The York Council will hold a “virtual” Council meeting on 29th October. It will be the first since the start of the pandemic.
Those hoping for glimpses of firm leadership and evidence of cross party cooperation will be disappointed.
The agenda is dominated by bureaucracy.
A replacement for the long departed Chief Executive will be announced. Ian Floyd will be announced as “Chief Operating Officer” although apparently the Labour leader decided to boycott the interview process. Instead Trades Union officials observed the proceedings (and pronounced that they were satisfied with the process).
The ill-timed reorganisation of local government boundaries will take a step forward, “minor amendments” to the constitution (reducing still further accountability) will be tabled, and polling stations will be changed (and no there aren’t actually any elections scheduled).
The rest is mostly a ritual look backwards although Andy D’agorne has raised his head above the parapet on controversial transport initiatives such as the double resurfacing of Tadcaster Road, the failed Bishopthorpe Road closure and the underused Monk Bar taxi service.
Will anyone be able to nail these mistakes? We doubt that those using “Zoom” will manage to do so.
A report from the Executive member with responsibility for housing, completely fails to identify the problems with re-letting services and the growing number of empty properties.
It is not just under-used Council houses that are at issue.
Homeless people have tried to get access to long term empty properties like Willow House for temporary use, only to be “cold shouldered” by Councillors.
No mention is made of the senior management level vacancies in the housing department which have contributed to the decline in standards.
Probably what takes the biscuit though, for posturing and time wasting, is a contribution, in the form of a motion, from Labour.
It claims that it wants to see Councillors “acting responsibly and collaboratively at all times”.
It then proposes unilateral changes to delegated budgets. £100,000 would be sequestered from wards and allocated centrally in some unnamed way to “voluntary groups working with the vulnerable”.
This is not a Marcus Rashford style attempt to ease the burdens of those hit by the pandemic.
Instead it would rob the least well-off wards like Westfield of the resources needed to identify and address local needs.
One of the successes, of the Councils approach, has been the local “hubs” which have provided neighbourhood level support over the last few months. They have been supplemented by other initiatives like surplus food giveaways some of which have had financial support from some ward budgets.
In addition, the Council allocated £1.25 million to a local hardship fund earlier in the year.
Perhaps if Labour Councillors want to build up another hardship fund then they might consider donating 20% of their pay?
That would put them on a par with many workers in the City who have suffered a similar – or higher – reduction in income. Councillors are, after all, attending fewer meetings these days and their costs are therefore much reduced. Indeed, for some, this will be the first meeting they have “attended” since February.
A 20% reduction in pay across the board would produce a fund of over £100,000.
“The construction of the York Stadium Leisure Complex is practically complete but with some fairly significant works remaining to the estate highway. The core building fabric works are now complete, with only a small number of trades still working on site to progress the final stages of minor works, known in the industry as ‘snagging’”.
“For the York Stadium Leisure Complex to open to both the public, and all tenants, the Stadium must, amongst other things, gain all required safety and licence certification.
The systems test has now been held and work is now ongoing from that in order to finalise the safety certificate and safety documentation.
There are likely to be a number of financial issues and settlement of claims to resolve after the stadium is completed, that will take a number of months to resolve and these may result in some financial impact to the Council.
There are also a number of other COVID related matters to finalise however opening is still expected across the stadium and leisure site in autumn 2020”.
These comments help to explain the media comment last week which said that a York City match scheduled for next week (v Chorley on 6th October) could not take place at the stadium.
Leaving COVID restrictions aside, there is some speculation about whether Bootham Crescent can be brought back into use as it also needs to have a up to date safety certificate.
After a successful final friendly match yesterday (a 0-3 success at Notts County), City face a trip to Warrington on 3rd October. Spectators are not allowed at matches in Warrington at present (click)
Such restrictions are also likely to apply in York at the scheduled beginning of the National League North (NLN) season, with some clubs planning to “stream” matches to supporters. Such a facility requires the agreement of the broadcast license holder and of the football authorities.
We understand that Clubs have not as yet received confirmation from the government that the lost income, from playing behind closed doors matches, would be refunded. In the NLN, clubs with part time players are only liable for wages after the first game of the season has been played. So clarification is now urgently required (York City have a full time playing squad).
As for the potential additional liability on the Council, it remains unclear whether this relates solely to the floorspace which the Council agreed to underwrite, and which currently remains unlet.
If it is anything more than that, then taxpayers should be told how much the scale of the additional risk is now.
The Council has budgeted to invest £14.4 million in the project. A Section 106 (developer) contribution of £15.3 million has also been allocated.
York City FC will pay £2 million towards the £42 million total cost of the development when they sell Bootham Crescent.
The York Council has emailed residents telling them;
“22 local charities will be receiving grants of up to £15,000, each from Two Ridings Community Foundation. This is to support their essential running costs over the next six months as they respond to the continuing double whammy of increased demand, and decreased fundraising caused by the Coronavirus crisis and lockdown. This funding is part of the £750 million pot announced by the Chancellor for frontline charities across the UK during the coronavirus outbreak.
These 22 awards, totalling £328,307 brings the amount distributed by Two Ridings in the last six months to £1,541,399!”
Unfortunately, only one York organisation is benefiting from a grant in this round.
Move the Masseswill get £14,950 in funding to “improve communication/marketing re: services/projects via website & social media updates. A new part of time member of staff is required for this”.
Move the Masses have promised to start a series of “Acomb Ambles” this month.
This would be welcomed by some. The York Council sponsored “York Health Walks” were suspended 6 months ago and show no signs of restarting. That is a shame as exercise and conversation can be an important antidote to feelings of isolation and depression.
Obviously the background to the health crisis has prompted new government restrictions as part of their reaction to the “second wave”. These come into force on Monday so there will be limits on what voluntary groups will actually be permitted to do..
Nevertheless, there are other organisations which need support not least those managing community centres which are a key part of life in parts of the City.
Of the total expenditure £189,057 was spent during May.
The largest supplier was Platinum Print of Harrogate who lodged bills totalling £137,090 last month.
Royal Mail charged £6982 to deliver Council newsletters.
The Council didn’t advertise on Minster FM, the local commercial radio station. It spent £1,500 in May with “York Mix”. There were also regular payments to The York Press.
The Councils communications strategy has been criticised for being slow to get started, confusingly complex and unnecessarily repetitive. Some key information about home deliveries was never circulated.
It is likely that, when the COVID crisis is over, an inquiry into what has been spent, why and with what authority will be launched.
Anyone hoping that the Councils postCOVID strategy document would be a stimulating read may be disappointed.
A series of papers have now been published which are long on hyperbole but very short on tangible actions
Those hoping for a series of initiatives, incorporating measurable deliverables and with specific key milestones, will search in vain amongst the papers for the Executive meeting which is taking place on 25th June.
The expectation was that clear actions would be identified to take the City through the next 3 months at least. Only the half-hearted free parking initiative fits into that narrative.
Nor has any more up to date information been provided on the nature of the Councils financial crisis. The papers simply continue to wave the shroud of an £24 million – largely unspecified – shortfall.
Additional spending is proposed on;
Supporting local businesses including the tourism sector (£100,000),
“Communities Recovery” (£250,000),
Creating places in which visitors can safely return to the City (£530,000),
Changing building access and deep cleaning (£50,000) and
ICT equipment to allow continued remote working (£500,000).
There is no mention of a freeze on new expenditure.
The report merely reports windfall savings on climate change, waste services, northern forest and local transport plan. All are the result of (unavoidable) delays caused by the lock-down.
The Council says that its capital investment programme is being “reviewed”. That means that the Council is continuing to slip further and further into debt.
The Council promises that it will have a “Big Conversation” with residents over the next 12 months.
Residents may choose to opt for something a little more robust.
The Council is poised to make major changes to the plans for traffic restrictions in The Groves area which were agreed last year.
According to a report being considered at a meeting on 22nd June, additional road closures will be implemented. Some additional “on street” parking spaces will be lost.
The closures could be implemented within 2/3 weeks. The experimental traffic order would last for up to 18 months.
The revised plans include several “contraflow” cycle lanes on relatively narrow streets – a system criticised on safety grounds by some cyclists.
An expected restriction of school “drop off” arrangements has not materialised.
The Council has been reluctant to publish traffic modelling figures which would reveal the impact on congestion, journey times and pollution in this part of the City.
A large number of objections to the original plans were received by the Council. Residents were concerned about additional pollution on the longer diversion routes. Some cited difficulties with severance from key facilities like the hospital and Monks Cross. Others said that deliveries would be hampered while some local shops and businesses said that, if passing trade was lost, then they might close.
The haste to implement additional restrictions under the cloak of a COVID response will cause more general concerns. The City centre economy faces a major challenge over the next few months. Either people will return to shop there despite restrictions on public transport, or they will go elsewhere. Those measures, along with plans to close the key Castle car park, may be bad news for those retailers who are on the financial brink.
While the current lower traffic volumes may appear to be an opportunity for experiments, as we try to move out of recession, a more cautious approach is required.
The move comes on the day when the Centre for City’s releases details of how the health crisis has impacted on visitor numbers to the City centre. Not surprisingly the profile has changed radically with those travelling from the suburbs (both as shoppers and workers) now in the majority.
This will come as no surprise as foreign tourist numbers are, and are likely to remain, negligible. The next three months will be crucial for many retail and tourist businesses in the City.
The City is middle ranking so far in how well is is recovering its high street “footfall” compared to other Cities. It has a recovery index of 24 compared to the least affected (Aldershot with a score of 57 and the worst Cardiff with 11).
But it is early days and a more general return to work next Monday will tell us more.
So what needs to be done?
Clearly York’s visitor economy is going to depend, at least in the short term, on people travelling to the City from within Yorkshire. They will need to feel safe if they are to be persuaded to come.
It is vitally important therefore that such large spaces as exist in the City centre are fully utilised.
We understated that there are events planned for Parliament Street but it is less clear what use it will be made of assets like the Museum Gardens, Deans Park and the Nave of the Minster. Indeed, imaginative programming at the Minster – which could safely accommodate over a thousand people during periods of poor weather – may be vitally important in any marketing strategy.
All could potentially accommodate Arts events while maintaining social distancing rules.
The Council has already listed streets which will be pedestrianised.
Incredibly it failed to include Deangate, one of the widest streets in the City and which could – together with the Minster and Deans Park- provide an ideal events space. Events held there would complement those planned for the other side of the City to the benefit traders and attractions in the Stonegate neighbourhood.
In the longer term better use will need to be made of the river banks and the City Walls but, for a few weeks at least, the City will need to concentrate on promoting itself as a vibrant, safe and welcoming destination.
It is time now for Make it York, the Council , the theatres, museums, libraries and other organisations to publish their short and medium term regeneration proposals?
City of York Council has been indicatively allocated £173,000 to support and maintain the growth in walking and cycling seen across the city during lockdown.
The Government’s Emergency Active Travel Fund is designed to support walking and cycling as a long-term method for commuting, as the country emerges from the pandemic. To receive any allocation from the fund, the Council has to demonstrate ‘swift and meaningful plans’ to support cyclists and pedestrians in York.
This funding is the first of two phases, with the second being conditional on demonstrating how we are able to adapt the city’s infrastructure to support more active travel, and how quickly these additional measures can be delivered. City of York Council has submitted a programme of actions to support walking and cycling at key locations as alternatives to travel by bus or car.
The Council says that it is allocating the funding to the following measures:
Extensions to existing Park and Pedal facilities at the Park & Ride sites, alongside a new cycle route from Rawcliffe Park & Ride site along Shipton Road
Enhanced cycle lanes on Bootham
Improved cycle parking in the city centre
Extensions to the footstreets area
Temporary footway widening at pinch points near shops
Alterations to signal timings to reduce pedestrian queuing at city centre traffic lights.
There is no mention of any action to remove the overgrowth obstructions on foot and cycle paths which have made social distancing all but impossible particularly in sub-urban areas
The Council says that the funding will also allow The Groves’s neighbourhood traffic reduction 18-month trial to move ahead more quickly. Details of the location of the closures to prevent through-traffic are subject to a council Decision Session on 22 June, when local residents can comment on proposals and all consultation feedback will be reviewed.
This scheme has nothing to do with the COVID crisis. Some Councillors were advocating the scheme over a year ago. It looks like the Council are trying to slip it through with minimal consultation although the congestion impact figures still haven’t been published.
This work will be co-ordinated with the council’s Economic Recovery Strategy, which will be delivered over the next few months. The strategy focuses on prioritising active travel, working with bus and rail operators to ensure people can continue to use public transport with confidence and creating a more people-focussed city centre. These measures will be delivered at pace to best accelerate the recovery of the economy, allowing businesses to open safely through June, whilst protecting residents’ safety.
As schools and shops will begin a phased reopening in June, bus operators, rail operators and City of York Council are making changes to ensure that safe travel options are available for residents.
More buses and trains will be operating and appropriate health and safety measures will be in place to ensure that social distancing guidelines can be adhered to, which may mean reduced capacity on board.
To help support essential journeys, on peak times, please plan ahead and travel outside of the busiest times, particularly first thing in the morning.
Changes on board
Bus operators are putting in place new safety measures to protect staff and customers. These include reducing the number of available seats on board each bus, encouraging the wearing of face coverings, ensuring alighting passengers are clear of the bus before anyone else boards and keeping a safe distance when boarding.
Please be patient and observe all the safety measures when travelling. You should not leave your house if you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, including a high temperature, a new, continuous cough and loss or change to your sense of smell or taste. There’s lots more information on how to travel safely available online.
Customer safety information will be displayed at bus stops. When queueing please maintain a 2 metre distance between yourself and other passengers. Additional measures may be put in place at stops to manage social distancing
To help prevent unnecessary contact, please use cashless payment methods, such as contactless debit cards, smartcards or M-ticket apps wherever possible. To help support essential journeys on peak time buses, normal concessionary travel rules will apply from Monday 1 June.
Bus passes will be accepted for concessionary travel only after 9am on weekdays and at any time on weekends, with the exception of blind persons who are permitted to travel at any time of day in York.
Bus operators and the council are working to update timetables as quickly as possible. Please note that due to the short notice nature of these service changes, some timetables on journey planning websites, apps and real-time information screens may not be updated immediately. Please visit bus operator websites for the latest timetable information.
Park & Ride:
Services 2A, 7 and 9 (Rawcliffe Bar, Designer Outlet and Monks Cross) will run every 10 minutes at peak times, 15 minutes during the day and every hour during the evening. A half hourly service will be provided on Sundays
Last Park & Ride buses from the city centre will depart at 10:15pm (service 2A), 22:45 (service 7), 8:05pm (service 9, Mon-Sat) or 7pm (service 9, Sundays)
The Designer Outlet car park remains closed until further notice- service 7 is using the same stop as service 415 (on the roundabout)
Services 3, 8 and 59 (Askham Bar, Grimston Bar and Poppleton Bar P&R) will remain suspended until further notice
Further information about Park and Ride can be found online. You can also find information about how to support social distancing by using Park & Pedal from Monks Cross or Rawcliffe Bar:
A summary of all bus service changes is also available. Rail service levels are gradually being increased. Please use contactless card payments wherever possible and note that most rail services now require seat reservations before travelling. For the latest updates visit train company websites: