Empty Monks Cross restaurants could cost taxpayers £1.4 million

The Community Stadium saga has taken a new turn, with the Council admitting that it may not get the full £3.8 million which the developer has promised to pay for land allocated for three restaurants.

The units are unlet and if they remain so on the opening date, then the Council could receive £1.4 million less for its interest.

June 2019 Council report

The Council says that discussions are ongoing with several potential tenants.

A report the Councils Executive confirms that building work on the stadium should be completed in September. The buildings would then be handed over to the operators who will be responsible for obtaining a safety certificate. The Council claims that it still opens the stadium will be operational in October but that seems optimistic to many observers.

In the meantime, the Knights Rugby team continue to play their matches at Bootham Crescent. The Council plans to increase their subsidy to the club from £30,000 to £45,000 to compensate for the delays in moving to Monks Cross.

The stadium project cost £22.6 million during the 2018/19 financial year

York Council to sell Bootham Row car parking spaces

New threat to sell off Council housing land

Land at Bootham Row to be sold

The York Council’s Executive is being recommended to sell off 5 car parking spaces at Bootham Row car park. The land (see map) also accommodates motorcycle parking.

The Council is hoping to raise £155,000 from a local developer who hopes to remodel 27 Bootham.

The car parking spaces generate over £7000 a year for taxpayers

Coming at a time when pressure on City centre car parks is being blamed for the accelerating decline in the City centre retail economy, the plan is bound to raise eyebrows. It is reminiscent of the plan, hatched in 2011 by the then Labour led Council administration, which proposed to sell off the nearby Union Terrace car park. That idea collapsed after being heavily criticised by both residents and traders.

Housing land sale

More alarming is the publication of a lofty document which seeks to justify a new “Asset Management Strategy”. It is due to be discussed by the Council’s Executive on 28th September.

The report claims that the last strategy, launched in 2011, has been a success.

Amongst the credulous statements that Councillors are being asked to believe, are claims that that the York Central and Castle Gateway sites “have been made more economically active” (In fact very little progress has been made on either project over the last 6 years).

The report goes on to claim that older people’s accommodation has been improved. Again, the reality is that the project is running 4 years behind schedule.

Sanderson House community centre

Most bizarre is a claim that leasing community centres to local organisations  “have allowed voluntary groups to flourish, increase activity, improve outcomes and attract external funding”. The reality, at least at the two community centres in the Westfield area, is that volunteers have been given a crushing burden to handle with minimal Council support.  Most ad hoc leisure events at the centres have stopped with most bookings now being from third parties (which the management committees have to accept simply to pay for running costs)

The Council has similarly jettisoned its commitment to many local sports facilities.

The report talks vaguely of joint use arrangement with other public-sector providers such as GPs.

It seems likely that the Council intends to target staff who work in neighbourhood buildings potentially repeating the disastrous policy – from a customer service perspective – of closing facilities like the Acomb Housing office and the Beckfield Lane recycling centre.

Derelict site behind Acomb Explore Library

The report says that 5 (unidentified) Housing department owned sites will either be sold or freed up for redevelopment.

The report pointedly fails to identify the location of these sites.

There are of course pieces of Council owned land which are crying out for development.

These include the land to the rear of the Acomb Library, which was schedule as an extension providing “one stop shop” facilities – with residential accommodation above – over 8 years ago.

We are still waiting to see some progress.

Council refuses to test market on surplus land sales.

The worrying trend, where the York Council fails to put surplus assets (mainly land and property) on the open market, looks set to continue.

There were a lot of raised eyebrows last year when the Council chose to sell land at Hungate for a knock down price. They claimed that this was necessary in order to attract Hiscox insurers to the City.

The trend continued earlier this year when they decided to deal direct with a leaseholder in Redness Street while the adjacent landowner is being given first refusal of the vacated St Anthony’s House office site.

Now we understand that Oliver House may also be sold (or leased) in December without ever reaching the open market.

The Councillor responsible for these decisions was questioned at the Council meeting recently.

 Oliver House

Oliver House

He accepted that professional valuations placed on Council assets in the past had substantially under-estimated their real value. This had become apparent on properties such as the Bonding Warehouse and the Edmund Wilson pool site when open market bids greatly exceeded expectations.

However he wouldn’t give an assurance that open market bids would be invited for all upcoming property sales.

The question asked was:

Question: In the light of the new buoyancy in the York development market place, will the Cabinet Member agree that all sales of Council property and land will be subject to a competitive process which maximises the receipt that is available for the taxpayer?”

Cllr Williams responded, “Of course the default position should be to go to the open market. However, there will always be some situations where it makes financial and economic sense not to stick to that default position and not to have a competitive process. This should be if it is felt that one organisation has a special interest in a site and would pay a premium above the going market rate to obtain the site. An example of this would be a sitting leaseholder who wishes to buy the freehold. To have a blanket policy would simply expose the council to potentially not maximising the use of assets.”

Councils have a legal duty to get the best value that they can in their financial dealings.

If they don’t then the District Auditor can be asked to investigate.