to service its debt charges.

Projects which depend on asset sales for funding are also facing challenges. The commercial property market may be depressed for several years.

The report fails to provide an update on the assumptions made about commercial letting returns.

 As well as an expanded shops portfolio, the Council has embarked on a  series of projects, like the Community stadium and the Guildhall renovation, which depend partly on rent income from office and commercial space to pay for the investment.  

Empty offices at Monks Cross

Several Council owned offices are currently empty.

The Council, is particularly reluctant to say whether the speculative offices, which it agreed to underwrite at Monks Cross, have yet found a tenant.

Coronavirus York updates; 19th July 2020

Deaths and test results

No more hospital deaths or positive test results in the City again today

The Plan

The Council has now published a plan which lays out how it will deal with further stages of the pandemic. It will be discussed at a meeting taking place on Thursday and can be read by clicking here

The report provides a useful compendium of information on processes and procedures.

The Council expects to spend £3/4 million on its Coronavirus response in the period up to April 2021.

The Councils main failure during the epidemic has been poor communications. It still fails to recognise the need for regular figures to be published on the success of the “track and trace” process, on which hopes of avoiding a “second wave” now largely rest.

Regular updates should also be provided on the number of infectious cases there currently are in the City, and how many hospital beds are occupied by COVID-19 cases

“Big Conversation”

The Council has been selectively leaking – highly selective – results from its survey of public opinion (styled as a “big conversation”)

It failed to gain public support for some of its transport initiatives pointedly omitting any questions about the controversial decisions from the questionnaire.

There has been no table published tabulating the results. A Council report offers the following summary.

“So far there have been over 500 responses.

The key issues arising from the Covid-19 related health questions are summarised below:

a. 98% confident they know the symptoms (82% extremely or very confident)

b. 98% confident they know what to do if they have symptoms (86% very or extremely confident)

c. 95% confident of social distancing guidance (81% very or extremely)

d. There is less confidence in who and how many to socialise with, rules around returning to work and journeys you should make. We will look at what we can do to address these.

e. There is low confidence others will stick to rules

f. More people understand our advice than the governments

g. Slight challenge re shops and public transport which we can look to address.

h. Lower confidence re how safe York will be when visitors from UK or abroad come. Will need addressing.

i. 95% feel informed of what they can do to stop the spread of the virus (75% extremely or very)”.

York Central southern access (Wilton Rise area)

Illustrative York Central Masterplan approved in 2019

Most attention is currently focusing on a reserved matter planning application for the site which is due to be considered by the Council shortly.

There are several controversial aspects to that plan not least some of the transport proposals. Pedestrians have objected to the loss of the route in front of the Railway Museum, while a plan to restrict access through the Leeman Road tunnel (Marble Arch) has been widely vilified.

Existing footbridge

One area that has had little scrutiny is the southern access to the site.

Currently this comprises a footbridge over the railway line at the top of Wilton Rise. It is inaccessible for disabled people and very awkward for cyclists. A proposal for a parallel access general traffic route into the site via Chancery Rise was discounted 2 year ago leaving the fate of the footbridge still to be determined.

Now the Council is being recommended to hand back the Chancery Rise site to Network Rail . They will use it to accommodate activities displaced from the York Central main development site.

Provision for cyclists is crude

A report to a meeting next week says that £6.2 million is needed to fund the southern access. That is a substantial investment in a project which has not yet been subject to public consultation or a planning application.

Papers for the meeting which considered an outline masterplan in 2019 contained little detail of the proposal (although at that time the whole of Wilton Rise was included within the development site boundary). Wilton Rise is an unadopted highway

The current retained matters planning application pointedly has a boundary which excludes consideration of issues relating to the southern access. Nor is any mention made of any ramp within the application area which would be necessary to gain access to the foot/cycle bridge or of reserved  links to the new infrastructure and spine road.

The man concerns though will be about what happens on the Wilton Rise side of the railway line.

If the Chancery Rise land is taken out of the options list, then the only possible footbridge access would be from Wilton Rise or the Cleveland Street area.

Such an access would require substantial ramping and could conflict with the indicative master plan agreed less than a year ago.

The Council needs to be more clear about its plans and hoped for milestones on the southern access.

Outline planning permission site boundary

Latest planning applications for the Westfield Ward

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

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Hutchison 3G Telecommunications Equipment Bellhouse Way York

Erection of 19 metre monopole supporting 6 no. antennas with a wrap around equipment cabinet at the base of the column, installation of 3 no. new equipment cabinets and ancillary development (next to grass verge, adjacent to Community centre, Bellhouse Way)

Ref. No: 20/01183/TCMAS 

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28 Rosemary Road York YO24 3FN

Erection of detached dwelling to the rear of 76 Tudor Road

Ref. No: 20/01060/FUL 

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Representations can be made in favour of, or in objection to, any application via the Planning online web site.  http://planningaccess.york.gov.uk/online-applications/

The Council now no longer routinely consults neighbours by letter when an application is received

Acomb Market Back

The market returned to Front Street today although wet weather proved to be a bit of a dampener.

The event wasn’t particularly well publicised but is a step in the right direction.

Indeed a more frequent market may be one way of re-energising the shopping area, while maintaining social distancing precautions.

Stilt walkers had to find a tall tree to shelter under!