St Leonards Place

The media are reporting that the old Council offices in St Leonards Place may be restored for use as residential accommodation.

Ironically, if true, that would mean that the preferred use identified when the buildings were sold in 2007 would be implemented.

Labour views in 2012 click

Labour views in 2012 click

In the interim, there have been several options considered for the buildings but the impact of the recession prevented any progress.

For a time it seemed that a shared residential and hotel use would be the likely way forward but in 2012 the new Labour Council welcomed plans for what was described as a “prestige hotel”.

Labour Councillors were effusive in the Press when acclaiming the plan.

As we commented at the time, proposals to move the bus stops from outside the hotel seemed to be less than well thought through.

But the original idea to reintroduce residential accommodation into the area was right. The York Conservation Trust were one of the bidders for the property but lost out when the tenders were opened.  They had ambitious – but costly – plans to restore the properties.

The Council did well to sell the buildings at the peak of the pre recession property boom. The receipt helped to fund the move to a consolidated HQ in vacant buildings at West Offices.

The provision of residential accommodation in the Listed St Leonards Place buildings would be a bonus for the City.

There is a serious question to be answered about the change.

There are several sites earmarked for hotel developments in the City. Already a site on Holgate Road has been abandoned while the former Haymarket car park – sold off partly for hotel use at the low point in the recession by a less than erudite Council Leadership – is also stalled.

The Council needs to be realistic and focus its support on those hotel sites which are both commercially viable and which can contribute sustainable jobs to the local economy.

In that respect the key site must be that next to the Barbican which could help to sustain the important conference trade in the City.

More and more residents contacting the York Council as Smarter York “App” fails

Lunched amidst a blaze of publicity 18 months ago an “App”, that was supposed to transform the way that residents communicate with the Council, has flopped.

Council Leaders in London looking for an "App" 2 years ago.

Council Leaders in London looking for an “App” 2 years ago.

The Smarter York mobile phone “App” allowed residents to report an incident – including a photo – straight into the Councils contact handing system. The “App” cost £8000 to develop.

It ran into problems with the Data Protection Act in October of last year

Now figures released by the Council have revealed that only 200 reports were made using the “App” between April and September 2013.

That is only 0.07% of the total number of contacts from York residents.

Last year 321 residents used the system during the equivalent period.

Many of the reports are understood to have been made by Council staff during the course of their normal duties.

During the same 6 month period, other residents used the following channels to contact the Council.

  • Telephone 183,385 (2012 – 140,851)
  • Personal visit 60,841 (36,528)
  • Email: 32,106 (22,034)
  • “Do it on line” (council web site) – 7848 (7778)

The figures show a 37% increase in the number of customers contacting the York Council this year.

This will be deeply worrying for the Council, Leadership who anticipated that changing customer preferences would see a big shift to using electronic means to contact the Council.

Electronic transactions cost a fraction of the expense incurred in dealing with personal callers.

The whole business case for the new Council HQ was based on assumption that heavy investment in state of the art IT facilities would reduce day to day running costs for the Council.

This appears, so far, not to be the case.

The period covered was a time when residents were besieging the Council with complaints about revised bin emptying arrangements and new traffic restrictions in the City centre.

Meanwhile the Smarter York App needs to be upgraded to cover more public service areas.

In that respect at least, it has fallen far behind proprietary web based reporting tools such as “My Council”  and “Fix my Street”.