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Age of innocence

The Press is reporting that when children at a York toddler group at the Gateway Church in Acomb sang the children’s favourite Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, they innocently made signs with their hands to indicate a twinkling star.

“But parents were startled when staff asked the toddlers to use a different gesture – because the one they were using had an unintended double meaning in sign language for deaf people”.

They asked the children to use a different sign.

We hope this is misunderstanding.

It’s just not the kind of publicity that the community needs at Christmas.

Put the brakes on thieves this Christmas

Police in York are offering free cycle marking in the run up to Christmas.

A team of officers from the York West Safer Neighbourhood Team will be at York College, Tadcaster Road between 10am and 4.30pm on Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 December 2011. They will be marking cycles and registering their details on a national database.

York West Safer Neighbourhood Team Sergeant, Iain Sirrell, said: “As this is the last weekend before Christmas it is an ideal opportunity to drop in and have the bikes you have bought as gifts stamped.

“I would urge people to take advantage of one of these sessions as a deterrent to thieves.

“We would like to see as many people as possible come along to the event so that the bikes can be registered with the local police and on www.immobilise.co.uk, which covers the whole country.

“Having your bike marked allows the police to easily and quickly identify bikes that are lost or stolen.”

Labour to abandon historic York Guildhall

York Guildhall river frontage

The Council has issued a statement saying that it plans to leave its historic Guildhall home. It seems that Councillors are scrambling to get the best of the new facilities currently being constructed at the £20 million West Office site on Toft Green.

Sources put the cost of a new Leaders office at over £20,000 with meeting rooms likely to come in at around £100,000 each.

The plan had been to contain costs by continuing to use the existing meeting rooms at the Guildhall, with any spare space at the West Offices being leased to partner organisations such as the Police and Health services. Now it looks like some of this new accommodation is set to be grabbed by Labour Councillors.

The Guildhall is a listed building and has few obvious alternative uses.

Under Labours plan, only the Council Chamber would be retained for civic use and then only on the 6 occasions each year when the full Council meets.

There are 4 smaller meeting rooms at the Guildhall with 2 of the top Directors and their support staff also located there. Since Labour took control of the building, the Leader has acquired 2 support staff while each of the 3 major political Groups also each have a room.

Most of the rest of the building is occupied by staff who service various Council committees as well as some who provide legal advice or who supervise elections.

The Guildhall itself is in frequent use for antique fairs and other social and commercial activities. It is one of the top tourist destinations in the City.

It is unclear to what use the building – which cannot be demolished because of its listed status – could be put. There has been talk for some years for opening up the area to the rear of the Post Office but private investment us unlikely as the configuration of the Guildhall and offices is awkward.

It is unlikely to be practical to convert it into a hotel although some sort of leisure use might be possible. No doubt the Museums Trust could come up with a use while the City has benefited greatly over the years from organisation like the York Conservation Trust who invest heavily to purchase and maintain historic buildings.

The Guildhall is not cheap to maintain or run. However it occupies a prime site and, together with the adjacent Mansion House, it has a unique place in York’s civic history. It’s role and significance should not be underestimated nor should the difficulty of finding a non Council use for the building.

The last thing the City centre needs is for the shutters to go up on this unique part of the City’s fabric.

Guilhall entrance

……………….York Guildhall is located behind the York’s Mansion House and was built in the 15th century, it served as a meeting place for the guilds of York.

Because of damage sustained during an air raid in 1942, the present Guildhall is a rebuilt version of the 15th century building, and was opened by the Queen in 1960. The stone walls, however, escaped total destruction and now form the frame of the reconstructed hall. A single tree trunk was used for each oak pillar, the originals coming from the royal Forest of Galtres. The Inner Room survived the raid intact and has panelled walls, masons’ marks, two hidden stairways and a ceiling decorated with old bosses.

A history of the City of York can be seen within the stained glass window, and within the tracery are men and women who helped to put York on the historical map. The five lights in the tracery depict the different periods of York’s history. Grotesque faces can be seen on the ceiling in the Inner Room.

The Guildhall has served many purposes through its long history, and has even been the scene of many Royal social visits. York Guildhall was the venue for Margaret Clitherow’s trial, Richard III was entertained there in 1483 and Prince Albert, the Prince Consort to Queen Victoria was a guest of honour at a Royal banquet.

The Guildhall was the place where £200,000 was counted before being given to the Scots in payment for their part in helping Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War.

43 arrests as police down drink drivers

Since North Yorkshire Police launched this year’s drink and drug drive campaign on 1 December 2011, 43 motorists have been arrested on suspicion of getting behind the wheel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

24 of those drivers have been charged and four people have already appeared before the courts and have been banned from the roads.

Officers have been out in force on the roads of North Yorkshire and the City of York throughout the campaign and have conducted 1164 roadside breath tests as they enforce the message that drink and drug driving is totally unacceptable.

Over the next two weeks as the party season gets into full swing in the build up to Christmas and New Year, North Yorkshire Police will be stepping up their efforts to prevent potential tragedies caused by drink and drug driving.

There will be an increased police presence on the county’s roads and more motorists will be breathalysed.

Anyone involved in a collision will be breath tested at the road side or subjected to a Field Impairment Test, if they are suspected to be under the influence of drugs.

Anyone going out over the weekend and in the next couple of weeks is urged to consider the dangers of drink and drug driving and get a taxi or public transport home if they are drinking.

Shopper numbers up on last year

Shoppers in Coney Street

Footfall figures in York city centre are up 26.8 per cent on the same period last year.
Cameras in Coney Street and Parliament Street show recorded a footfall of 867,067 from 1-12 December, compared to a figure of 683,703 during the same period in 2010.

The 2011 data is 0.7 per cent higher than the 2009 figure of 860,594.

According to ONS figures, nationally retail sales are also up (no doubt influenced by better weather this year)

• Value of retail sales in November 2011 showed an increase of 4.6 per cent compared with November 2010.

• Sales volumes in November 2011 increased by 0.7 per cent compared to November2010.

• Non-store retailing and automotive fuel sales volumes increased in November 2011 compared to November 2010 by 18.9 and 2.7 per cent respectively. The predominantly food and predominantly non-food sectors saw sales volumes decrease by 0.6 and 0.7 per cent respectively.

• Non-seasonally adjusted volume data shows that again small stores provided the most upward pressure increasing by 4.5 per cent, in comparison large stores decreased by 0.1 per cent over the same period.

• Non-seasonally adjusted value data shows that small stores value sales grew by 7.8 per cent, in comparison large stores increased by 3.6 per cent.

• The average weekly spend on online retailing has increased to £787.9 million up from £546.4 million in October 2011 and is now estimated to account for 12.2 per cent of all retail sales (excluding automotive fuel).

Number of empty shops in York decreasing

New figures released this week show there are now fewer empty shops in York compared to last year’s figures.

Statistics from the Local Data Company show a significant percentage decrease in how many empty shops there are across the city.

In December 2010 there were 105 vacant shops in York (6.38 per cent) but new data out this week shows that there are considerably fewer vacant shops across the city, with only 83 vacant shops now in York (5.04 per cent).

As of December 2011 there are a total of 1,647 shops in York.

Political Poll for The Independent

The public backs the Coalition Government’s approach to cutting the deficit by a margin of three to one, according to a ComRes survey for The Independent. There is less support for Labour’s policy.

The poll, taken after the European Union summit, suggests the Conservatives have received a mini-bounce from David Cameron’s tough stance there. Labour and the Conservatives are neck and neck on 38 per cent, with the Liberal Democrats on 12 per cent.

The Conservatives have gained two points and Labour is down two points since a ComRes survey for The Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirror taken just before the summit, which showed Labour on 40 per cent, the Tories on 36 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 10 per cent.

Asked whether the Government should not increase public borrowing any further and should pay off the nation’s deficit as soon as possible, 74 per cent agree and 18 per cent disagree. A majority of Labour voters (58 per cent) endorse this approach, as do 73 per cent of Lib Dem supporters and 87 per cent of Conservative supporters.

ComRes also asked people whether the Government should borrow more in the short term to increase economic growth even if it means reducing the deficit more slowly – broadly in line with Labour’s approach. Some 49 per cent agree but 40 per cent disagree and 11 per cent don’t know.

The poll found that the public are much more upbeat about their own prospects for 2012 than for the country as a whole. Some 68 per cent describe themselves as optimistic about their own prospects, while 28 per cent disagree. However, only 34 per cent of people are optimistic about the UK’s prospects for next year, while 60 per cent are not.

Portas – Lessons for retailing in York?

Most of the national publicity will go to the Portas report on Britain’s City centres. The accompanying BIS report, however, also contains some interesting information (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills Understanding High Street Performance December 2011 http://www.bis.gov.uk/policies/business-sectors/retail/high-street-review)

It singularly fails to mention the success that York has had over recent years instead quoting Harrogate as a paradigm. In fact the only mention for our area comes in paragraph which manages to misspell the name of a relatively minor peripheral shopping street.

“Promotion, marketing and branding are strong elements of this process of distinguishing the high street from the shopping centre experience. An increasing number of high streets are creating their own online brands, demonstrating that the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Examples include the Crouch End Project in north London, High Street Malvern, and Bishopsthorpe Road (sic) in York”.

There is not much comfort for those who think that renewing the public realm (paving, street furniture etc) will automatically boost the retail sector.

The report says “A recent synthesis of the literature on public realm investment demonstrated the considerable difficulty in evidencing a causal and clearly attributable link between public realms improvements and town centre performance. The research suggests though that work of this nature does offer the opportunity for high streets/town centres to improve their offer, although it clearly relies on a range of other factors including the quality of the retail offer in order to have the fullest impact”.

On car parking, again the researcher cite a lack of evidence when discussing car parking, “A range of approaches to parking have been adopted by local authorities and others, but on the principal issue of car parking charges there is a distinct lack of evidence, now recognised and being addressed by some key organisations”

Similarly there is little evidence about the scale of impact that out of town centres have on the City centre.

There is some good news for retailers though. “While the level of town centre retail spending is forecast to be close to flat over the next few years, total retail sales are forecast to grow by 12%”.

In a separate report Portas lists 27 recommendations for change.

With the York City centre acknowledged to have a relatively successful retail sector, not surprisingly several of the recommendations were adopted in York some years ago. Others would have significant financial implications for the local authority (or central government).

In effect, taxpayers would be expected to subsidise the retail sector through reduced charges of one sort or another.

There was little enthusiasm for the creation of a Business Improvement District in the City a few years ago while the compulsory purchase of empty properties is unnecessary in an area which has relatively low vacancy levels (although sub urban High Streets might benefit from this approach).

In York there are quarterly meetings between senior officials , Councillors and Traders, while City Centre management has been a particular success story in York with event organisation and management at a much higher level than in most other City’s.

Landlords are subjected to particular criticism and in York – like elsewhere – property owners may need to improve their performance in the future.

Portas is critical of betting shop growth. She seeks a separate classification for that activity. Others may feel that the number of charity – and “pound-shops” – in some areas should also be controlled.

But some of the recommendations could be worth pursuing. The “park free after 3” parking initiative, mentioned as an example in the report, could be trialled and a more flexible approach to the provision of market stalls may be a possibility in places like Acomb Front Street.

North Yorkshire Police mobile safety (speed) camera locations 14 – 20 December 2011 (York area only)

North Yorkshire Police will be carrying out mobile safety camera enforcement on the following roads between Wednesday 14 December and Tuesday 20 December 2011.

•A64 Malton by-pass Malton east and west-bound

•A64 westbound carriageway, Bowbridge Farm, Tadcaster

•Northfield Farm, Cobcroft Lane, Cridling Stubbs

•Skipwith Road, Escrick

•A63 Hemingbrough

•Church Lane, Wheldrake

The mobile safety cameras will be in operation at the above sites at various times during the dates stated. Cameras will not be in use on the above routes all day, every day.