York City centre traders desperate for good Christmas

tourist-numbers-2016

Visitor numbers were down in September

It’s nearly a year since flooding brought chaos to parts of the York City centre.

Recovery has been slow with visitor numbers down as recently as September (right).

……but there are some encouraging signs.

City centre car parks have been well used this month and particularly over the last few days.

The Castle car park was full again today.

However there is little sign that the York Council has got the message and improved its “on street” and “on line” parking availability information.

 

St Nicholas Fair has been popular this year

St Nicholas Fair has been popular this year

Those who do find a space will find that the St Nicholas Fair is busy.

After a poor start, the “Make it York” organisation, working with the “Business Improvement District” (BID) team, have done a better job this year.

There is something for everyone – including traditional children’s rides in Kings Square – although not everyone will be impressed by the reliance on alcohol sales in Parliament Street.

run-down-city-13th-dec-2016

Some parts of the City Centre are looking neglected

Some parts of the city centre are looking run down.

Coney Street – once the most popular shopping street in the City – has more than its fair share of empty properties since BHS closed its doors.

The Council is also guilty of neglecting some of its street furniture and signs.

Here hopefully the Civic Trusts “York Enhancement Fundwill help to redress the balance. We hope that more people will buy Ron Cooke’s thought provoking book “Changing the Face of the City” . The proceeds go to improving the City

city-centre-christmas-lights….and the lighting on the Bar walls has been acclaimed by many visitors this year.

2016 may yet go down as the year when things turned for the better in the York  retail economy

 

York car parking chaos – time to act

Saturdays traffic log jam in the City was partly down to lack of information about car parking space availability.

The Council’s “on line” site http://www.yorklive.info/ still does not provide the kind of information that was available 15 years ago, we – together with many other Cities – had a system which showed the total number of spaces at car parks and the number of spaces that were free at each.

Council web site

Council web site

The web site is still available (click here) but it is not updated and indeed contains details of car parks which no longer exist, while the number of spaces at others is clearly wrong. It currently advises users that the Leeman Road “commuter” car park has -1 spaces.

The “on line” system has not worked properly since the Council moved offices 4 years ago,

Street information boards on the arterial roads, that indicated where parking space could be found, have also been removed.

The result is that large numbers of cars circle the City looking for parking spaces – adding unnecessarily to congestion and pollution levels.

By now the City should have a system linked with satellite navigation services which would guide drivers to the nearest available free space. Far from moving forward with this kind of the improvement, the Council seems to be heading backwards into the mid twentieth century.

Once popular car parks like the 290 space Piccadilly multi storey have seen usage fall since the space available signs were withdrawn

The Council may be reluctant to publicise car parks in the city centre as it – understandably – wants to encourage the use of park and ride, but it needs to make a policy statement quickly on what it is doing, and what it plans to do in the future, to deal with demand peaks.

The Council makes over £2 million a year “profit” on car parking in the City. It would be well advised to plough some of this back into resurfacing the car parks and providing 21st century standards of information.

Hopefully they will be able to do something before the two busiest days of the year (the Saturday before Christmas and Christmas Eve) when pressure on spaces will peak.

York Council aiming to privatise its £5 million a year car parking operation

It looks like the Council will be going into partnership with the private sector in an attempt to optimise use of its City centre car parks.

The car parking efforts of the Council have been criticised in recent years with several including the popular Castle Car Park needing resurfacing.

Castle short stay car park

Castle car park

Charges nearly doubled for residents  during the  four years when Labour were in office  although a price freeze for 2016 was recently announced.

A candid report, being considered at a meeting on 11th February, admits that the Council lacked the expertise to operate the “pay on foot” trial at the Marygate car park. The trial was forced on the Council by some commercial interests and might have had a better chance of success had the equipment been installed under cover at the Fossgate shoppers car park.

The Marygate trial was heavily criticised by taxpayers as the barriers and other equipment frequently failed costing over £50,000 in lost revenue.

Despite this, officials are recommending that the trial be continued.

Extension of “pay on foot” to other car parks would be one of the objectives listed for a new “joint venture company” which would see the Council link up with a professional car park company.

 If approved, it would mean yet another Quango running a key public service in the City.

NCPSeveral other options for the future management of the car parks are listed. They include selling off, what has been a cash cow for taxpayers, to the private sector although this is discounted as it would remove the Councils ability to influence traffic patterns and Park and Ride use.

NCP already run two car parks in York (Tanner Row and Piccadilly) while Q-Park operate the Shambles and Kent Street (Barbican) car parks.

The Council says that it hopes some existing privately run car parks can be incorporated into the new contract.  

Car park charges set to be frozen in York

 Castle Car Park ()Car park charges look set to be frozen across York to “help local businesses bounce back after the Boxing Day floods”.

Leaders of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Executive have announced plans to freeze charges in council-run car parks as part of next month’s 2016/17 Budget.

This means prices will be unchanged for the next 12 months at car parks including Castle, Foss Bank, Marygate, Monk Bar, Piccadilly, and St George’s Field.

Recent trends under Labour - click to enlarge

Recent trends under Labour – click to enlarge

The freeze will be  the first since the Council was led by the LibDems in the period up to 2011.

Car parking charges were held in check by that administration for a record seven years.

When Labour came to power, they introduced large increases. Over their four years in office, some charges nearly doubled.

In the end, the law of diminishing returns meant that the Councils parking income actually fell.

Although the freeze is likely to be generally welcomed, it fails to address immediate concerns.

We suggested a few days ago that the Council should reduce the charges at its Foss Bank “shoppers” car park at least until the end of March. 

Unfortunately this idea has not been followed up.

Instead the City of York Council has confirmed that it will contribute £50,000 to a new UK-wide campaign to promote York. Tourism bosses in the city say this will be their biggest ever marketing campaign as work continues to promote York following the floods.
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York Council Car parks: detailed income figures published

Following concerns about declining use of City centre car parks, the York Council has published details of the monthly income that it is receiving from each.

Car park income Nov 2015

In total the York Council receives over £5 million from off street car parking charges each year. 

Recent reports pointed to a “below budget” performance which was partially blamed on unreliable barrier equipment installed in July 2014  at the Marygate car park. The detailed figures now published, suggest that the 12 month rolling average income for Marygate saw use of the facility decline until as recently as August of this year.

It has yet to return to pre-barrier levels of use.

The Council’s policy on charging has been heavily criticised over recent years with the, then Labour controlled, Council imposing huge increases in prices – particularly for residents. A paid for “Minster Badge” was introduced but this has failed to attract the expected number of purchasers.

These factors were blamed for a decline in use – and the migration of shoppers to out of town retail outlets.

The Council  is set to review its parking policy at a meeting being held on 28th January  Before that, in December, it is expected to set its parking charges for the forthcoming financial year.

Residents only parking scheme for Nunthorpe Grove

In a behind closed doors decision the Council has decided to implement a resident’s only parking scheme in Nunthorpe Grove.

BehindClosedDoors 2015A poll of local residents in the summer had found 16 householders supported the plan while 14 were opposed.

Only 55% of ballot papers were returned.

Implementation of the plan will cost around £1000. Anyone living in the street who wants to park on the street will typically pay £93 a year for a permit.

Nunthorpe Grove falls within the Micklegate Ward (not the Guildhall ward as the Councils background paper incorrectly claimed).

Residents will have a final opportunity to object to the plan when amendments to a traffic regulation order are published.

“Southern Gateway” rebranding for Castle/Piccadilly development

It looks like the York Council may be about to try to revive the Castle/Piccadilly development project.

An item on their forward programme suggests that a rebranded “Southern Gateway” scheme will be considered at a meeting taking place on 24th September

Cliffords Tower

Cliffords Tower

The project has historically involved an area of land bordered by Piccadilly, Coppergate, Clifford Street and the inner ring road. It includes the former tram depot/airspeed factory, the Castle car park and Piccadilly House.  There is some speculation that the area under consideration may be extended further long the banks of the Foss to tap the burgeoning growth now taking place in the Hungate area.

The Council – which owns car parking land in the potential development area – has attempted on two previous occasions to bring forward comprehensive redevelopment proposals for the land. The last failed following a Public Inquiry some 12 years ago. In the main, criticisms reflected the impact that the development might have on Clifford’s Tower.

In the interim much of the property on Piccadilly – and particularly the area facing the Foss – have remained semi derelict. Periodically land owners have tried to get planning permission to develop the area in a piecemeal fashion but this has been resisted. One developer (LaSalle) went bust and any redevelopment stalled when the recession hit in 2008. The absence of an agreed Local Plan has not helped.

With residential property prices in the City Centre now soaring, this may now be a good time to revive the process needed to agree a new comprehensive development plan.

Former airspeed factory (also used as a tram depot and garage)

Former airspeed factory (also used as a tram depot and garage)

A mixture of ground floor retail with apartments above may just prove to be attractive to developers. There is likely to be pressure to include a new heritage attraction possibly making use of the historic links to the old airspeed factory (currently being demolished). The retention of adequate car parking will be seen as  essential by many retailers and the idea of putting some of it underground may be worth further consideration.  A pedestrian bridge over the Foss has been a recurring theme of previous proposals and would help internal circulation around the site.

Whether the York Council now has the capacity to provide a credible lead on such a major project remains to be seen. It is already deeply in debt and the new Executive’s revised budget continues to reflect the increased borrowing assumptions of their predecessors.

There also remains a question about the skills mix and experience of a workforce that has been scaled down over recent years and which is already struggling to deliver major projects like the Community Stadium, Guildhall and York Central.

Still a Masterplan for the future of this very significant site is needed, so we look forward to the publication of the latest set of ideas.

Plea for disabled parking space in Foxwood

A disabled resident is still waiting for a disabled parking space to be marked out, on a parking area in Spurr Court in the Foxwood estate, 6 months after requesting assistance

Parking area in Spurr Court

Parking area in Spurr Court

Council sign has been criticised as "meaningless"

Council sign has been criticised as “meaningless”

There is space for about 8 vehicles in the parking area but they quickly fill up at weekends.

This leaves a local disabled person having, on occasions, to walk over 1/2 mile from the nearest available parking spot

Liberal Democrat candidates in the Council elections on May 7th have agreed to ask for a “disabled only” bay to be marked out as a matter of priority.

The affected resident lives in one of 3 bungalows in the area which does not have a carriageway either to the front or rear of the property.

 

Car park signage criticised

St. Leonards Place car park

St. Leonards Place car park

Some motorists have been confused by the signing at the entrance to the – now privately run – car park on St Leonards Place. Several have thought that the entrance had been moved as part of the Exhibition Square refurbishment, although this isn’t the case.

For a Conservation Area the signs are borderline intrusive anyway.

Users of the car park find that they are expected to pay up to £12 to park. Unfortunately the operators – a Leeds based company – allow only cash payments for tickets.

Parking machines at St. Leonards Place car park. click to enlarge

Parking machines at St. Leonards Place car park. click to enlarge

It is several years since the Council made credit card and “pay by phone” options available at its central car parks.

There is also no parking available for those with disabled badges although it is the most central facility for those accessing most of the shops in the city centre.

This is a good location for cycle parking facilities and it would have been worth the Council continuing to operate the car park facilities until the apparently endless saga over the future of the adjacent office block is finally settled.

There is no sign of work commencing on site despite the council announcing a development scheme almost 3 years ago.

The Council is also remaining tight lipped about the planned hotel at the Barbican site which is now 4 years behind schedule.

York Council heading for £1.3 million overspend?

A report being considered next week suggests that the York Council could over spend its budget this year by £1.3 million.

Coppergate - York Council failure, to win appeal against unlawful fines issue, could plunge it into a financial crisis

Coppergate – York Council failure, to win appeal against unlawful fines issue, could plunge it into a financial crisis

The – much delayed – half year report does not include any deficit which may arise from outstanding issues on the Coppergate/Lendal bridge fine refund policy.

Other areas of concern identified in the report include

  • Waste There is a forecast overspend of £98k due to lower than budgeted income from commercial waste, £100k shortfall in income from garden waste subscription, £100k due to the forecast shortfall in dividend from Yorwaste and £233k pressure at Household Waste and Recycling Centres primarily due to lower than expected income from charges
  • Car Parking There is a continued shortfall from parking income (£408k) and “ongoing monitoring will be required to assess the impact of the current parking initiatives, including the charges for Minster Badges, the free parking introduced in late June and pay-on-exit at Marygate”.
  • Social Care There is a significant projected overspend of £864k within the Elderly Persons Homes budgets.

A separate report identifies problems with the Councils capital investment programme.

Failure to move ahead with the reuse of the Guildhall means that £350,000 of “critical” repairs will now be needed.

And a major problem is arising with the Councils existing Elderly Persons Homes. These were supposed to have closed by now having been replaced by the new care village at Lowfields. But that project is 3 years behind schedule and the existing buildings will need to be patched up at a cost of £500,000!

 The report ominously warns “existing EPH’s are currently in need of renovation, some aspects of which are threatening their ability to pass Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection”.