Multi storey car park gets planning approval

The proposal to build a multi storey car park on the St Georges Field site received planning permission yesterday. The car park is intended as a replacement for the Castle Car park which would be grassed over.

Castle car park last summer

We have said before that we believe this site is too far from the City centre shops to help to sustain the retail economy.

The Castle car park is the most heavily used in the City. One key reason is that it is within comfortable walking distance for those carrying heavy items of shopping.

The drift to out of city retail centers would continue with the City centre left as a visitor attraction hub sustaining only, what is left of, the pubs and restaurants that may survive the pandemic

The pandemic has changed all the numbers.

It now simply makes no sense to spend £55 million on a scheme which could lose the City much needed jobs

The Council should shelve the plans. They should not be bought off by government financial bribes. The country needs to invest wisely to maximise economic recovery.

The City can tolerate the Castle car park for another decade.

In the interim, the Council can make plans which recognise that personal transport will remain a popular method of moving people from the suburbs and region into the City centre. It is a matter of individual choice.

In future the vehicles used may, however, be battery powered.

The idea of having the area, within the inner road road, designated as an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) may well be one that has now found its time.

The move to home working – and with it greatly reduced congestion and emission levels in the central area – provides the Council with some thinking time.

A quieter City centre would be bad news for many service based shops, hair dressers etc., They will be hoping that visitors would expand to fill the gap in trade left by office workers.

The Councils draft budget for 2021/22 anticipates a £375,000 saving on office costs – a clear indication that the authority itself believes that many staff will never return to West Offices. The same will be true of other City Centre companies

The Councils budget also contains a commitment to borrow £2.5 million to spend on the Castle Piccadilly scheme. In addition the £28.2 million proposals to construct flats at Castle Mills are budgeted separately

That would simply add to the additional interest and redemption costs of £1.6 million which will account for much of the 1.9% increase in Council Tax levels from 1st April. (The remaining 3% hike is earmarked for social care).

So time now for some prudent revisions to the Councils investment plans.

Castle Piccadilly plans

Theatre Royal £500,000 Council grant decision next week – still few details available

The York Council is expected next week to confirm an additional grant of £1/2 million to the Theatre Royal.

The plan – which will be classified as “capital expenditure” and will increase the Councils already large capital debt – was revealed during the recent budget debate.

The report to the decision meeting which take place on 16th March is unsatisfactory in several respects. It fails to include essential information about the Theatres financial performance.

As a minimum the 2018/19 outturn, the 2019/20 and the (draft) 2020/21 budget should be made public. At the moment taxpayers have no idea whether the Theatre is profitable or not (probably not!).

There is no detail of the Theatres medium term business plans. There is no comment from the York Councillors (Crawshaw, Daubeney, Mason) who are supposed to look after the Council and residents’ financial interests on the Theatre Board

In 2015 the Council decided to sell the Theatre Royal building to the York Conservation Trust for £1. The Trust is a benign body which agree to make a major investment in essential repairs. The Council said that it planned to stop its annual support grant to the Theatre but instead agreed to make a contribution of £770,000 towards a £4.1 million restoration project. This project was intended to make the Theatre self-supporting.  The Council’s responsible executive member told the York Press in February 2016 “This funding agreement will strengthen York Theatre Royal’s sustainability for the future”

Theatre Royal refurbishment 2016

The refurbishment overran its timescale and the Theatre was effectively closed for nearly a year.

The most worrying aspect of the new deal is the decision to borrow money to fund it. The Council report says that the £500,000 borrowing will cost taxpayers “£35,000 a year” in interest charges and principal repayments. Only if the Council borrows the money over a 20 year term. Some of the proposed expenditure (IT, box office software) will be on items with an expected lifetime of less than 7 years. Borrowing money over a period longer than the life of an asset would be financial madness.

A more realistic borrowing time-frame would be 10 years, meaning taxpayers would be committed to ongoing payments of around £65,000 a year. 

NB The Council aggregates all its borrowing requirements and currently enjoys interest payments on its borrowings of less than 5%

Then there is the question of whether more investment will be sought in 4 years time?

The Council should not agree the expenditure without publishing a lot more information about the financial trajectory for the Theatre.

In the event of it ceasing trading, most of the taxpayer investment would be unrecoverable.

The demise of the Rose Theatre last year has already left the York taxpayer with a £40,000 plus bill.

It could be viewed by the Council as a timely warning about the need for prudent and well informed decisions.

Labour wants to plunge York further into debt

£75,000 salary for “Children’s Commissioner”

A huge increase in borrowing is proposed in a Labour party amendment to the York Councils budget plans.

£2.5 million extra will be borrowed with more being taken from reserves currently earmarked to provide additional social housing.

They say, most of the extra money will be spent on reducing “damp” in Council housing. The Council had already let a contract for £2 million to address this issue on 11th May.

The Council has record debt levels with over 22% of what a resident pays in Council Tax set to be spent on interest charges by 2022.

Plans for a “Children’s Commissioner” on a fat cat £75k salary, appear to be equally misguided. The Council has a well-paid Executive Councillor with responsibilities in the same area.

Labour also plans to cut £1/4 million from the “safer communities” crime reduction budget. This is an extraordinary misjudgement of the problems that exist in parts of the City with anti-social behaviour, drug misuse, graffiti and vandalism on the increase.

Instead money would be spent on two additional talking shops; a “Human Rights Commission” and a “Carbon Neutral City Citizens Assembly” are proposed.

The only part of the Labour plan which might gain some support is a proposed investment of £40,000 in reducing, to one day, the target time taken to remove “fly tipping”. Some may, however, feel that the first step should be to improve bulky waste collection arrangements and reintroduce regular visits by “skips” to key estates.

The Council’s revised budget proposals will be debated tomorrow (Wednesday)

Ring Road improvements falter but York Council set to borrow £24 million

A report to a Council meeting later this week details how an £80 million Council investment programme will be funded.

The Council will again borrow heavily to fund schemes which include:

Borrowing costs click to enlarge

Borrowing costs click to enlarge

  • Expansion of Fulford school (£5.8m)
  • Schools maintenance (£4m)
  • Older persons accommodation (£0.5m)
  • Museums plus art gallery gardens (0.85m)
  • LED street lighting replacement (£1.3m)
  • Provision of 20 new Council houses (£8.9m) and modernisation (£2.3m)
  • Local Transport Plan (£4.6m)
  • Community Stadium (£20.7m of which £6.4m will come from taxpayers)*

*It seems highly unlikely that this money will be spent in the current financial year as the contract is not now expected to be let until the spring.

The Council will invest in better play grounds and more solar powered litter bins.

The programme also includes a (mostly unallocated) £15m sum in the “economic investment fund”. This is understood still to include major contributions towards a bridge into the York Central site and funding for a Digital Media Centre.

A1237 northern by pass improvements delayed?


The 5 year rolling programme – which includes projects which are both directly and indirectly funded – does not identify any money for improvements to the northern by pass.  

The West Yorkshire “Combined Authority” agreed last November to include a £37.6m allocation in their forward programme for the project.

Following the announcement by the government of an allocation of £1 billion for the “West Yorkshire Plus Transport fund”, the York Council was asked to commit £500,000 a year in its revenue budget to progress the ring road project.

The expectation was that the £37 million investment would be used to upgrade those roundabouts – such as the one on the Haxby Road – which currently cause bottlenecks on the A1237.

According to the Combined Authorities programme formal approval for improvements at the first junction was due to be given this month (August) with a start on site in March 2016.

No explanation for the delays has been provided in the report to York Councillors.

The government funding allocation must be used by 2021.

Council debts soar by over 500% in 20 years.

Each York man, woman and child now owes £1326!

A freedom of information response has revealed how the York Council has increased its borrowing over the last 20 years since it became an “all purpose” unitary authority.

An inherited debt level of £40 million had risen to £269 million by 31st March 2015.

About 10% of the Council Tax paid each year now goes on repaying principle and interest on the debts.

The figures include historic debt on Council house building.

In only four of the last 20 years has the Council repaid more than it borrowed in the same year.

The majority of the new loans taken out have occurred in years when it was under Labour party leadership.

What will be of concern to most taxpayers is that the Councils current capital programme implies that borrowing will continue to rise over the next 2 or 3 years at least.

Council debts

York Council slipping further in debt

The York Council’s debts increased from £118.3 million to £128.8m at the end of March 2015.

D4NT09 Council Tax bill 2013/2014 for property dwelling band F with 25% discount for sole adult resident

D4NT09 Council Tax bill 2013/2014 for property dwelling band F with 25% discount for sole adult resident

In addition £140.3m was owed on the Council housing account.

The debt represents part of a £317.4 million capital investment programme commitment (which is partly offset by fluctuating revenue balances).

The Council had decided to spend an additional £83.2 million in the current year. Borrowing will peak at £204.3 m.

It remains to be seen how successful the new coalition leadership will be in pulling back this potential additional Council Taxpayers liability.

The inherited labour programme committed between £13.9 and £26.6 m in expenditure in subsequent years (excluding housing)

12% of Council Tax in the City is now spent on debt charges (interest plus principal repayments)

Details can be found by clicking here

Drunken sailors return to York?

The York council will soon have spent its £28 million “Economic Investment Fund”.

In a final spending spree, before electors have a chance to give a verdict on the “spend, spend, spend” approach of the Labour Council, over £250,000 is to be spent this year on new projects.

One involves the investment of £175,000 in paving the entrance to Hungate/Peasholme Green.

Peasholme Green

Peasholme Green

The justification for the investment is that it will encourage more “return visitors to the area”.

While the Quilt Museum and Black Swan pub (both of which could suffer because of the Councils decision to close the Haymarket car park) may read this with interest, most commentators will think that the private sector should pay for any improvements to Hungate.

This is, after all, adjacent to the site which the Council sold off for a little over £2 million in the depth of the recession.

The prime City centre site – on which Hiscox hope to build offices – has now more than doubled in value.

The project will, however, have little impact on Hungate even after adding in Section S106 contributions which could increase the budget to circa £250,000.

Nearby £300,000 is being spent on paving a very small section of Fossgate, while the controversial resurfacing of Kings Square is costing taxpayers £500,000.

Most of the Council’s EIF budget comes from borrowing. It will add around £1.6 million a year to the debt charges that taxpayers will have to find.

Meanwhile sub-urban shopping and residential eras continue to suffer a decline in public service standards.

Perhaps the most telling comment on the Hungate scheme comes in the Council report itself.

It virtually admits that they have no idea whether the investment will bring any kind of return for the City.

“With respect to the Hungate public realm project, estimating the exact impact of investment in public realm can be difficult, but estimates provided in this report from respected authorities suggest that the impact provides value for money”.

Quite so!

York Council debt set to increase to £300 million over next 5 years.

Click for detail

Click for detail

The York Councils debt is set to increase to over £300 million by 2018.

That’s the equivalent of £2,530 for every taxpayer in the City.

The amount owed by the Council, net of investments, currently stands at £204 million.

Even that figure is double the debt inherited from the previous LibDem administration in May 2011.

Council debt

Ironically, when in opposition, Labour said that the Council had too much debt.

Their actions in tripling the burden will take some explaining at the next Council elections in 2015.

The Authority is vulnerable to increases in interest rates although much of the borrowing is long term.

This year the extra expenditure means that £27 is added to this years Council Tax bill in repayment costs with a further £14 expected next year.

The figures are due to be discussed at a Council “Cabinet” meeting later today.