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Free commuting?

There has been a debate in the media sparked by claims from the new council Leader that taxpayers are subsidising Council workers commuter trips to the tune of £150,000 pa.
If that figure is correct, then he is right to challenge it.
However it is common practice these days for trades-people employed in both the private and public sector to “garage at home”.
Many will be “on call” to deal with emergencies. The York Council has a generally good reputation for dealing with urgent repairs both at Council owned homes and more generally in providing 24/7 support for the City’s infrastructure.
Other trades-people take their commercial vehicles home with them so that they can start work at the location of their first job. Jobs are allocated on the telephone or using electronic means. This improves efficiency and reduces at least some of the potential congestion on City centre roads.
The negative side of “garaging at home” is that, in many of our estates, parking space is at a premium and large vans and lorries can take up a disproportionate amount of road space.
Overall it would probably be a backward step to require these workers to park up their vehicles at James Street overnight.
It has been suggested that some administrative staff and managers are using Council vehicles simply to commute to and from work. That would be more difficult to justify.
Separately from the debate about the use of Council owned vehicles, is the issue of the “mileage rate” being paid to Council staffs who use their own vehicles while on official duties. At present the rates paid exceed the level recommended by the Inland Revenue. Any “profit” claimed by employees is subject to tax.
It was these payments which the Labour Group said in February they would reduce saving taxpayers at least £72,000 in the current year.

Labour’s budget plans

Labour have now published the detail of their plans to change the Councils budget. They are different from those that they published before the Council elections.
They have jettisoned their promise to increase bus subsidies, do more for teenagers and expand the use of the Yearsley swimming pool.
They’ve introduced a new £38,000 proposal which would see – the equivalent of – 2 new full time Trades Union positions established.
To help pay for these changes they are halving their commitment to provide breaks for disabled children from £100k to £50K.
Controversial plans to reduce the size of recycling containers are included, as is a plan to stop increases in ResPark charges although these were actually implemented 3 months ago (Charges for small cars were frozen at £44 pa). It almost beggars belief that the Council might be considering refunds of £2 to the owners of standard vehicles or that they will reduce the charge to the owners of large high emission cars and vans who pay the top rate of £112pa.
Ironically the old Council managed their 2010/2011 budget so carefully that a £200,000 surplus was available at the end of the year to underpin public service standards in the current year.
The budget for the pretentious “fairness commission” has ballooned to over £5000. One of its first tasks might be to consider why these budget proposals, and the hugely important changes to the LDF plan, were only published on the Councils web site 4 days before this week’s Council meeting. (The previous Council published material for residents to read 8 days before a meeting).

Rubbish and recycling collection route confirmed Saturday 2nd July


Rubbish and recycling wagons near to you…
On Saturday 2nd July there will be collections of bulky items throughout the ward. The wagons will be following the route at the approximate times shown on the back page.
Please note the vans are unable to collect asbestos/refrigeration equipment/liquids (including paint, waste, oils etc.)
Starting at:
Ridgeway (8am, 9am & 10am) then calling at ;
Askham Lane, Front Street, Gladstone Street, Milner Street, Green Lane (to roundabout) (8.15am, 9.15am & 10.15am)
Kingsway West, Danesfort Avenue, Gale Lane, Cornlands Road, St Stephens Road, Gale Lane, (8.30am, 9.30am & 10.30am)
Foxwood Lane, Huntsman’s Walk, Tedder Road, Askham Lane (Approximately 8.40am, 9.40am & 10.40am),
Grange Lane and Chapelfields Road.
Put your items anywhere on the route where they can easily be seen but please do not put anything out after the last times shown.

Green Belt threat confirmed

Details of Labours plan to build on the Green Belt have been published on the Councils web site only 4 days before their proposal is due to be rubber stamped by the Council.
See http://www.york.gov.uk/council/meetings/
Under the plan fewer homes would be built on the “Brownfield” York central site which is located behind the railway station.
Instead around 4000 homes would be constructed on greenbelt land in the Huntington and Osbaldwick areas.
In Westfield the Our Ladies school site is down to accommodate 69 homes while the Lowfields site could see 96 units constructed.
The allocation of development is summarised in the following illustration.

Dozens of amendments to the Local Development Framework have been tabled for Thursdays Council meeting with no attempt made to have any kind of public consultation on the changes.

Car parking


With the Council apparently set to sell the Kent Street coach park for a knock down figure and claims in the media that they have agreed to off load the Union Tce car and coach park for a miserly £2 million, one wonders whether they will also go ahead with the sale the 100 space Haymarket car park?
Traders will be very concerned if 280 car parking spaces and around 80 coach spaces were all to go at the same time.
Critically though it would jeopardise the £600,000 that the Council receives in car parking revenue from the car parks involved, leaving a big gap in next years budget.
Some motorists might use other Council car parks but the big gainers could be the privately operated car parks at Tanner Row and Garden Place.
One short term option, which would bring in more income for the Council, would be to extend the Haymarket car park onto the redundant land next to it – which used to house the ambulance station (see photo).
With room for about 70 cars there it could generate around £100,000 a year in badly needed income.

Home repossession rates good news for York


Despite the poor national economic position, very few homes are being repossessed in York. Figures produced by Shelter show that 1.27 homes per 1000 population were repossessed last year. That put York at 283 in a league table of 324 local authority areas.
Worst repossession rate was in Corby with 7.6 repossessions.
Locally both Doncaster and Hull had rates of above 5.00
In Yorkshire, York was the best performing area other than Hambleton and Ryedale.
The figures confirm just how successful the City has been in establishing a bouyant and resilient economy during recent years.

Cycle paths blocked


It’s a shame that so soon after the end of the “Cycling City” programme, off road cycle paths are becoming overgrown. Tree branches at head height, detritus covering paths and bushes preventing access to the Sustrans York – Selby path are likely to discourage growth in the number of cyclists in the City.

Signage is also showing signs of ware and tear with graffiti a particular problem.

The paths need to be inspected regularly by the local Ward councillors, while officials need to act promptly if the city’s image is to be preserved.

Union Terrace car park & Gillygate


I see that the media have picked up on St John’ s plans to expand onto the Union Tce car park. It’s a project that the University have been working on for the last 12 months at least.
The stumbling block is, of course, the loss of 145 car and 35 coach parking spaces. The car park brings in around £400,000 a year (£40,000 for coaches) in income for the Council; so a capital receipt of £2 million looks to be on the low side anyway. Some users might divert to other car parks but, with the Haymarket car park also likely to be closed shortly for redevelopment, traders will be concerned about the number of spaces being lost.
One other worry will be the new Labour Councils commitment to the Alan Simpson report which looked at the layout and function of the City centre. Amongst the ideas that arise out of it was the need for a dedicated public transport route possibly through Gillygate, St Leonards Place and Lendal. It is the latest in a series of reports on the future of streets like Gillygate (the illustration is of a 1948 version)
This very much points to the need for the Local Development Framework (LDF,) and in particular future land uses, to be agreed before any piecemeal decisions are taken on the future of car parks and indeed transport systems generally.
There isn’t, or shouldn’t be, any link between the Universities project and the option of reinstalling “pay on exit!” barriers at surface level car parks. This system was abandoned in York nearly 20 years ago mainly because of the cost of maintaining the equipment. The remains of the barrier mechanisms can still be seen at the entrance to the Castle car park.
Effectively “pay on exit” needs 24/7 call out assistance which pushes up running costs (or otherwise drivers will become trapped in the car parks when the careless, or the mischievous, damage the barriers). Most of the systems currently in use involve the validation of tickets at separate machines which themselves are vulnerable in poor weather. Barrier and ticket equipment for only the main car parks would cost around £500,000.
Those favouring the system claim that visitors will stay longer in the City if they don’t have to worry about when their pay and display ticket will expire.
Maybe so.
But there already is a pay by mobile phone option, which effectively offers the same advantage. Before long we will have data enabled mobile phones and charge cards which could be used to offer additional flexibility such as off peak discount rates. These are likely to be more attractive to visitors than the pay on exit option.
Those who want to can use one of the 2 (private sector) pay on exit multi storey car parks, both are under cover.
Any spare capital receipts that the Council might receive would be better invested in improving facilities for those walking into and around the City centre.