Fake consultation Two

Does Spark matter?

Spark April 2018

Officials are proposing to turn a blind eye to the failure of the operators of the Spark container village to implement planning conditions.

Instead a report to a planning meeting next week recommends that retrospective planning permission be given to ignore previously imposed conditions.

Even the burgeoning academic city elite have managed only a handful of comments in favour of Sparks application.

The development currently majors on alcohol-based businesses, omits promised wooden screening, includes a “graphic” on its Piccadilly frontage which is intrusive (at least) and has no proper disabled access.

The operators say they can’t afford to implement the previously granted permission – but are operating the business anyway. They publicly describe the business as very successful

Should we care?

There are several reasons why this approach will create dangerous precedents.

  1. The Council is the owner of the site and is Spark’s landlord. If the enterprise fails, then the Council (taxpayers) will be out of pocket. Officials and councillors on the planning committee cannot inure themselves from this unfortunate fact. Their impartiality is compromised.
  2. It was the developers themselves that offered to clad the outside of the containers on the Piccadilly frontage to make them less intrusive. It is inconceivable that they did not understand the costs of such an exercise and include it in their business plans
  3. Failure by the Council to insist on proper disabled access being available from day one of operation is a dereliction of duty and lets down an important, vulnerable section of the local community. If the operators of any other commercial shopping development in the City, not on a Council owned site, had tried that on, then they would likely have received an enforcement notice the next day.
  4. “Can’t afford to implement the planning conditions” is not a reason to change them. Other developers will quote this precedent if retrospective planning permission is granted.

The planning official’s analysis of the application is disappointing. It agonises about the impact that the buildings and the street art have on the Red Lion (Listed Grade II) and St Deny’s church (Listed Grade I). Officials make the subjective judgement that the development “causes less than substantial harm to the character and appearance of the Conservation Area”.  The impact of the development, acknowledged by officials as “a far more utilitarian development which expresses the structure and appears somewhat cluttered”, extends far beyond the Piccadilly area.

The report claims that “commercial units in Spark have been occupied in accordance with the approved scheme and the social space / business hub is used by various local groups and organisations”.  In reality, several of the (non-alcohol related) units are empty.

Officials claim that the development meets one of the Councils own objectives. “To support strong, vibrant and healthy communities”.

How stimulating a drinking culture helps create a “healthy” community is not explained.

So, should Spark continue?

As its already in place and has a lease until May 2020, the assumption must be that it will stay. The mistake was made when the Council leased the land for such a use in the first place (November 2016).

This was compounded by a poorly thought through planning permission.

The Planning committee should insist that an enforcement notice is issued immediately requiring the disabled access lift to be installed within the next few days. A temporary closure notice should be issued if this isn’t done.

The committee should also insist that the “art” and lettering on the Piccadilly frontage is removed and that the visible container sides are painted in neutral colours.

Notwithstanding this, there are questions that the council as the landlord for the site needs to answer. It should be open about the current amount of public investment that is at risk.

By now the Councils should have received a significant amount in rent and rates. It should say how much?

Beauty in the eye of the bank manager

The debt laden and controversial “Spark” container village has now applied for permission not to implement the site screening which was a condition of approval in 2017.

Planning permission screening 2017

At that time, several objectors had described the old shipping containers as an eyesore. Most saw the plan as inappropriate for a sensitive City centre location and the expectation was that the site would be better developed on a permanent basis.

The site is owned by the York Council introducing a potential conflict of interest when consideration of the planning applications.

There was a strong view expressed that, if temporary planning permission was granted, then the buildings and scaffolding should be painted in a neutral colour.  This would minimise the impact that the development would have on the neighbourhood.

Spark April 2018

In the event, the developers surprised everyone by offering to clad the structure in wood panelling.

The Planning Committee can only judge and determine the plans that are placed before them. The cladding did mitigate some of the concerns about visual impact. The committee (wrongly in our view) then granted a temporary planning permission for 3 years.

It would be over a year before the permission was implemented with the developers ignoring several of the conditions including the needs of disabled users.

The containers haven’t been painted in a neutral colour.

Spark letter – can’t afford screening 2018

A quasi graffiti mortgage has been added to the Piccadilly frontage.

The York Council has been slow to take enforcement action on the planning contraventions. Not surprisingly other developers are crying “foul”. They say that special treatment arises out of the Council ownership conflict (over £50,000 of taxpayer’s money is currently at risk on the project). The remedy for that lies in enforcing the lease conditions for the land.

In the meantime, the media, social and otherwise, will once again no doubt be mobilised to support the change to the planning permission.

Hopefully the planning committee will develop a backbone and ensure that there is a level playing field for all who wish to trade in the City,

Spark set to ignore planning rules on Piccadilly “containergate”?

It seems that some of the units at the Sparkdevelopment” on Piccadilly may be occupied before the conditions of the Council’s planning permission have been met.

Over a year ago the company promised that the ugly storage containers would be screened.

Wooden screening was written in as a condition of the granting of the planning permission.

Several other conditions were imposed including the requirement to agree appropriate materials and advertising signage with the planning department.

Now “The Press” is reporting that graffiti, which recently appeared on the Piccadilly frontage of the containers, is actually the finished design.

Spark April 2018

A spokesperson for Sparks has apparently said that the obligatory screening will not now be provided.

This is a major issue for a site located in the City’s historic core.

Failure by the Council to enforce its own planning conditions might be seen as a precedent by unscrupulous developers keen to avoid, what they may consider to be, onerous conditions intended to protect York’s unique character.

The Council, of course, is the landlord for this development. It has not yet received any rent or rates for the containers which have been in place for over 7 months.

A keen interest is likely to be taken on whether any officials or Councillors accept hospitality from this developer at the promised opening “party” next week. They would be wise to distance themselves, and retain their impartiality, given that any failure to enforce planning conditions on a Council owned site, would inevitably lead to accusations of maladministration.

Sparks occupied Council Piccadilly site without permission

Containers being installed on 4th September

Tenancy agreement only signed on 9th November – 2 months after shipping containers arrived.

A response to a Freedom of Information request, recorded with the City of York Council on 15th November, has revealed irregularities with the lease for the site on which the containers were installed at the beginning of September.

It has emerged that the operator Sparks had, and still has, no lease for the site.

A “tenancy at will” was signed as recently as 9th November 2017.

In effect the company was able to park their assets on Council land for 2 months without permission or payment.

In November 2016 the Council’s Executive had agreed to lease 17/21 Piccadilly for the storage container village. The development was to start trading in May 2017 and the lease would expire in June 2020. The Council agreed to stump up £40,000 to cover the cost of providing water, electric and gas supply.

The Council was to have had a representative on the Sparks Board to look after its financial interests.

The Council expected to receive a basic rent plus a 30% share of “profits” (sic). The minutes of the meeting were clear that a lease (and hence rent payments) had to be in place to underwrite any Council investment.

A year later and the development has not been completed. No lease is in place. The Council has received no rent payments. No business rates have been paid on the site.

Risk warning Nov 2016

The containers have yet to be fitted out.

However, it has also emerged that the Council has already spent £31,500 (of the £40,000 budget) on facilitating the development.

Sparks has said that the earliest the container village could open is in March 2018. That would leave just 2 years for the Council to recover its investment.

The development has been described as an ugly eyesore made worse by its proximity to several sensitive historic buildings

Later this week a Councillor will be asked to extend the area to be covered by the lease to Sparks.  The area has most recently been used for car parking.

No additional payment is being sought from the developer for the extra land.