Community Stadium cost to taxpayers – £1.6 million a year.

A response to a Freedom of Information request has made the ongoing costs of running the Community Stadium clearer.

The cost of the project has escalated over the years. The scheme, in 2011, was intended to be self funding. The stadium construction would have been paid for by the developer of the neighbouring retail centre. A £16 million budget was set aside as part of a section 106 agreement.

However, it became clear in February 2021 that the Council would in addition have to borrow £16.5 million to fund the completion of the project.

The Council has made what is known as a “minimum revenue provision” (MRP) in its revenue budget of around 7% to cover interest and principal repayments on the borrowing.

This represents an annual liability of around £1.2 million.

To this must be added the running costs.

So the cost to Council taxpayers will be around £1.6 million in total this year. Most of the costs will be ongoing. By way of comparison, the contract for running all York’s libraries is £2.4 million a year.

The FOI response makes it clear that the budget does not make any provision for compensatory payments to GLL to make up for lost income during the lockdown. In other parts of the country COVID grants and loans to leisure contractors have been controversial. click

Of course, GLL do have liabilities. The Yearsley swimming pool, as a stand alone facility, has always been subsidised. The pool continues to provide a unique facility for fitness swimmers and must be sustained.

But elsewhere in the City the organisation has been criticised for losing contact with the needs of local communities. High admission charges at Energise – which lies in the middle of one of the poorest York neighbourhoods – remain an barrier for some potential users.

The Council seems to have left itself with insufficient opportunities to attract additional income from the stadium complex to help offset its investment and borrowing costs.

The project should be subject to an independent review.

York Council to cut 20% from highway maintenance

A response to a Freedom of Information request has revealed that the Council intends to spend 20% less on repairing roads and footpaths in the City during 2021/22 compared to the current year.

The decision will come as a disappointment to many drivers and pedestrians and will be a particular blow for cyclists, many of whom have criticised the rapidly declining quality of local highway surfaces.

Highway maintenance is one of the expenditure areas in the Council where essentially you get what you pay for. So less money inevitably means that fewer paths and carriageways will be resurfaced.

The Council will announce shortly what proportion of the budget it will spend on reactive pothole filling rather than, longer lasting, patching and resurfacing schemes.

Sources at the Council have criticised inconsistent central government funding allocations – such as the annual so called “pot hole” fund – which make long term investment planning difficult. A late announcement of funding for the resurfacing of Tadcaster Road came only weeks after the work had been completed using local taxpayers money (and is now being done again).

However, there will also be concern that some money has been taken from the maintenance budget to fund other projects. Several new schemes, such as rural cycle routes, are sucking funds from the budgets needed to repair existing cycle paths..

The Council has never recovered from the major reductions made to highways funding some 8 years ago.

Successive administrations have failed to find ways of returning investment levels to those seen earlier in the century.

It is estimated that the backlog in maintenance work nationally would require investment of around £11 billion to rectify.

Anger as York Council plans to reduce expenditure on fixing potholes

Hopes were raised last year when the York Council established a second pothole filling team in the City. It was hoped that the initiative would at least slow the rapidly deteriorating condition of highways in the City.

Expectations were further raised when the Department of Transport allocated part of its “Pothole challenge fund to the City.

Sadly, the hoped-for improvements have not materialised.

Many highways are breaking up under the impact of ice and frost. A well-maintained surface is less vulnerable to frost damage but lack of urgency in patching roads in the summer and autumn, means that large stretches are now unsafe for users.

The Council has been criticised this week for failing to embrace new maintenance technologies.

Now hidden within a large report, being considered by the Council later this week, is a proposal which would see less spent on resurfacing.

£600,000 will be taken from pothole filling/resurfacing and instead used to partly fund new schemes like the cycle path link from Wheldrake to Fulford.

Even the most extreme pro cycling campaigners are now realising that maintaining existing paths should be the Councils priority when funds are limited.

The existing cycle and highway networks are in poor condition. Why not fix them first before building more paths?

Sadly, one of the reasons seems to be that highway resurfacing activity is not very glamourous.

There will be no official naming of the pothole that Andy filled in.

On the other hand, a new path may – for a while – attract favourable publicity for its sponsors, at least until it too needs to be resurfaced.

Separately, the same report says that

  • the second resurfacing of Tadcaster Road is being delayed until the summer. Gas main works are currently taking place there.
  • promised repairs on National Cycle Network 65 will now not be completed until 2021/22.
  • £877,000, which was to have been spent this year on Highways Ward Committees schemes, will also be delayed until next year.

Bad news for taxpayers as another Community Stadium overspend of £1.2 million is revealed.

The Council has finally admitted that the £46.2 million budget for the York Community Stadium will be overspent by £1.2 million.

Taxpayers had already taken a hit late last year when a payment for the lease of the commercial element of the scheme was reduced by £1.4 million.

How stadium budget has changed over the last 5 years

It now looks like the final taxpayers bill will be £17 million.

When the scheme was originally conceived in 2010, it was expected that a contribution of £16.7 million from the developer of the neighbouring Vanguard shopping area, would cover the stadium construction costs.  This has proved not to be the cases as costs escalated in the intervening years.

The Council says that part of the cost will be offset by lower management payments this year to the operator (GLL)

A report goes on to say that the opening of the facility has “added internal costs that were not originally budgeted. The facility was originally due to open in Summer 2019 so the council has needed to retain the project team”.

The Council also says that there were changes to the design during the course of construction (additional signage, site boundary issues and cladding) which also added costs totally £458k.

The Council is hoping to get some compensation for the construction delays.

The stadium was 18 months late and has still not, because of COVID-19 regulations – been brought into use,

Council heading for £3 million budget deficit. £800,000 cost of keeping sports facilities closed.

With only a few weeks to go until the end of the financial year, the York Council says it will overspend by £3.7 million. Any deficit would be a charge on the Council’s reserves (which currently stand at £7 million)

Most of the deficit is blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic. Details can be found here

Council income has dropped with car parking revenue severely affected.

There are major overspends on children’s social work services including safeguarding vulnerable children with 93 local children currently subject to proceedings.

Adult social care could also overspend by £2.7 million.

There are also major pressures to bail out the indoor sports centres which are managed by GLL.

The council continues to have discussions with GLL over the cost of managing the centres during the year. The council has been required to fund the net cost of the facilities whist closed and GLL have suffered from reduced revenues when the facilities have been open during the year. The likely additional cost to the council is currently forecast to be c.£800k but the council and GLL are seeking Government / Sport England funding to mitigate this cost.

The main problems with Council housing relate to a repairs backlog and the lengthening time to relet empty properties.

The report contains a highly selective report on public service quality standards. It talks about the – entirely unsurprising – drop in bus usage.

It pointedly fails to mention the appalling decline in the standard of highway surfaces. Despite being reported long before the icy weather – and lockdown – commenced, potholes were only given cursory attention. The result now is that many carriageways are dangerous particularly for users of two wheeled transport.

& maybe part of the solution

Ward budgets under review

The York Council is reviewing how the £4.8 million budget, delegated to be spent pro rata in wards across the City, is being used. Those reading the report will be little the wiser.

Even before COVID struck, there was a marked lack of transparency on the budget process while prioritisation had become an almost mystic art.

 In most parts of the City, resident involvement – the principal objective of devolution – has been almost completely missing.

Originally, the money was apportioned to be spent on

  • Local improvements (something which has been happening in the City for over 20 years).
  • “Pride in York”,
  • Safer Communities (crime prevention),
  • Highways improvements, &
  • Council estate improvements (another long running programme which is funded from rents).  

The precise division of the budget can be viewed by clicking here

Muddy paths are unusable for exercise

 In the autumn the budget was top sliced to provide funding for COVID relief. A list of the schemes benefiting can be seen by clicking here.  £55,000 has gone to a limited number of organisations.

As with the rest of the report, there are few numbers detailing how many residents have actually benefited and in what way.

Promised investment in snicket repairs hasn’t happened.

While responding to the pandemic will be viewed as a worthy initiative, the report fails to detail the Councils response to many other requests for help .

For example, the lockdown has meant that many more people are exercising on local off-road paths. The result is that many are now showing major signs of wear and tear.

It is a similar situation with the off-road cycle network.

Ward spends are closely monitored and reported on, with all ward spending published as an online ‘Officer Decision Log’ and a regularly updated spreadsheet uploaded to the open data platform

York Council report January 2021

No updates on highways, pedestrian, cycling or estate improvement schemes are provided on the Councils open data web site.

The format of most officer decisions is impenetrable click

  All in all, the system has turned into a bureaucratic labyrinth which needs to be simplified and managed properly.

Transparency, proper performance management information and resident involvement would be  good places to start.

York Council taxpayers face £600,000 bill for “emergency” transport changes

It looks like the government’s announcement in November of a £600,000 grant for cycling and walking in York has strings attached. A “matching” amount is required from local taxpayers.

The York Council had bid for a share of what was termed an “Emergency Active Travel Fund”.

Controversial road closure

It was originally designed to promote social distancing and reduce pressure on public transport. Early examples if the kind of scheme supported by the York Council included the controversial Bishopthorpe Road one way system (since abandoned) and The Groves Low Traffic Neighbourhood scheme. Several foot streets were also extended.

Now the government (rightly) says greater weight should be given to consultation, with Local Authorities required to publish a consultation plan for their programmes by 11th December 2020. Details of York’s Active Travel Fund Tranche 2 application and the Consultation Plan are available as downloads at: https://www.york.gov.uk/lets-york/active-travel-bid/1

The costs of the individual schemes have now been revealed.

The most expensive is the proposal to construct a cycle path from Wheldrake village to Heslington.

This comes in at an eye watering £550,000.

There has still not been any attempt made to estimate the likely use of such a path although the Councils origin and destination surveys make a cost/benefit analysis relatively easy to produce.

Existing infrastructure is neglected

Ironically, this project does not even appear in the list of cycling schemes that the Council has built up over the years. This is reproduced in a report being considered later this week. (click).

At least that list attempts to assess what impact the investment would have on transport choices. The top-rated improvement locations are

  1. University Road / Field Lane
  2. University of York – Heslington East Campus links
  3. High Petergate, Deangate, Aldwark, Hungate, Navigation Rd, Walmgate (or Low Petergate, Colliergate, Fossgate, Walmgate)
  4. St Leonards Place / Museum Street / Lendal Bridge / Station Road
  5. Micklegate / Bridge Street / Nessgate / Coppergate / Pavement / Stonebow / Peasholme Green
  6. Improvements to Station Road / Station Avenue gyratory
  7. Route through former British Sugar site
  8. Castle Gateway Foss Bridge
  9. York Central – link from Chancery Rise
  10. Bar Lane / Toft Green / Tanner Row
Footpaths have been blocked

The Council is being urged to develop a new “walking and cycling strategy”. Certainly, those who walk will feel somewhat neglected by current York Council policies. Even more so when they see the lack of progress being made on determining 19 outstanding Public Right of Way applications. Some have been outstanding for over 20 years.

The main issue remains a lack of investment in maintaining the existing transport network.

The endless pressure to borrow more money simply sucks resources from the Councils maintenance budget. The results are deteriorating cycle and footpath surfaces coupled with potholed highway margins.

 This neglect poses an increasing hazard for pedestrians, cyclists, and other road users.

Public Health team in York faces Council budget cut

Council bosses in York are planning to cut the Public Health budget next year by £33,000.

Last public health report published by the York Council

This will come as a surprise to those residents who, while recognising the good work done by the local authority health teams in recent weeks, had expected the pandemic to prompt increased investment in the service.

This would have been coupled with a “root and branch” review to ensure that the service was equipped to deal with contemporary health risks

£183,000 has, however, been allocated to cover an increase in the size of the population covered by the service.

The Council is budgeting £2.5million for COVID recovery work.

It would be a shame if this investment were to be undermined by further waves of infections whether they be COVID related or from other diseases.

The report says,

In the wake of the pandemic, the Council has stepped in where the Government has failed, including support for vulnerable residents and struggling businesses, and also with Covid-19 testing

The Council must make sure it is even better equipped in future to deal with emerging threats to the health of its residents

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

York residents face 5% Council Tax increase

Papers published today by the York Council confirm that a 4.99% increase in Council Tax levels will be implemented on 1st April.

Image result for big bill gifs

Most of the increase is being ringfenced and will be spent on social care.

  • £4.4m will be spent on the costs supporting adult social care staff and enabling residents to remain in their homes for longer.
  • £1.4m will go to support children and young people across the city, including further funding for social care staff.
Eclectic mix of ideas for spending on “Covid recovery”

£2.5m will go on creating a “Covid-19 Recovery Fund” (see above) while £1/2 million will bolster waste and street environment services (to include additional staffing on waste rounds, improved city centre cleaning and effective weed control).

There are no proposals to increase the amount invested in improving key public services like road and footpath maintenance.

£200,000 however be spent developing a new transport plan for the City.

Residents have until the end of January to return budget consultation forms. Early results may raise some eyebrows!

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