Another sports facility to close in Westfield?

Kingsway West all weather football pitch

Council officials are pressing for the neighbourhoods only Multi User Games Area (MUGA) to be permanently closed

The MUGA is located off Kingsway West and was provided at the same time as the Hob Moor school was rebuilt in 2004. It was hailed as one of the community facilities that the PFI funded new build school would unlock. It proved to be the only causal use facility provided on the campus, with other facilities like the nursery later closing.

Initially the MUGA was to have been located within the school perimeter fence. It would have been secured by caretaking staff when not in use. Following pressure from the PFI contractors the MUGA became a stand-alone facility accessible outside school hours.

It satisfied the demand for “kick about” facilities to the east of Gale Lane.

Initially it was successful with detached youth workers staging events there. However, the then Labour controlled Council shredded the youth service following budget cuts in 2013. The organised use of the MUGA ceased. Calls for the Ward Committee to fund events there failed to get off the ground.

An experiment in leaving the area open resulted in arson damage to the all-weather surface which was never repaired. The service access gate was also damaged and not reinstated by the Council.

It is now little used and often strewn with litter and detritus.

Council consultation card Sept 2018

Yet there is still a demand for play and sports facilities for use by children in the area. The nearest alternative is the Energise (Better) sports centre on Cornlands Road which is run on a commercial basis.

Typically the cost of hiring an all weather pitch for a match is around £50.

Now officials are consulting on replacing the MUGA with other structures. They suggest wooden climbing frames, tree planting and better lighting.

There is a demand for better play facilities in the area but not at the expense of existing sports facilities.

We have already seen the Our Lady’s sports field developed and more recently plans have been approved to build on the football pitch at Lowfields. The Hob Moor school playing field will be reduced in size and an application to build on the Acomb Bowling Green is being considered by the Council.

Officials promised that, as part of the Lowfields scheme, pitches on Chesney’s Field would be levelled and upgraded. But the football season* has started without any sign of improvement.

The Council acknowledge that there is already a deficiency in sports and green space provision in the Westfield area. The Councils own Local Plan identifies the existing shortfalls as 4.98 ha of outdoor sports facilities, 6.02 ha of children’s play and 2.86 ha of young persons facilities.

Life expectancy in the Westfield ward is lower than in other parts of York. This is partly put down to unhealthy lifestyles.

Council run consultation exercises were discredited by the Lowfields fiasco. Rather than asking people to record a vote in favour or in opposition to multiple options, the exercise depended on narrative responses.

These were easy to manipulate by official’s intent on justifying a particular outcome.

This must not happen again.

There is a demand for “off the streets” activities for young people. Facilities like the MUGA – if well maintained and promoted – can make a difference. The plans for the new children’s centre on Ascot Way could also unlock the potential for better play facilities for younger children.

But all age groups need to be catered for.

*NB. The Beagle FC beat Cawood 4-0 in their Chesney Field encounter on Saturday

York Council sports and open space need assessments

York Council’s investment programme slipping into crisis

Major delays on housing modernisation, Guildhall repairs and transport improvements

Executive report 30th Aug 2018

A report to a meeting taking place on Thursday suggests reducing this year’s capital investment programme by £33 million.

The slippage includes major tenant choice housing modernisation works as the Council has failed to appoint a contractor to carry on the programme. No explanation of the programme failure is offered. The delays could affect other works including those dealing with standing water under homes and upgrades to water mains. These issues have not been publicly reported to the Councillor who has Executive responsibility for housing

The Council does still hope to make a start on controversial building schemes at Newbury Avenue (Autumn 2018) and the £22.5 million Lowfields scheme (Spring 2019).

The report claims that £748,000 “approved by the Executive in December 2016 for Lowfield sports facilities” will be spent, thus perpetuating the myth that the new football pitches being provided near Bishopthorpe are in some way linked to the Lowfields redevelopment.

There are also delays on several major transport infrastructure schemes.

Improvements to the northern by-pass (basically bigger roundabouts) will slip into 2019/20 as will a start on the new York Central access road from Water End.

Guildhall “business case” March 2017

Work on refurbishing the Guildhall will also be delayed with nearly £10 million slipping as a start on site is not now expected before summer 2019. Reopening is unlikely before 2021.

The Guildhall remains closed to the public and is not used now even for Council meetings. Even an empty Guildhall costs taxpayers about £330 a day with much if it going on Business Rates, heating, energy and security. To that should be added the cost of hiring alternative premises for Council meetings and the additional repair costs that inevitably arise when an old building is left empty for an extended period of time.

The Community Stadium work is “progressing on timetable’. However, £5.8 million in contract  payments are being slipped from 2018/19 to 2019/20.

The Council still expects to invest around £124 million during the present financial year.

Lowfields – Residents hit back at Planning Councillors

The area to be built on has increased – and open space provision reduced – every time a new plan has been drawn up by officials

The Save Lowfields Playing Field Action Group have written to the Government Minister with responsibility for Planning asking him to “call in” the planning application to develop the sports field at Lowfields.

The proposal was approved by the Council’s Executive in July and two formal applications were debated by the same authorities planning committee last week. Two Councillors serve on both committees. They have been criticised for not declaring their interest.

There are procedures in place which seek to ensure that a Council is not judge and jury on planning applications for land that it owns. For many years there was a protocol in place which discouraged Councillors from taking places on both the Executive committee and the Planning committee. That safeguard seems to have been abandoned by the current administration.

What will come of this remains to be seen but is the latest in a series of controversial moves by the Council over this land.

A scheme for a care village gained widespread approval when it was tabled early in 2011. But the Council failed to implement the plan and the former school site lay abandoned for 7 years.  The expectation had been that only the “built footprint” of the school would be developed, but this changed when the then Tory leader of the Council, David Carr, appointed a “no win no fee” consultant to push through a large-scale redevelopment.

The consultant was only paid if he achieved milestones with his final payment depending on the planning application being successful. The large payments potentially involved  were revealed in a response to a Freedom of Information  request (ref: FT/5995) in February 2017. .

David Carr is also a member of the Planning Committee. He also did not declare an interest at last weeks meeting

Consultation results were manipulated by officials eager to demonstrate that the local community was in favour of the plans. This was done by lobbying supporters of one element of the scheme (communal housing).  They were encouraged to back the scheme by visiting the  Acomb Library and filling in comment forms or by doing so on line.

The Council didn’t ask residents which parts of the scheme they favoured and which they opposed.

A door to door survey by local Councillors revealed that residents supported the plans for the east of the site but wished to retain the sports pitch.

Residents cried “foul” when the Council wrote to local people to lobby for support within hours of submitting two planning applications in October 2017.

The Lowfields Residents Group submitted representations to the Planning Committee pointing to 11 reasons why outline planning permission for the development should not be granted.

None of the issues were addressed by Councillors or officials at the meeting.

One angry resident walked out of the planning meeting calling it “shameful”.

A video of the meeting can be viewed on You Tube via this link

Survey confirms that most residents oppose current Lowfields plans

The results of a survey undertaken in the Lowfields part of he Westfield Ward have revealed the depth of opposition to the Councils current plans for the sports pitch

4 out of 5 respondents are asking the Council to scale down their plans.

Most also want restrictions on building activity hours on the site.

 

Residents call for changes to Lowfields plans

Site has been unused since 2007

The residents group opposing plans to build on the Lowfields sports pitches have warned Planning Committee Councillors that they should not take part in Thursday’s debate on the plans, if they have previously expressed a view on the development.

The Council is the landowner, developer and planning authority for the application. Any Councillor who had  previously been present at any discussions about the future of the land, and the scale of any development, could be considered to have “pre-judged” the application.

Their impartiality would be in question, and could lead to any recommendation being invalidated.

The group say that any decision should be referred for consideration by an independent inspector.

Meanwhile, the residents group have lobbied Councillors setting out the reasons why they believe only the brownfield side of the site should be built on (see below).

The Planning Committee meeting takes place on Thursday 16th August starting at 4:30pm. It will be “web cast” (click to view)

 

 

Fake news? Now we’ve got fake consultation

Controversial Lowfields Planning application being heard next week

Council officials are recommending that the whole of the Lowfields school and sports pitch site be redeveloped.  The planning application will be determined next week, even though objections to the Local Plan have not  yet been considered by the independent inspector.

There are two proposals.

The first  is an outline planning application for the whole site (click) This still includes the highly unlikely Police station (the Police have no plans to move from their current York Road base) and a “health centre” although none of the NHS/GP budget holders have allocated funding for such a project. The application outlines where the Council hopes 96 houses, 26 bungalows, 18 apartments and an 80 bedroomed care home will be located. 6 self-build and 19 “community build” dwellings are also included near the southern boundary of the site.

The second application is the detailed (i.e. final) planning application for the 142 “open market” dwellings (click). Strangely this detailed application is scheduled to be considered before the outline application!. The Council says that 20% of these will be “affordable”. It is these housing plans which are likely to be most controversial as they are the ones being being built on the sports pitch.

A brief history

The area to be built on has increased – and open space provision reduced – every time a new pan has been drawn up by officials

When the Lowfields school closed some 10 years ago, the Council gave an assurance that only the “built footprint” of the former school buildings would be redeveloped. The green space would be protected. The site was slated to be retirement village – the west York equivalent of Hartrigg Oaks.  Plans were produced, and the scheme would have proceeded had there not been change in control of the Council in 2011.

The incoming Labour administration wanted the village to be predominantly public (rather than private ) sector. They raised the possibility of building on the football pitch in 2012 but nothing came of the idea. Four years wrangling later and it was accepted that the development would need private investment.

York went to the local election polls in May 2015. No party said it intended to build on the playing field

The suggestion that the green space would be lost came in December 2016 when the then new Tory housing executive member persuaded his colleagues that selling off the land for private development would provide the money (approximately £4.5 Million) for other projects including facilities in Burnholme.  

They later rowed back from setting up a “development company” and instead plan to manage the development themselves

The Council claimed that “landscaped green space will be open to the public for the first time” In practice the playing fields were open to the public until about 5 years ago when the Council tried to secure the boundaries. At the time, they said this could only be a for a few months.

Alternative proposal for Lowfields tabled by residents

A Lowfields Action Group was formed to oppose the emerging proposals. They established a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/LowfieldsActionGroup/

Consultation

  • 2011 – The Lowfields care village was subject to formal consulted on in 2011.  The proposal was widely praised throughout the City
  • 2016 – Local Westfield Ward Councillors conducted a door to door survey in October 2016 which revealed that residents top priorities for the site  were an elderly persons home, flats for “downsizers” and bungalows. They also wanted a nature reserve and the retention of the football pitches
  • 2017 – In October 2017 the Lowfields Action Group published an alternative proposal for the Lowfields site. This was fed into the Local Plan process.

Its over 9 months since the deadline for comments on the planning application passed.

None of the comments made by residents in response to the many earlier iterations are being reported to the Planning Committee next week.

These is a growing suspicion that the Council – as the owner of the site and with a major vested financial liability – is not being even handed with all interested parties.

Unless they adopt a different approach, pressure to have the application “called in” will grow

York Council debts mounting as housing borrowing plan pushes finances to the brink

By the end of the year the York Council will have debts of over £318.2 million, up £52 million compared to 12 months earlier.

Nearly 14% of taxes paid to the authority now go on interest and principal repayments on loans.

The authority owes £139 million in historic debt on Council housing programmes.

The overall exposure is partly offset by investment balances which stand at £75.7 million (down from £91.6 million in 2017)

Debts have increased because of several projects. One of the most expensive is York’s share of the Allerton Park waste processing plant. Money has also been borrowed to fund aspects of the York Central development.

The financial assessment is due to be discussed at a meeting later this week.

The same meeting will consider the Council’s policy on funding new housing.

Included in the plan is a proposal which would see the Council borrowing £10 million to fund the development of the Lowfields site. This means the Council will have housing debts of £145 million, close to the legal debt cap of £146 million.

The Lowfields proposal involves building on a sports field which will be controversial and may lead to legal challenges. A promised “start on site” early in 2019 looks optimistic.

There is also the problem of development expertise in the Council. It has a woeful recent project management record with cost escalations on several major projects including the Community Stadium and the refurbishment of the Guildhall.

Lowfields – Plan to build on sports pitches

There are some good features in the new housing plan, but the Council will be sailing very close to the financial wind if it accepts the officer recommendations without amendment.

The report fails to address the problem of unlocking disused Council land like the site behind the Acomb Library or private sector “land banks” like the prime location next to the Barbican.

It would be more than ironic if the planning committee was bullied into accepting the Lowfields plans which, green space provision aside, feature straight geometric lines of 3 bed semis – a discredited  layout abandoned by other Councils over 50 years ago

Make your comments to government on York’s Local Plan

  The Council is urging residents have one final say on  the Local Plan. Comments will go direct to a government appointed independent inspector. Those who wish to, may be invited to speak at an “examination in public”

The forms aren’t easy to fill in although it can  be done “on line“. Land owners and developers, who stand to make £millions if green field land is identified for development, will no doubt pay for professional help.

The average resident must do his or her best. But its definitely worth having your say.

Locally most attention will be on the plan to build on the Lowfields playing field. That is likely to attract strong opposition, not least because it conflicts with other policies in the Plan  For example Policy GI5 : Protection of Open Space and Playing Fields para 9.14 – 9.18; says,

Save Lowfields Playing Field

“Development proposals will not be permitted which would harm the character of, or lead to the loss of, open space of environmental and/or recreational importance”

On the other hand, the Council seems to have got the proposed boundaries of the Green Belt right at least on the west of the City

Over-development of the City would be a serious burden for subsequent generations.

The media release says,

York residents are being urged to take the opportunity to make final comments on the city’s Local Plan.

A six-week consultation starts today as the council prepares to submit the plan – which will drive York’s economic growth and determine how the city changes over the next 15 years and beyond – to the government for Examination.

The council’s ‘publication draft’ is the result of extensive studies and consultation with residents, landowners, developers and statutory consultees like government agencies.

Comments made during this consultation will go direct to the government, to be considered by a Planning Inspector at an Examination in Public.

The council is stressing that this consultation is different because the Examination will only consider certain issues about the plan, and has produced guidance to help residents make comments which the Inspector can use.

 You can find out how to make your comments, and what information the government’s Planning Inspector will be able to consider, in a special booklet being distributed to every household in the city.

The booklets will be delivered to every household in the city alongside – but not inside – another local publication.

If you haven’t received your household’s copy by Monday 26 February, please request one through localplan@york.gov.uk or call 01904 552255.

You can see all the same information, how to respond and view the full Publication Draft and supporting documents:

All responses must be made by midnight on Wednesday 4 April 2018 to ensure they can be considered by the Government.

Have your say on our plans for new sports pitches at Tadcaster Road

Residents are being invited to have their say on plans to build eight new sports pitches on fields near Askham Bar.

The drop-in consultation event, which will take place between 4pm and 7pm at Askham Bar Park & Ride on Wednesday 24 January, will offer the chance for people to feedback on plans to build three 11-a-side pitches, two 9-a-side pitches and three 7-a-side pitches with relevant on-site facilities.

The event comes after the council’s executive in November agreed that officers should continue to work on plans for sports facilities on the land near the Ashfield estate.

Sensibly the Council has now stopped trying to link the new provision with the loss of football pitches at Lowfields 

This will help to provide much needed community sports facilities to the south and west area of York.

The council’s public heath team are also working with Bishopthorpe White Rose FC to prepare a club development plan that will help them thrive in the future and access grant funding.

The cost of these works will be funded from the Football Foundation, Bishopthorpe White Rose football club, local sponsorship and small grants, with the remainder from the capital programme agreed by City of York Council.
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