Ward Committees consigned to history?

The Council’s cabinet is to receive a report next week which effectively signals the end of public participation in “Ward Committee” meetings. It follows on from a savage cut to neighbourhood funding.
The budget for Ward Committee neighbourhood improvement schemes for 2011/12 was £646,000.

The Labour Council budget agreed last week reduced this to £224,000. A cut of 65%.

Now Labour are proposing to divide this money into 3 “pots” with only £75k available for schemes voted a priority by local residents.

Thus, pro rata, a Ward like Westfield which has had an annual budget for improvements of around £50,000 a year will find that reduced to about £6,000. This is what residents have voted on each autumn with the available funds over subscribed usually by a factor of 5.

It has been used in the past to address security concerns, provide better fencing, clean up derelict areas, improve play facilities, address parking problems etc.

There will be similar sums “ringfenced” for grants to organisations operating exclusively within a particular ward plus some for cross city voluntary groups. However the amounts likely to be available are derisory.

As with most of the Labour budget, we believe York residents simply don’t realise yet what is going to hit them.

£3 million extra to be borrowed as stadium and swimming costs spiral.

Stadium benefits. Click to enlarge

The Council is set to borrow an additional £3 million to pay for the refurbishment of the Waterworld swimming and fitness centre at Monks Cross.

In addition Council officials are now asking Councillors to agree to release £4 million of taxpayer’s money for the Community Stadium project. Previously this £4 million had been earmarked as a loan, with the new facility expected to generate income which would see the debt paid off early in its life. The business case figures, published by the Council yesterday, now show only a surplus of £83,000 a year on the stadium – insufficient to meet the debt repayment costs.

Subject to planning permission being granted, the developers of the nearby John Lewis and M&S stores will contribute £14.85 million to public works and the stadium.

Including the value of the existing stadium (£4 million), the taxpayer’s investment now looks to be heading for a figure of over £10 million. This is far higher than was planned by the Liberal Democrat led Council when it started the process over 3 years ago.

However this might be offset by the sale of Bootham Crescent on which the Council now intends to take out a charge to secure its interests. However 2 preferential charges already exist on the ground. Bootham Crescent has recently been valued at only £800,000 as a site for new housing.

Swimming facilities do require regular updates and Waterworld is now 14 years old. However the scale of the public investment required will comes as a surprise to many and what is still a relatively new building. The Council claims that it may recover some of the investment when it appoints a new company to manage the facility (the existing managers are said to be making a loss on the operation).

Profit and loss business plan. Click to enlarge

£2 million is to be spent on a new athletics stadium at the University (replacing the Huntington Stadium track). This is £500,000 more than originally budgeted, partly because it now includes a 500 seater stand and extensive clubroom facilities.

Apart from the costs, the business case for the community stadium being presented to the Council’s “cabinet” next week has changed little over the last 3 years. One change is a promise to invest in a “training pitch and reserve team venue” for the Rugby Club. The costs are budgeted at £750,000and one of the options being considered is to upgrade the facilities at the Acorn Club at Thanet Road.

The stadium opening date is now put at early 2015.

The Council badly need to get experienced business and project management on the case or – as seems to be happening with the new council HQ where fitting out costs look to be going out of control – this project could become a major burden on taxpayers.

Overall though the Community Stadium should be a major benefit to the City.

Community hub hopes.

Mixed signs on local York economy: Average weekly pay in City is nearly £500

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The number of people claiming Job Seekers Allowance in York has increased. This is inline with an increase for the region as a whole. A council report confirms:
• Male Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) claimants (3.3%) remain higher than females (1.5%)
• The rate of females claiming JSA is increasing faster than males, but still remains one of the lowest in the region.
• The total number of benefits claimants has decreased in 2011 by 4%, from 12,350 in 2010 to 11,900 now.
5.7% of young people are now classified as “not in education, employment or training” That is just less than in North Yorkshire as a whole. It means that the City has one of the lowest youth unemployment levels in the country.
Average weekly pay for city residents is £492.30 for 2011, which is above the regional average. York is still below the national average but the gap has narrowed (now 2.2% below compared with 4.2% in 2010).

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Save Beckfield Lane recycling centre campaign gets timely boostas £3 million bill hits York taxpayers

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The Council has admitted that it is York is “slipping behind other unitary authorities, who have introduced alternative waste management methods and strategies”. This is despite a forecast 2% increase, in the amount of waste recycled by residents, by the end of the year (47.01% compared to 45.1% in 2010/11).

The failure to invest in reuse and salvage, coupled with the pending closure of the Beckfield lane recycling centre on 10th April, means that taxpayers will pick up a bill for £3 million in landfill tax penalties this year.

The petition to keep the Beckfield Lane facility open is getting good support. Anyone who can help to gather signatures on a petition is asked to contact Reuban Mayne on York 781589

Proposed changes to York Sunday bus services 112 & 113

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Major changes are planned to the Sunday bus services which provide links to Copmanthorpe, Bishopthorpe and Skelton. This results from the decision by Coastliner to discontinue their 112 and 113 services.

The Council are proposing to subsidise 3 new services one of which would route down Tadcaster Road.

The Council propose the following option for Sunday services in place of the existing services on routes 112 and 113:
• Provision of an hourly service between Bishopthorpe and the city centre via South Bank on the same route as the weekday route 11.
• Provision of an hourly service between Copmanthorpe and the city centre on the same route as the weekday route 13.
• Provision of an hourly service between Skelton and the city centre on the same route as the weekday route 19.
• No direct services between Skelton, Clifton Moor, Wigginton, Haxby and Monks Cross.
• No services before 10.00 or after 19.00 on these routes.

Comments on the new arrangements by emailing transport.planning@york.gov.uk or writing to Paul Brand, City of York Council, 9 St Leonard’s Place, YORK, YO1 7ET. Please ensure that your comments are received by 2 March 2012.

It is likely that any new routes and services will begin in summer 2012

Green Lane garage area needs a make over

Following complaints from residents we have visited the Council owned garage area on little Green Lane on Friday.

Although all the garages are let, the area itself is in a sorry state.

It is covered in detritus, self-seeded trees are taking over the parking area, boundary fences are collapsing and potholes dominate the approach road.



Overgrown parking area

Damaged fences

Council assets should never be allowed to deteriorate in this way. It is a great shame that the regular weekly service quality inspections were abandoned after last May’s Council elections. We dread to think what other issues are lurking in the background

Please use the report form (right) to let us know of any issues and we will follow them up

Acomb Wood: Welly workout

We will be having a general tidy up of the woodland. We will be cutting back some trees, litter picking and any other little jobs that need completing this spring before everything starts growing again.

Mon 5 Mar, 1pm to 3pm at Acomb Wood

Cost: FREE!

For more information and to book you space please contact Jenny Cairns on 07833 436832 or jennifer.cairns@york.gov.uk. Please come prepared to get muddy. All tools will be provided.

Blossom Street York: roadworks from 5th March

The Second phase of work is due to start next month (week commencing 5 March).

Significant work was carried out on Blossom Street at its junction with Queen Street, close to Micklegate Bar during phase I in September 2010. Phase II is due to start shortly and will focus on Blossom Street and Holgate Road and their junctions with The Mount and East Mount Road.

The main features of the work will include:
• Full replacement of old traffic signals with new modern equipment.
• Partial resurfacing of the carriageway
• Pedestrian crossings to be widened and modernised, incorporating on-crossing detection.
• Widening of the footway on the corner of Holgate Road.
• Inbound and outbound cycle feeder-lanes on Blossom Street.
• Inbound cycle lane on Holgate Road starting at Dalton Terrace.
• Inbound bus stop outside the Reel Cinema to be extended and the shelters and cycle parking repositioned.
• A new bus shelter introduced at the outbound bus stop (for bus numbers 3 and 4).
• New stop-line and signals (inbound only) on Holgate Road near to Holgate Villas to keep queuing traffic out of, and ameliorate the air quality in the bottle-neck at the end, but which will not affect traffic capacity.
• No change to number of traffic lanes.

Full details of the planned improvements are available at www.york.gov.uk/council/consultations/current/blossomst/

York Council Tax rise confirmed

Labour have gone ahead with their threat to increase Council Tax rates by 2.9%. A further rise of over 2% is forecast for April 2013. They turned down the offer of a £1.8 million subsidy from the government to freeze tax levels

We know that many residents still don’t fully appreciate what is going to hit them over the next few weeks and months. Our guess is that anger will grow as the following sequence of events take place:

• February: Acomb Council branch office closes

• March: Higher Council Tax bill arrives. Many find that they will have to pay over £30 a year more.

• April: Car parking charges up 18% for residents. ResPark charges up. Issue of refuse collection sacks in terraced areas stops. Beckfield Lane recycling centre closes. Number 4 ftr bus services axed. Disabled people attending specialised work placements told that they may be transferred to the private sector. Unemployment increases as organisations like Future Prospects are forced to reduce their activities.

• May: Potholes in roads and footpaths are still unfilled following winter damage. Only a handful of roads are put on resurfacing list. Elderly seeking Council help with home care are told that the bar has been raised. Council will now only act if their needs are judged to be “substantial”. Around 200 elderly people lose existing home care service. However the Council finds money to provide “free” WiFi in City Centre.

• June: Complaints about stray dogs and footpath fouling increase following a reduction in dog warden numbers. Residents expecting more CCTV, security improvements, car parking lay-bys etc, told that Ward Committee funding averages less than £10,000 per ward. 20% of litter and “poop scoop” bins removed.

• Summer: Reduced spending, on crime prevention, results in more burglaries and vandalism. Enforcement of alcohol sales to minors scaled back. More anti social behaviour evident. Voluntary bodies and charities struggle with reduced grants. Some flounder. Litter on streets increases following a reduction in street sweeping. New refuse collection rounds bring chaos. Collection is on different days each fortnight. Cuts to parks and open spaces budget means York fails in “Britain in Bloom” contest. Fly tipping up since Beckfield Lane centre closed.

• Autumn: Number of cyclists involved in accidents increases. The Council faces increased insurance claims from pedestrians who have fallen on uneven footpaths. Enforcement of under age sales of fireworks is scaled back. It is a noisy October. Gulleys haven’t been cleaned for at least 6 months. Heavy rain brings flooding to several streets.

• Winter: The number of streets gritted is reduced. Salt bins, left out all year, are found to have been vandalised. Those remaining are filled only 3 times before the budget runs out. Salvation Army forced to reduce services for “rough sleepers” as grant runs out. Street environment budget also used up. No money available to deal with damage to verges, graffiti and dumping.

• Spring 2013: Charities, sports clubs, scouts and charities told that they will lose their discretionary rate relief. Parish Councils told that provision to avoid “double taxation” is being discontinued. Green bin garden waste collection stopped. Residents told to compost waste in garden. Privatisation of waste collection announced.

York’s debt per head is at an all time high. Opposition Councillors point out that it is now the equivalent of the external debt of Fiji (and twice that of Greenland).

Dusty bin makes a come back

The Council is likely today to decide to reduce the number of litter bins on our streets by about 20%.
At the same time it has announced that it will follow the lead of other Councils in introducing a new design of “intelligent” litter bin. The bins use solar power to “compact” waste and are capable of sending an “empty me” Email when they are full.

The Council is right to trial technology like this.

However, they are talking of putting them in the City centre and removing 5 of the old style bins at the same time. This they think will reduce both emptying costs and the street clutter which some find intrusive in the historic core.

There is a limit to how far some people will walk to use a litter bin and a well dispersed network of bins is the best way of ensuring that street litter does not ruin the environment.

The decision to reduce the amount of litter picking by barrowmen in residential areas is another example of short sighted thinking.

Whether the Council will adopt the type of bin which segregates recyclable waste (bottles, cans, papers etc) remains to be seen. The 3 bin suite is larger than anything we have had in the city before but Labour were insistent that we should offer the recycling option when they were in opposition, so we will have to wait and see whether they are consistent now that they are making the decisions.

The key question though for “dusty bin” is whether it proves to be reliable and whether the extra costs can be justified.