Haymarket car park in York to close

Former ambulance station site at Haymarket. Part of the plot which could be sold on

The Council seem intent on bringing forward the sale of the Hungate site which includes the Haymarket car park.
A council report is recommending that archaeological works be extended prior to the site being put on the open market. The work is expected to cost around £100,000 and will be funded by borrowing.

Officials claim that there have been several enquiries about using the site – which was originally intended to house the new Council HQ – for offices or a hotel.

The asking price for the site if the Council, is to break even will be over £4 million. It is a matter of opinion whether the best consideration for the site is likely to be obtained in what are still difficult economic times.

NB. The Haymarket car park has capacity for 102 vehicles (compared to 145 at Union Terrace). The Council announced at the weekend that it favoured a policy of reducing the number of car parking spaces available in the City centre.

6% – 77% increases in Council charges

77% increase in Guildhall hire cost

One area where the Council is acting promptly is to increase the fees that residents face. Although decisions on major income generators like car parking charges are yet to be made, anyone wanting to borrow a library book which is not available locally will now have to pay £8-50.

• That charge compares to a typical Amazon Ebook download charge of around £3.

• Room hire charges at the Central Library (Marriott Room) will increase to £63 per hour.

• At Acomb Explore Library room charges could be as much as £47.25 per hour

• A 77% increase will take the cost of hiring the Guildhall to £150 for a morning weekday, rising to £170 at weekends. Even 2 hours in a hired committee room wills set back residents £40.

• Research time at the archives will be charged out at £6-00 per ¼ hour.

• It will cost £6-50 to hire a tennis court while bowlers face a 20% hike to £3-00 per hour. A season ticket will be £73-50

• Football pitches will set teams back £89-25p

• A 300 sq yard allotment plot will cost £95-00 a year

• Pavement café owners will pay £550 for a license next year.

• Basic cycle training for a child will cost £16

• Silver tours at the Mansion house rise by an eye watering 18% to £10 per person

One piece of good news is that Dial and Ride tickets are frozen at £1-90 (pass holder £1-00) single and £3-70 (£1-90) return.

York Councils £22 million budget challenge

Public toilets under threat?

It’s about this time of year that the overall budget numbers for the forthcoming financial year become a little clearer.

A Council report suggests that the new Labour administration – which got off to a slow start – is struggling to come up with a balanced budget. Their main problem as been indecision over social care costs – the result, in the main, of increased numbers of elderly people in our City.

The Council budget is also under pressure from inflationary costs such as energy tariffs and it must also find money to deal with the increased costs of waste disposal.

There are some wage costs and a pension deficit (the latter over and above what has prompted some workers to threaten strike action on Wednesday)

Central government is offering £1.8 million to the Authority to avoid what otherwise would be a 2.5% increase in Council Tax levels. Labour are dithering about whether to accept the offer. If they don’t then the money would go elsewhere (although the money would only have the effect of delaying an increase until 2013/14)

The last LibDem Council found over £21 million in savings during the current year. Front line services were protected.

Now Labour need to find economies of £12 million this year. If they follow their counterparts in West Yorkshire they will be considering shutting facilities such as public toilets, children’s centres and libraries while road and building maintenance programmes could be axed.

Time will tell

York Fairness Commission – “Increase Council tax by 6%, stop repairing the roads and don’t let residents have a say on neighbourhood improvements”

Of course the writing was on the wall for this Labour initiative as soon as it was revealed that one of their former Councillors was to chair the “Fairness Commission”. Ruth Redfern is a former Labour MPs aide and most recently was employed by the Labour appointed QUANGO Yorkshire Forward.

Not surprising therefore that the “Commissions” interim report is so predictable and biased.

It may not be quite as bad as the “Beautiful City” report of 2010 which relied almost entirely on anecdotal comment from the usual advocates of bus stations, boat building on the Ouse and river taxis.

But it does fall into the trap of regurgitating the same stats that Councillors have struggled with for over a decade.

York is a relatively wealthy City but some of its residents are less well off than others. That is a fact, although not a particularly surprising one.

So the last council took action.

It maintained and increased the amount of investment that was made in care for the elderly and people with disabilities.

This involved an increase in expenditure in every year since 2003 – without exception.

Innovative projects like the one in Kingsway sought to address those issues faced by communities that were identified by (it has to be said) fairly crude national indicators of “deprivation”.

Deprivation in this case was effectively any neighbourhood (IMO) which had a large number of elderly people dependant on the state pension. The more success that the Council had in ensuring that people received the benefits that they were entitled to, the worse was the “deprivation” score.

But not to worry, there was an issue to be addressed and progress was made.

So now the “Fairness Commission” tells us that in order to focus more money on inequality issues, basic services such as highways maintenance should be cut back while the ward committee improvements budget should be centrally allocated (and to fewer parts of the City).

Not content with this they suggest a 6% increase in Council Tax levels and this at a time when central government is offering the City £1.8 million to freeze tax levels for another year.

That could make a lot of difference to large numbers of people in York who face genuine hardship as a result of higher energy prices and – in some cases – lower real terms income levels.

In the longer term, they are looking to eliminate the subsidy paid to the Theatre Royal and Visit York – the tourism body that helps to sustain 10,000 jobs in the City.

Some of the proposals would require national legislation – they want, for example, to introduce a “tourist tax”.

Some are bizarre – they advocate that the Council should pay staff a “living wage”. Since when were council employees amongst the poorest in society? All benefit from the minimum wage legislation anyway.

They want a “youth card” which would attract retailer discounts ( yet it is already available with YoZone card)

There are recommendations in the report that few would disagree with.

Some, although not original thinking by any means, could attract cross party support. They include proposals to:
• Put benefit advisors where they are most easily accessible to users
• Continue and expand work to reduce the living costs/bills of those in greatest need (e.g. through energy efficiency measures and tackling fuel poverty).
• Ensure economic development strategy and activity focuses on the quality and accessibility as well as the quantity of jobs, and on inclusion as well as growth.
• Deliver a programme of action that tackles barriers to work (e.g. child care).
• Encourage the creation of „green jobs‟ in sustainable industries (already started by the last Council).
• Make training and employment opportunities for young people a priority and radically expand the number of apprenticeships on offer (an initiative announced by the Coalition government last week).
• Work together with and support the voluntary sector more closely and extensively.

But a document that pretends to “help” in a budget setting process and which does not include a single figure indicating the cost of the alternative plan is one that is at best a distraction, or at worst counter-productive to addressing fundamental issues about how public services can be sustained in the future.

The Commission admits to spending over £18,000 directly on coming to their conclusions.

Customer demand for Energise gym extension

City of York Council’s Cabinet will be asked to approve plans to extend the Energise gym facilities due to customer demand, at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday 6 December.

Feedback and comments from many of the regular gym users and members concluded that whilst current gym facilities were good value for money some members felt its popularity meant that it is operating at near capacity.

As a result Cabinet will review a report that presents a business case for the council to invest £540k on behalf of York High School to facilitate an extension of the successful Energise gym facility. The investment would be an ‘invest to save scheme’ and will increase revenue.

The proposals will extend the current gym facility by 219 sq/m and more residents would be able to use the facility, either on a membership basis, or by paying each visit.

Since the addition of the swimming pool in December 2009, Energise has been positioned as the main leisure facility in the West of York, with no direct competition within a clear two-mile radius. Energise is now well established with a strong market presence and achieving a stable turnover of £1.38m.
Paul Bickle, manager of Energise, said: “This is the next logical step in improving and extending what has become a very popular community leisure facility. Our membership has doubled since the opening of the pool in December 2009 and the range of facilities on offer is proving to be in demand”.

The proposal will invest £540k to extend the current gym facility at Energise by 219 sq/m and fits within the overall business plan that has been in place since 2005, focussing on reducing the council’s grant by maximising income streams.

The business plan is robust and has performed favourably against target year-on-year. This is demonstrated by a saving of over £200k in the last three years, as the operator performance grows.

A partnership has existed between York High School and the council since 2005, to provide day time and evening community access to a wide- range of sporting facilities on site, including swimming pools, climbing walls, a fitness studio, sports hall, crèche and outdoor facilities.

If approved, the work on the extension at Energise could start as early as spring with an opening date expected in October 2012.

Traffic speed check results in York revealed

The Council has published a report on the action being taken to address traffic speed concerns in the City.

Generally accident trends over the last few years have been downwards although the numbers involving motorcyclists has been increasing recently.

The Council and Police have a list of locations where they are routinely targeting speeders. In some cases the sites are visited by the new mobile speed camera van.
• Acomb Beckfield Lane,
• Askham Richard Main St
• Copmanthorpe Temple Lane
• Dringhouses Chaloners Road
• Dringhouses Tadcaster Road
• Dunnington, Church Balk,
• Earswick Strensall Road
• Elvington, B1228
• Elvington, B1228
• Fulford Road, Broadway,
• Fulford, Fordlands Road,
• Haxby Greenshaw Drive
• Haxby Towthorpe Rd
• Haxby York Road
• Heslington Main Street
• Heworth Dodsworth Avenue,
• Heworth Malton Road
• Heworth Without Woodlands Grove
• Huntington Huntington Rd (nr 567)
• Huntington New Lane
• Huntington North Lane
• Huntington Strensall Road
• Murton Murton Way
• Naburn Village, B1222
• Poppleton Millfield Lane
• Poppleton Station Rd
• Rawcliffe, Clifton Moor Gate,
• Rawcliffe, Stirling Road
• Stockton on Forest Main St
• Strensall Ox Carr Lane
• Westfield Foxwood Lane
• Westfield Green Lane,
• Wheldrake, Church Lane,
• Woodthorpe Ryecroft Avenue

There is also a long list of sites where some “engineering work” may be undertaken to discourage speeding. 16 additional sites are being added this month to a list that now totals 42 locations.

This represents a growing backlog and one that needs to be addressed using the Councils capital programme.

It is a higher priority than introducing a city wide 20 mph limit. A general 20 mph limit would be unenforceable given the problems that the Police and Council already have enforcing the 30 mph limit on some roads.

The sites awaiting engineering works such as warning signs, gateway treatments, road build outs etc. are listed here (click to enlarge).

List of sites in York requiring engineering work to address speeding concerns

Musical deck chairs on Titanic

Staff at the York Council will be finding out tomorrow (Monday) what the new Labour Council plans for their jobs.

Further reductions in management numbers are inevitable with 3 more Assistant Directors set for the chop.

The proposed changes come only 12 months since the last major change prompting fears that workers face years of a Maoist style “constant revolution”.

Departmental responsibilities are to be changed with the Strategy Department apparently in future going to be called “City and Environmental Services”.

Economic Development will be managed by the Chief Executive while a new Public Health function will be added to the Neighbourhoods department.

Labour Councillors seem to forget that, while changing names and moving functions from one Directorate to another may give the impression of action, in reality having so many changes in such a short period of time damages morale and saps the organisational and financial strength of the Authority.

They should concentrate on making the more fundamental value for money choices necessary to meet increased demand for services against a constrained level of income.

£5 million in expenditure & only 2 hours in which to make your views known…………. & it’s too late now!

York has made steady progress over recent years in enhancing the appearance and function of the City centre. Some of he key improvements implemented or planned include:
• Library and Library Square public realm enhancement Internal alterations to library approved 2009 and now complete.
• 5* Hotel, New CYC Offices and Station Road War Memorial
• Minster Piazza A new and improved setting for the spectacular South Transept
• King’s Square public realm enhancement
• St. Sampson’s Square and Parliament Street public realm enhancement
• Fossgate New Footstreet
• Piccadilly junction improvements
• Treemendous Initiative, in partnership with community groups, to plant 50,000 trees in York over the next 3 years.,
• Duncombe Place public realm enhancement

Cross party support for these improvements has been forthcoming.

Now the new Labour administration is setting out their priorities. They are entitled to do so but residents have an expectation that any plans will be carefully costed, that financing will have been obtained, that residents – particularly those who are directly affected such as traders – will have been consulted and that a realistic implementation timetable will have been drawn up.

In the case of the proposals going to a decision meeting on Thursday, none of these principles seems to have been respected.

…..And residents were given only a couple of hours (until 5;00pm on Friday) to record their written views on a report which was only published on the Friday morning!!!!! (the previous Council allowed a full week for written representations to be lodged).

A summary of the proposals is reproduced below.

Click to enlarge

They are something of a curates egg.

• Many would like to see large delivery vehicles banished from the City centre. The idea of transhipping goods onto smaller local delivery lorries is an attractive one. But previous studies have pointed out to huge costs in setting up a new depot with substantial annual costs for planning and running the delivery system. If this scheme were introduced then either an (unlikely) taxpayers subsidy would have to be found or City Centre traders would have to pay (and that would mean higher prices for shoppers and a reduction in the ability of City centre retailers to compete with out of town centres).

• Similarly, while the Councils budget might run over the next 3 years to one major additional paving scheme – and Duncombe Place does offer a major opportunity – then costs could escalate if major work is required to utility services. 9York’s infamous Victorian sewers still need a lot of investment),

• The report talks of introducing “pay and display” in the City centre. We have actually had pay and display at both on street and off street parking spaces for 2 decades now. Some retailers want pay on exit to be introduced at municipal car parks at a cost of around £750,000. But the system of mechanical barriers was abandoned in the 1990s because of reliability problems. Fortunately the is a solution available in the form of touch in touch out smart cards which could satisfy those who do not want to forecast the length of their stay when they park in the City.

• Alarms bells will be ringing in the ears of traders in streets like Micklegate who are singled out for unspecified traffic management changes.

So, all in all, some good ideas rather ruined by the manner in which they have been put forward.

The lack of public consultation in particular will leave a legacy of distrust and scepticism.

City Centre traffic proposals (click to enlarge)

The good, the bad and the unworkable

Proposed City centre footstreet changes (click to enlarge)

Labour have finally published their proposals for changes to the City centre. They are contained in two documents that will be debated at a meeting on Thursday.

Today we look at the changes that they propose to the traffic and parking arrangements in the City centre pedestrian areas.

Several of the proposals are welcome and build on the improvements made in the City centre over the last decade. They include standardising – and extending – the footstreet hours, adding Fossgate (and Castlegate) to the zone, additional cycle parking, additional parking spaces for disabled drivers on Piccadilly, reductions in unnecessary signage and eliminating A (advertising) boards from public footpaths.

Other proposals will be more controversial;
• The exclusion of most motor vehicles – together with the elimination of “on street” parking outside the pedestrian hours – could hit the evening economy.,
• Putting in a (one way) cycle link on High Petergate will not please all and it fails to address the need for a west to east cross city centre cycle route,
• The most severely disabled residents who currently have green badges (in addition to those with national blue badge ) will have less access to the city centre and fewer “on street” parking spaces.
• Changes to access arrangements in Micklegate could hit traders and area beingpropmoted with little preliminary consultation with those affected.

Some plans need to go back to the drawing board.
 Extending the pedestrian zone to include Monk Bar would leave a large number of residents and businesses without day time vehicular access. This would include part of the Aldwark development and The Minster
 Reducing the number of general parking spaces available in car parks – and reserving the spaces for blue badge holders – is unnecessary (given that spare spaces are available at most time for all potential users).
 Erecting 10 mph advisory speed signs at the entrance to the zone would simply add to the street clutter. The few vehicles that could still enter the area are unlikely to travel quickly.
 Evening parking spaces in Blake Street, Lendal, Goodramgate and Duncombe Place would be lost. Some of these, at least, add to active feel of the city particularly on winter evenings.
 Closing the Blake Street slip road (from Duncombe Place) would have little effect (it is only used regularly by a horse and cart)

We will review the more controversial, and costly, proposals for physical changes tomorrow.

Traffic proposals summary (click to enlarge)

Getting young people into work

Lib Dems in Government making sure every young person has a fair chance

The Lib Dems in Government are taking real action to tackle youth unemployment. Every young person who wants it will be guaranteed a job, training or work placement.
The Youth Contract will create over 400,000 new jobs and 250,000 new work experience placements to help young people across Britain to get into work.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg MP said, “If people are out of work when they’re young they bear the scars for decades. If they have a false start, they might not ever fully catch up.

“This £1 billion investment will make sure our young people are earning and learning again, before long-term damage is done.”

The Liberal Democrats are determined to tackle youth unemployment – an issue that has been ignored for too long.

During Labour’s 13 years in power, youth unemployment rose by nearly 40%. There was a shocking 86% increase in the number of 18-24 year olds claiming Job Seekers Allowance.
Local Lib Dem campaigner Steve Galloway added, “Our new plans will make sure every young person has a fair chance. Thanks to the Lib Dems in Government, 1010 local learners took on an apprenticeship in the past year to gain key skills, and now the 3.4% of young people in our area on Job Seekers Allowance will get extra support to help them into work too.”

The £1 billion new investment to tackle youth unemployment includes:
• Over 400,000 new work places for 18 – 24 year olds over the next three years
• 250,000 extra work experience places for every 18 – 24 year old who wants one (after 3 months on Job Seekers Allowance) and 160,000 wage subsidies
• All 18 – 24 year olds to receive extra careers support from Job Seekers Plus (after 3 months on Job Seekers Allowance)
• More funding to support apprenticeships, including 20,000 more incentive payments to encourage employers to take on young apprentices
• A new programme to help the most disengaged 16 – 17 year olds get learning again or into a job with training