A Council meeting next week (14th June) will receive an update on plans to replace the Castle car park with an events space.
Contrary to expectations, most of the area would continue to be hard-surfaced. There is provision for a Pagoda style shelter. The useable space is rather less than can be found on the other side of the road in Tower Gardens.
More extensive changes are planned for the Eye of York – which would effectively become become “the rectangle of York” with space being made available for outdoor museum exhibitions.
The report recommends that “the new public realm at the Castle and Eye of York forms part of the council’s funding bid to central government’s Levelling Up Fund, applications for which close on 18 June 2021″.
The new apartments being built at Castle Mills can’t be occupied before the Castle car park is closed according to a (frankly perverse) planning condition. The Castle car park can’t close until replacement parking has been provided. The Planning Committee has so far refused to approve the provision of a replacement car park.
We expect central government to start reducing its capital spending and borrowing shortly. We doubt whether “nice to have” schemes will get priority over essential infrastructure investment..
No updated business plan is being presented to the meeting next week.
NB. The Council has made no progress on the £5.9 million scheme to redevelop the site currently occupied by “Spark”. They are under pressure to sell the site and use the receipt to avoid unnecessary borrowing which otherwise would be necessary to fund the Castle Mills/car park part of the project.
The Council has agreed that English Heritage can use part of the Castle Car Park as a building compound over then next few months.
The decision comes as a £4.7 million contract starts which will see external works to Clifford’s Tower including improvements to handrails for existing access stair up the motte, introduction of resting places to the sides of the stairs, internal works within the Tower to include the installation of new staircase, tower floor, walkways, balustrade, plaza and roof deck.
£900K will be spent on the public realm.
English Heritage still plan on providing a hard landscaped plaza with street furniture, in front of the steps leading to the Tower. This would result in the loss of 5 car parking spaces.
A small Piaggio vehicle will be parked there and used as a ticket and information guide point,
We’re not entirely convinced that the Councils “Castle Gateway” plans, which would see the car park grassed over, are quite as urgent as some might wish residents to believe.
The economic impact of losing so many conveniently located car parking spaces has never been properly evaluated (whether a replacement multi storey is built on St Georges Field or not).
Any assumptions made were clearly pre pandemic. Some reassessment is surely needed before millions more of taxpayers money is committed.
The Council have, however, now published a schematic which shows what some apparently want to see done in the area.
The Council has issued the following media release
City of York Council has shared the emerging plans for new public space in one of York’s most historic and important areas – and wants residents to keep shaping the proposals.
The draft sketch from designers BDP imagines how the area could meet residents ambitions for the public space to replace Castle Car Park, while still meeting the current and future needs of the museum, the courts and the Coppergate Centre.
It shows how people could move around, a mix of soft and hard surfaces, a location for events, how to open up the river Foss, and how water and family-friendly play spaces can be created.
The council has worked with local partners My Future York to put residents’ views at the heart of plans to transform the car park, Eye of York and the wider area.
The extensive My Castle Gateway engagement has provided a public brief for the community space and connected residents to the designers BDP as they bring those ideas to life. Anyone can catch up with the story so far in this blog on the My Castle Gateway website.
This feedback will then allow detailed proposals and options to be developed and shared with the public through the spring, with a planning application to be submitted in the summer.
Residents are invited to join the conversation on social media or through the next phase of My Castle Gateway events. Visit the blog and get involved onTwitter and Facebook.
The My Castle Gateway public engagement has already led to bold plans being put forward to transform the area, including creating community and business space on Piccadilly, new walkways and cycle-routes, and a bridge over the Foss.
The public realm work is moving ahead after the council secured planning permission for a multi-storey car park and public space on St George’s Field, and a residential development and pedestrian and cycle bridge over the Foss at Castle Mills.
The council is committed to providing parking to replace the closure of Castle Car Park, and will retain Blue Badge parking on Tower Street. Work has been delayed on the multi-storey car park in order to better understand the impact of COVID and carry out further engagement with blue badge holders within the development of the Local Transport Plan.
Councillor Nigel Ayre, Executive Member for Finance and Performance, said:
We want the Castle area to be a place all our residents love to spend time, to interpret its history and make fantastic memories.
“Our commitment to quality public engagement has allowed us to deliver where decades of other proposals failed.
“These are ideas in response to what residents have told us. And they ask even more important questions, like whether the mix of uses is right, and whether the Eye of York should stay as it is or become an open air museum or exhibition space?
“We want residents to help answer those questions so please take a look and get involved in the conversation.”
“Events bring residents ideas to life on public spaces”
The Council has issued the following statement about (still more) consultation events about the future of the Eye of York and the Castle car park area. The Council is pursuing its “world class open space” vision which involves the closure of York’s best used car park.
The current concern is that if people shun the City centre, or it simply becomes a regional “playground”, then we could end up with a world class empty space.
The Council is currently waiting to see whether central government will stump up the cost of the project.
An announcement is expected towards the end of next week. One of the designs that has been leaked suggests that a highly imaginative approach can be expected.
The Council says “My Castle Gateway continues to put residents views at the heart of plans to transform the car park, Eye of York and the wider area.
Run in partnership with local group My Future York, it has led to bold plans being put forward to transform the area, including creating community and business space on Piccadilly, new walkways and cycle-routes, and a bridge over the Foss.
The engagement approach returns this month, as designers BDP explore the options for the world class public space around Clifford’s Tower and Eye of York.
Residents are invited to join the conversation on social media or attend online events to explore options to deliver some of the big themes from the community brief:
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.
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.
The decision of the York Councils planning committee to delay a decision, on a plan to replace the Castle Car park with a multi storey alternative at St Georges Field, throws into contrast the conflicting policies of the present Council.
The multi-story option emerged after nearly 2 years of public agonising. £2.2 million has already been spent on design work, consultants fees and consultation costs. The resulting plan didn’t suit everyone (including us) but it did present a way forward.
Multi storey car parks are usually ugly, there can be security issues, they concentrate vehicle movements onto limited sections of the road network and – in the case of the St Georges Field site – park visitors to far away from their ultimate destinations whether that be shops, work or hospitality outlets.
The Council had submitted its planning application despite already acknowledging that changes to the Castle car might have to wait until the, Coronavirus prompted recession, has eased.
No great problem.
The Castle car park has been there for decades and it is the parking location of first choice for many shoppers and visitors. In July and August this summer it was rammed full.
Now a Planning Committee has rejected the St Georges Field plan by 8 votes to 7. The key vote was cast by Cllr J Barker a hitherto low profile LibDem Councillor from Poppleton. The same meeting also deferred consideration of a new housing scheme on the former Castle Mills car park site.
That car park was lost to general use over a year ago and is still unavailable.
Like the odd decision last year, when Labour Councillors bounced the Council into pledging to stop through traffic from using Lendal Bridge, the impracticalities and contradictions in policy now threatened the economic recovery of the City.
The Council has said it will spend £40,000 consulting on the future of car parking in the City centre. If it appoints consultants to undertake the exercise then they will come under pressure from sectional interest groups including the “folksy fringe” who really don’t want any city centre car parking provision at all.
Personal transport remains the preferred mode for getting around for many people. Post COVID, cycling levels have fallen and public transport use has collapsed.
Meanwhile the number of City centre shops going into administration is creeping upwards.
The beginning of the new year – traditionally a poor time of year for traders – may see even more businesses facing ruin.
Some consistency from the York Council is required to avoid an economic collapse
A report on the Castle Gateway regeneration project published today says that the scheme should go ahead but it says, “there are no plans to close Castle Car Park until suitable replacement parking is available”.
However, the construction of a multi-story alternative on the St George site will be shelved.
The Council’s Executive are being recommended to agree to the “recommencement of the paused procurement of a construction contractor to undertake the design and subsequent construction of the proposed apartments, pedestrian/cycle bridge and riverside park at Castle Mills”
They’re also being asked to approve the design and submission of planning applications for a “high quality public realm scheme on Castle Car Park and Eye of York” while a decision on the future of the site at 17-21 Piccadilly – currently the home of the Spark container village – will be delayed until next summer.
The immediate additional financial commitment for the Council will be £1.5 million. In total the project cost – which was to be funded by borrowing – was £46 million. This would generate additional interest payments of around £1 million per year which would have to come out of what is now an overcommitted revenue budget.
In effect, there will be further cuts in public service standards across the City.
It was hoped that the borrowing would be paid off through the sale of flats which would be built on the former Castle Mills car park site. However, there was still a funding deficit of £4.7 million and no resources were allocated for turning the Castle car park into “a world class open space”.
The Castle car park provides over £1 million a year in income for the Council.
The Council has already spent £2.2 million on consultation and design activities for the project.
The report fails to put the scheme costs into the context of the overall Council capital and revenue budget position.
An oddly detached from reality section of the report claims that the “Castle Gateway masterplan is a “significant opportunity to drive the city’s response to Covid-19 due to the:
Focus on sustainable transport to create new key pedestrian and cycle routes
Reduction of vehicle journeys inside the inner ring road through the closure of Castle car park
Creation of significant new public realm
Enhanced cultural and heritage offer and the creation of a new major event space – building on the city’s unique selling points and expanding the capacity to attract responsible tourism to support the city’s economy
Regeneration and investment in rundown parts of the city Development of new city centre homes, including new affordable and council housing
Capacity to reinvigorate the economy by supporting jobs in the construction sector”
So we have the Benito Mussolini solution to unemployment emerging. Borrowing to fund massive public works contracts which – in the case of the bridge and park – will have no short-term economic benefits (other than perhaps for a handful of the green socialist, city centre dwelling, elite).
Businesses dependent on those who choose to use, because of the health crisis, personal transport when they visit the City, will lose out.
We need to be careful with our commentary.
“El Duce” gained a reputation for having errant stationmasters shot if trains didn’t run on time.
The lowest risk part of the scheme maybe the construction of the blocks of flats. Maybe that could continue, even though rising unemployment, and reducing business rate income, could compromise the Council’s ability to service the planned borrowing.
On balance, the Council really should decide to pause the project for 18 months and review it when the health crisis is over.
A lot is riding on the future of the City centre economy this week as most shops are now reopening. Shopper numbers yesterday were modest – broadly comparable to the numbers that you might have seen on the streets on a Monday in February.
This may step up as the week progresses and residents realise the choice that is available and that car parking space is easy to find (the Council have not discounted parking charges yet).
The reopening of pubs, cafes, libraries and hairdressers – and a loosening of public transport restrictions – would also bring a boost to visitor numbers although such changes are still some time away. It may be even longer before some major visitor and cultural attractions open their doors.
It will also be a few days before “footfall” figures are available (assuming that the cameras have been switched back on).
Generally, “social distancing” was being observed well by those visitors who did venture out. The City centre is clean and uncluttered. Buskers are out and about again but it will require the authorities to commission background entertainment if a “buzz” is to return to the pedestrian areas.
“The York council has been approached by an event and production company, Thesus, to seek its permission to locate the BBC CBeebies themed children’s rainbow adventure experience within part of Castle car park between 9th September and 6th October 2020.
It is intended that the facility will be provided in various locations across the UK through a road show and York has been chosen as one of the preferred destinations.
The facility will provide a hosted children’s experience providing a CBeebies branded soft play and learning adventure experience.
The council is charging an income which it will obtain up front and which is in line with anticipated income it would receive from the parking spaces that the facility will occupy.
The proposal follows similar events held on the Castle Car Park, such as the Rose Theatre. It also adheres to the aspirations of the Castle Gateway project which identifies the site as a future events space and for which the Council are trialling different uses upon”.
The Council is currently building a multi storey replacement for the Castle car park. It is unlikely to be finished before the end of the year,