Wates appointed to Castle Mills apartment contract.

See the source imageThe Council has taken a step forward towards delivering the £28 million apartment block scheduled to be built on the former Castle Mills car park site.

A report approved yesterday says,

In October 2020 the council’s Executive approved the delivery strategy for the Castle Gateway regeneration. As part of this decision, approval was granted to undertake a procurement exercise to appoint a construction contractor to build Castle Mills on a two stage tender process.

The first stage of the process is to secure a construction contractor to develop the current RIBA Stage 3 design prepared by BDP to RIBA Stage 4 on Pre-Construction Service Contract Agreement (PSCA) and provide a tender price for undertaking the construction based on that stage 4 design.

The Council received three strong bids following an invite to tender through an open market process, which were assessed and scored on both price and quality, with Wates being the successful bidder. The council will now enter in to the PSCA stage of the contract”.

The officials concerned are keen to point out that the decision does not commit the Council to proceeding with the whole of the Castle Gateway scheme which has been costed at £55 million.

Of this, current plans are for the Council to borrow £45 million.

Sparks fanned as Council lets down taxpayers

The controversial Spark container village on Piccadilly will not have to provide a rent bond or guarantor for their new lease.

The requirements were agreed in February by Executive Councillor Nigel Ayre as part of a package aimed at securing taxpayers interests.

The Spark owners had promised a share of profits on the scheme when, in 2016, they first promoted the idea of moving second hand shipping containers onto the Piccadilly site.

The profits never materialised and there were delays in making rent payments and in fulfilling planning conditions.

Other causes of concern related to the appearance of the site – which is located in a Conservation Area – and the effect on nearby residential properties.

Letter from local businessman

Yesterday Cllr Ayre caved into pressure and ditched the conditions which had been aimed at securing the councils financial interests.

He was warned by lawyers that, under current government COVID regulations, the Council might be unable to take back possession of the site even if rent arrears built up.

Currently the site is occupied on a “tenancy at will” basis.

The decision has drawn criticism from other traders and professionals one of whom has called for an inquiry into the whole affair (left).

Spark lease still outstanding

Contrary to the claims made in a Council report published yesterday, it appears that the owners of the SPARK Container village on Piccadilly HAVE NOT signed a new lease.

The revelation comes in a response to a Freedom of Information published today.

SPARK were controversially offered a new lease at a meeting which took place on 14th February. They had been due to vacate the site in June.

Following complaints from neighbours and against a background of non compliance with planning conditions, the Council sought to place new restrictions on how SPARK could operate the business. (see below).

It has now emerged that SPARK has settled outstanding 2020 Council debts to the value of £23,333

The development was granted a 2 year extension to its planning permission earlier in the summer.

Spark has been operating on a “tenancy at will” basis since June.

The Council says, “The Council are in discussions with Spark over the provision of the new lease following the grant of a Tenancy at Will earlier in the year, which is still in force”.

The long term future of the 17/21 Piccadilly remains unclear as the health crisis and economic recession makes early redevelopment unlikely.

It has been suggested that the site could be used as a terminus for a disabled friendly zero emission transport system which would ferry less ambulant visitors around the City centre.

This use – which might also offer residential or workshop opportunities at first floor level – could help to ease pressure on the nearby Castle car park.

Conservation controversy on Piccadilly

The decision by the planning committee last week to allow the replacement of the old tax office (Swinson House) on Piccadilly with a modern hotel, has prompted a debate about the boundaries of the central York Conservation area.

Central York Conservation Area

Some say that the loss of the 30’s building – together with other developments on the street not least the ugly Spark container village – means that the street now has little conservation merit.

They have a point.

The current Conservation Area appraisal for the historic core – which can be read by clicking here – lumps Piccadilly in with the Castle as a character area.

A detailed analysis (click) goes further.

Piccadilly is rather a barren street, lacking trees or visible greenery and dominated by large buildings. The Foss is very much hidden behind buildings which back directly onto it, a legacy from its industrial past. This means there is almost no public access to the river; the exception is the Travelodge by Castle Mills Bridge. The large buildings and their positioning also block views to the Castle, only a glimpse of which is possible from Piccadilly Bridge.

The tax office is not identified as a building of merit. The Red Lion pub is as was the, now long gone  Airspeed/Trolleybus shed on the site of which Spark now park their shipping containers.

Council decision sparked criticism

One of the suggestions in the assessment, which have been largely ignored over the last 10 years, was the need for more tree planting on the street.

Whether the time is right to take Piccadilly out of the Conservation Area is a matter of opinion.

There will be those who think that Council resources could be better deployed at this difficult time. Planning permissions which have been granted – and not implemented – can be superseded by new proposals. There must, for example,  be a limit on how many modern hotels the City can sustain.

Perhaps the Conservation area status gives greater weight to those who seek a quality approach to the regeneration of the Piccadilly area.

Certainly at present it is little more than a blot on the streetscape.


Spark set to get government lifeline?

Containers arrived in Sept 2017

The controversial Sparks container village development on Piccadilly looks set to benefit from a government planning decision.

The temporary planning permission for the site – granted 3 years ago- included the following condition

This (approved) use (of the site) shall cease and all associated structures shall be removed from the site by 1 July 2020; unless prior to that date the consent of the Local Planning Authority has been obtained to extend the period of the permission

The containers should, therefore, by today have been off the site.

Officials at the Council have – not for the first time – failed to enforce the conditions attached to the planning permission.

They say that on 22nd June, the government issued a press release that stated

Sites with consent that have an expiry date between the start of lockdown and the end of this year will now see their consent extended to 1 April 2021”.

Officials go on to say, “At the time of writing (the planning report) the associated legislation regarding this is not yet in force (and consequently we do not know the details of this change). It is assumed this legislation will extend the lifetime of the existing permission into next year”.

Council planning officials go on to say,

However should this legislation not be in force by the time of committee, the recommendation will be approval subject to the legislation coming into force to automatically extend permissions that have expired during lockdown

The meeting is taking place (remotely) on 9th July. Background papers can be viewed by clicking this link

There are continuing concerns from neighbours about noise at the site while objections about the appearance of the  development also continue to be lodged.

Whether the managers of the site will be able to satisfy the conditions placed on an extended lease – which include financial sureties – remains to be seen.

Much of Sparks incomes derives from alcohol sales. The hospitality sector in York, and elsewhere, is facing a difficult 12 months.

Some sources speculate that as many as 40% of city centre cafes and bars may close unless there is an sustained (and unlikely) increase in visitor numbers.

We may, therefore, yet see the site become available for early redevelopment although major investments are going to be difficult to broker in the wake of the coronavirus crisis and the expected economic recession.

NB. The meeting is also being recommended to approve plans for a 168 bedroomed hotel on the other side of Piccadilly. Click

Plans to widen footpaths in Piccadilly, Micklegate and Low Ousegate

The Council has belatedly published the background to its decision to  introduce a contraflow cycle route at the Bishopthorpe Road shops.

The scheme – which diverts southbound traffic onto Nunnery Lane and Blossom Street – has been criticised for increasing safety risks for cyclists. Critics also say there has been an unnecessary increase in congestion and emission levels while road works are taking place near the Holgate Road junction.

A, very thin, background report was apparently considered by the acting Chief Executive Ian Floyd on 5th May. Details have only just emerged. There was no opportunity given for public consultation on the draft proposals.

It is claimed that the change was prompted by queuing issues for pedestrians on the butchers side of the road. The Council claims that some traders were restricting the public footpath width by displaying goods outside their shops.

The report sounded the following warning, “It should be noted that where highway space is limited the provision of more space for pedestrians will reduce the space available for other modes including cyclists and/or may complicate the layout of highways – making it harder for deliveries or road users to understand and/ or navigate”.

There are Highway Maintenance works in the area which may mean that the road closure would need amending for a few nights in mid May”.

The changes cost £4000 with an ongoing weekly expenditure of £2000. The report says, “The maintenance cost could reduce if there were other traffic management schemes in the city at the same time.

It appears that no safety audit results were reported to the decision making meeting which was held in private.

The arrangement has impacted on the number 11, 26 & 21 bus services.

Tesco Express on Low Ousegate - Convenience Stores in City Centre ...

Low Ousegate

The report also says that measures may be warranted at the city centre food shops on Piccadilly, Low Ousegate and Micklegate.

Hopefully any such proposals will involve a full safety audit and consultation. Any changes in Low Ousegate in particular could have significant knock on effects on public transport.

NB. Some Labour Councillors are trying to change the policy that they advocated in January when they wanted to ban all private car use within the City walls. They now want to establish a Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in the same area. This would allow electric car users access but would hit commercial premises deliveries, and some bus services, very hard. It is not a practical short term option.

There is a more immediate need to address the travel needs of the large number former bus users who will be excluded from that mode of travel because of ongoing social distancing rules

Trebles all round

Eleven hundred years ago had Eric Bloodaxe sailed up the Ouse and been greeted by the Anglo-Saxon Witan offering rent free accommodation, 24/7 feasting/pillaging and no restrictions on behaviour, he would have been pleasantly surprised.

In his case he might have chosen to take those options anyway, whatever the views of the local population.

Today residents wake up to find that they may have to endure another sea born invasion, as the SPARK container “village” will carry on for another 2 years, courtesy of a compliant York Councillor who yesterday authorised an extension to the lease of land in Piccadilly.

The business will have to gain an extension to its planning permission (and operating license) but this looks like another behind closed doors “done deal”.

So far, the business has failed to implement the planning conditions imposed some 2 years ago which were intended to reduce the visual impact of the sea containers.

Quite simply the development is an ugly carbuncle blotting a neighbourhood which is long overdue for regeneration.

The containers were also sited too close to existing residential accommodation. Metal boxes are inherently noisy and, of course, lack the insulation credentials that a City, which recently declared a “climate emergency”, might expect.

                           Containers arrived in Sept 2017

We don’t know which officials, members and reporters have so far enjoyed the hospitality of Spark.

Whatever that number may be, its “trebles all round” for a business that boasts a £3 million turnover but can find no profit to share with local taxpayers who will be expected to continue to subsidise the operation.

Spark – Questions that need to be answered

In November  2016 we first heard of a plan to site shipping containers on Piccadilly and use them as vending units.

It was the start of “Containergate” with an outfit called Spark York persuading naive Councillors to give them the use of a prime site at 17/21 Piccadilly for a minimal rent.

As well as £13,333 a year in rent the Council was promised a 30% share of the profits which were forecast to total £213,085 over 3 years.

Business plan considered by York Council Executive Nov 2016

On that assurance, the Council spent £40,000 on installing new utility services to the site

The developers made a series of claims about what their (visually hideous) development would bring to the City. The small business growth figures strained everyone’s credulity but Councillors bought the line.

 It subsequently transpired that the firm were unable to raise the £220,000 set up costs and had to resort to the commercial loans market. Although they had beneficial use of the site from September 2017, it was to be the following summer before Spark opened for business.

Further controversy followed the granting of planning permission. Quite simply the owners chose to ignore a series of conditions – including the need for a disabled access – and even now have failed to cover with cladding the garish street art which dominates the Piccadilly frontage.

The original business model failed, and the scheme concentrated on alcohol sales as its main form of income. It enjoyed a good summer in 2018 but the high noise levels proved to be a major irritant for the occupiers of nearby flats.

Thankfully the nightmare lease was due to come to an end in June.  We would be rid of the containers and a start could be made on building something that would be a credit to the city.

But now York Councillor Nigel Ayre is apparently considering extending the Spark lease (The original decision was taken by the Councils Executive).  He is being promised footfall and “economic vibrance” on Piccadilly, although the rest of the street is likely to be a building site for much of the next two years.

Spark are good at some things. PR is one. They held a party when they opened which was attended by the media and several Councillors and officials. It appears to have been an insurance policy judging by the report being considered next week.

Party time at Spark in 2018

The report fails to examine the performance of the company against the claims that they made in 2016.

  • Where is the list of small businesses Spark claim to have “incubated” at the premises?
  • The operators claim to have had a turnover of £3 million across the whole site yet the Council has had a zero share of any “profit”. (The original plan was for an annual turnover of £272,000 a year yielding a profit of £64,620). Where is the updated business plan?
  • Who at the Council agreed that the repayment of loans should take precedence over the Council being recompensed for its investment?
  • Where can a full set of accounts be viewed? (there is little information at Company House)
  • Why are no other options considered? Parking revenue alone could be worth around £100,000 a year even if a start on the permanent redevelopment of the site is delayed for 2 years
  • Is the Council still the preferred creditor if the business goes bust? It was told in 2016 that it could sell the containers to fund any outstanding infrastructure costs.
  • Why is no independent up to date valuation of the site assets provided?
  • How much have the Directors received in remuneration from Spark (and any subsidiaries) since September 2017
  • How much has been paid in Business Rates and how much is outstanding?
  • Who at the Council has received hospitality from Spark? Has it all been properly registered?
  • Where can financial details of the container occupants’ businesses be found?
  • Are any of the Spark Directors potential beneficiaries of any of these businesses?

Until these, and other, questions are answered it would be irresponsible for the Council to consider any extension of the lease.

In the meantime, the planning department should take enforcement action on outstanding breaches of the planning permission.

Other businesses in York deserve to be competing on a level playing field. They, and taxpayers, seem to be the losers in the current arrangement.

Spark April 2018

Plans to transform Castle Mills submitted

Castle Mills

The council has submitted its plans to create a new public park at the rear of the Castle Museum, a new pedestrian and cycle bridge over the Foss, commercial spaces for local independent traders, and 106 new apartments, including new council housing.

This is another major milestone in the delivery of the regeneration of the Castle Gateway. As well as bringing life to the old Castle Mills car park site and a place for growing York businesses on Piccadilly, the residential development would fund the construction of a new multi-storey car park on St George’s Field.

This parking would then allow Castle car park to close and be replaced by additional public space.

The Castle Mills plans would see two residential apartment blocks built, with the entire southern block of 20 apartments being new council housing. The northern block will include 86 flats ranging in size from 1 bed apartments to 2 bed duplexes.  The ground floor of both apartment blocks will feature commercial spaces.

The council are taking a lead on environmental sustainability, with homes benefiting from renewable energy sources and the proposals providing a car free development with high level of cycle parking.

The proposals also include a new pedestrian and cycle bridge over the river Foss linking up with the new pedestrian/cycle crossing over the inner ring and connecting up wider cycle routes to create safer and sustainable journeys in to and through the city centre.

The bridge will also link across to the area at the rear of the Castle Museum. This space, which is currently part of the museum grounds, will be opened to the public as a new riverside park, creating a place to relax in the shadow of the Castle Walls.

The proposals have been shaped and developed with stakeholders, partners and residents through the innovative My Castle Gateway public engagement project. The design will create new landmark riverside buildings for Piccadilly whilst generating the financial return to help pay for the regeneration proposals for the Castle Gateway.  

The main features of the masterplan are:

  • replacing Castle Car Park with a multi-storey car park and visitor arrival point on St George’s Field
  • Castle Car Park and the Eye of York to become a new public space, hosting events throughout the year
  • a new residential and leisure building visually enhancing and covering the servicing yard at the rear of the Coppergate Centre
  • a new riverside walk by the Foss from the south of the city and a pedestrian/cycle bridge connecting with Piccadilly
  • bringing life to the Foss Basin, including a new apartment development
  • new commercial and residential developments on the sites of Castle Mills Car Park and 17-21 Piccadilly
  • significant improvements to public spaces and streets throughout the area

After the planning application has been validated by the council’s planning team in the coming days, it will be available to view at www.york.gov.uk/planning under reference number 19/02415/FUL

Further information can be found on the My Castle Gateway project at www.york.gov.uk/CastleGatewayCastleMills

Proposals for disabled parking on Piccadilly published

City of York Council has published proposed changes which would introduce new disabled parking to Piccadilly.

​​​​​​The changes were approved by the council’s Executive earlier this year following extensive consultation over the impact of new counter-terrorism measures to protect people using the city centre.

Three traffic regulation orders have been published, proposing:

1) Converting the current pay and display section between Lloyds Bank and Brighthouse into:

Blue Badge parking between 11am and 6am (overnight)
Loading bay from 6am to 11am
2) Converting the existing taxi rank on the opposite side of the road to:

Blue badge parking 11am to 6pm
Taxi rank 6pm to 6am (overnight)
Loading bay 6am to 11am
A third order allows any vehicle displaying a valid disabled person’s badge to access Piccadilly beyond the Merchangate junction – a practicality so that blue badge holders are actually able to access the new parking spaces.

These should create room for up to seven vehicles displaying valid badges to park between 11am and 6am, and another two from 11am to 6pm on the taxi rank side of the road. 

The cycle parking on Piccadilly remains unchanged.

The proposals and the reasons behind them can be inspected at Reception, West Offices, Station Rise, York, during normal business hours. 

Objections or other representations specifying reasons for the objection or representation should be sent in writing to arrive no later than 27 December 2019.

Director of Economy and Place
Network Management, West Offices, Station Rise, York, YO1 6GA
Email: highway.regulation@york.gov.uk
If objections are received, the proposals will be considered at a decision session for the Executive Member for Transport in early 2020.

You can view Executive’s original decision here while the consultation results and proposed mitigation measures are contained within Annex B.

NB. The future of the Airspeed site when the Spark container village leaves next summer has yet to be decided. It has been suggested that it could also be used for disabled car parking.