Containergate rumbles on – planning appeal lodged

Spark, the operator of the shipping container “village on Piccadilly, are to appeal against the Councils decision to require them to clad the front of the containers. Spark offered the cladding when they originally sought planning permission but later changed their minds and painted “street art” on some of the containers on the Piccadilly frontage.

In May they sought retrospective planning permission for the change, but this was turned down by the Planning Committee in August. They have now appealed against that decision with the Planning Inspectorate likely to take several months to take a view. It is understood that the Council has decided not to take enforcement action in the interim

The Piccadilly site is owned by the Council, which has spent around £60,000 installing services and subsiding improvements.

The company had originally claimed they could not afford the cladding, but they have now written to prominent Councillors saying that their tenants have taken “£1.2 million” since opening, “more than twice the original forecast”.

That may be good news for taxpayers, as the Council is set to get a share of the “profits” …..but there will be no share out before April 2019 at the earliest.

It has emerged that Sparks have not yet paid any rent. They have had beneficial occupation of the site since the beginning of September 2017.

The Council have been asked to confirm that Business Rate payments are up to date.

Spark have applied for planning permission to fit a “roof” on the site.

At the same time, they have announced that they will open for only 5 days a week (closing on Tuesday and Wednesday from later this month).

There are conflicting reports about the number of small businesses which are being sustained on the site. Some have not been able to make a go of the site, with one blaming the drink culture for scaring away family customers. 3 complaints about external noise levels have been received by the Council.

Spark however claims that, of the 21 letting units, all but two are taken: 9 food, 4 drink and 6 retail outlets.

Depends whether you believe the spin, but clearly the alcohol-based units businesses got a summer boost from the World Cup and hot weather.

The lift, which will allow the village to meet disabled accessibility standards, will be operational this week according to Spark. They have, however, been unable to secure insurance which would indemnify the Council in the event of a business failure.

Council officials are content to rely on the resale value of the containers to secure taxpayers’ interests. Many of the containers have been refashioned to meet the specific needs of the Piccadilly site.

The approach taken by York Councillors, to the claims made before agreeing to lease the land to Spark, can still be viewed “on line”. The meeting which took place in November 2016 can be seen by clicking here Agenda Item 73 

Sparks York – Pressure mounts on York Council Leader

It looks like Sparks York – who are responsible for the shipping container village eyesore on Piccadilly – have just managed to get their April 2017 accounts in to Company House by the 18th December deadline. They should be available to view on line next week.

Coincidentally, The Press have run a story today based on the FOI findings published a few weeks ago. Although a representative of Sparks has made a statement saying that everything will be all right in the end, and that the Council will recover its £40,000 investment in the project, there has been no statement from the Council itself.

This is strange given that the storage containers were parked of the Council owned Piccadilly site for 2 months before  a” tenancy at will” was signed.

Nor has there been any explanation of the precedence of a debenture loan taken out by Sparks in July and its effect on the Councils equity financial safety-net.

The decision to expand the area to be leased to Sparks – effectively rent free until the “village” starts trading – was made by the Leader of the Council David Carr last week.

No attempt was made to ask for an updated business plan which reflected the much-reduced period of tenure that the village will have (assuming it ever opens for business) nor were any questions asked about the company’s financial position and debts.

It could be an uncomfortable couple of months for Cllr Carr with a difficult annual budget meeting in prospect and the repercussions from his impulsive decision to sack two LibDem members of his Cabinet, coming to a head.

It is now “time up” for the investigations into the allegations arising out an information “leak” from the York Council.

Cllr Carrs decision to ask for a police investigation – into something that could never have been a criminal matter – raises serious question about his judgement.

Now he is also being implicated in the emerging West Yorkshire Combined Authority/LEP financial scandal highlighted by the Yorkshire Post at the weekend.

Incredibly the Authority seems to be flirting with the long discredited estate agent’s jamboree (Le Marché International des Professionnels de l’immobilier) which takes place in Cannes each year.

Attendance at the hugely expensive jamboree was a factor in bringing down the last Labour administration in the City.

According to one source, the West Yorkshire authority (which includes York) intend to charter their own aircraft to go to Cannes this year!

Sparks occupied Council Piccadilly site without permission

Containers being installed on 4th September

Tenancy agreement only signed on 9th November – 2 months after shipping containers arrived.

A response to a Freedom of Information request, recorded with the City of York Council on 15th November, has revealed irregularities with the lease for the site on which the containers were installed at the beginning of September.

It has emerged that the operator Sparks had, and still has, no lease for the site.

A “tenancy at will” was signed as recently as 9th November 2017.

In effect the company was able to park their assets on Council land for 2 months without permission or payment.

In November 2016 the Council’s Executive had agreed to lease 17/21 Piccadilly for the storage container village. The development was to start trading in May 2017 and the lease would expire in June 2020. The Council agreed to stump up £40,000 to cover the cost of providing water, electric and gas supply.

The Council was to have had a representative on the Sparks Board to look after its financial interests.

The Council expected to receive a basic rent plus a 30% share of “profits” (sic). The minutes of the meeting were clear that a lease (and hence rent payments) had to be in place to underwrite any Council investment.

A year later and the development has not been completed. No lease is in place. The Council has received no rent payments. No business rates have been paid on the site.

Risk warning Nov 2016

The containers have yet to be fitted out.

However, it has also emerged that the Council has already spent £31,500 (of the £40,000 budget) on facilitating the development.

Sparks has said that the earliest the container village could open is in March 2018. That would leave just 2 years for the Council to recover its investment.

The development has been described as an ugly eyesore made worse by its proximity to several sensitive historic buildings

Later this week a Councillor will be asked to extend the area to be covered by the lease to Sparks.  The area has most recently been used for car parking.

No additional payment is being sought from the developer for the extra land.

Castle/Piccadilly redevelopment – more meetings

New river walkways and public spaces, new uses for Castle car park, and alternative parking are among the exciting ideas to regenerate Castle Gateway being shared over the next month.

Guided walks across the weekend will introduce the range of ideas to regenerate the huge area of the city ― taking in Piccadilly, Fossgate, Castle, Eye of York and much more – at a special launch event taking place this weekend.

Planners have generated the ideas based on what people said during the first stage of My Castle Gateway, a unique and bold new consultation approach introduced earlier this year. You can also view and feed back all the ideas online at .

City of York Council has joined forces with local engagement experts My Future York to run a series of guided walks, interactive events and online discussions to explore what people want to see and do in the area.

Instead of producing a single masterplan, the Castle Gateway team has created a series of options to allow York’s residents and businesses to keep shaping the future.

However, the consultation process has been criticised for being too ponderous and lacking any sense of urgency. Decisions on the sites are needed urgently to avoid piecemeal development and seize the opportunity to regenerate an area which has been run down for too long.

Sparks container village opening delay confirmed

The operators of the proposed shipping container village on Piccadilly have now confirmed that there will be a delay in completing the project.

As we reported earlier in the week,  there is still a substantial amount of work to be finished on the site.

The developers say it will now be “early Spring” before the units are occupied. The economics of the project rely heavily on booze and street food outlets.

It is unclear when the Council – which is funding some of the upfront costs – will begin to recover their investment.

The Council is spending £40,000 connecting utility services to the site.

When approving the use of the site 12 months ago, the Council said it expected to recover its investment from rent payments.  Whether they will now be able to achieve that before the initial lease runs out in 2019 remains to be seen.

Sadly, the site is now even more of an eyesore than it used to be.


Spark Out on Piccadilly?

It looks like major building delays are eating into the three year maximum lease that the Sparks shipping container village on Piccadilly has.

In July the operator said they would open by 22nd September, in time for the food festival.

That date has long passed and now potential tenants are being told that opening may be delayed until after Christmas.

That would be bad news for the controversial project as the York City centre economy usually bottoms out during January and February and sometimes doesn’t get going again much before April.

It could be a difficult few months for Piccadilly traders.

The project has already been criticised for blighting a site which is key to the long term revival of the Castle/Piccadilly area.

The shipping containers are in place but the – Council taxpayer  funded – infrastructure works seem to be taking longer to complete than anticipated.


Piccadilly container village backed by some planning department officials

Sea containers to be parked on Piccadilly?

Council planning officers are recommending that the controversial plan to erect a boozy shipping container village on Piccadilly be approved.

The paper for the planning committee reveals that concerns about impact on the Conservation area and the proximity of the food and drink dominated plan to existing residential properties may be discounted.

The proposed approval of the scheme reflects badly on the competency of the planning system in the City. We already seen an ugly visitor centre approved for a site near Clifford’s Tower while Councillors earlier in the year gave the OK to siting an arts barge on the Ouse. The barge also will have alcohol at the heart of its customer offer.

If the shipping container plan is approved it is unlikely that we will see the permanent development of what is a key site in the City until late in 2020 at the earliest.  The Council – which owns the site – has never satisfactorily explained why – since the end of the recession – they have not been marketing the location for permanent development .

Ironically it seems that the Shambles market will be one of the main casualties if the project does get the go ahead.

We feel very sorry for those residents living in properties to the rear of the site.

One is located only 2 metres from a container.



Sparks flying as shipping container village plans amended

Major noise concerns registered by Public Protection department while Civic Trust and “Make it York” support wobbles.

Architects have submitted revised plans for the shipping container development scheduled to be constructed on the former Reynard’s garage site on Piccadilly.

There will now be no outdoor music played according to the developers.

The changes come at a time when several organisations – which originally supported the concept of a “start-up” orientated small business hub –  are changing their line.

The York Civic Trust in its latest representation questions how quickly a permanent use can be established for the Reynard’s site and expresses concerns about the bar/restaurant domination of the development.

Even “Make it York”  now question the number of food and drink venues that the site will accommodate.

They say, “as things have developed, the emphasis seems to be more and more on ‘street food’ and entertainment. Indeed, the York Press now refer to it as the “street food hub.”

This is concerning to us. Make It York has just invested a significant amount of money in the Shambles market area, creating a street food hub. This has been an important move as we seek to bring some life back to the Market area, a space that CYC have leased to us to develop.

Ground floor plan April 2017 click

I cannot believe that the Council wants to regenerate one area of the city only for it to have a detrimental effect on another. That wouldn’t feel very ‘joined up’.

Figures I have seen suggest that nearly 80% of the space is going to be for food and retail and this seems at odds with it being a space for ‘start up’ businesses”.

We already have evidence that some of the street food traders in our space have been approached to go on to the Reynard’s site”.

The Council’s own Public Protection Unit has also objected to the plan on noise grounds.

Referring to noise originated by people standing and sitting in the outdoor areas during the  evening, they say,

First floor plan April 2017 click

the changes in noise level are most likely to be noticeable, particularly as people noise is not constant in volume and will include regular peak events associated with shouting etc.

Because of this I do have significant concerns about the noise impact from people, particularly as there are not really any noise mitigation measures which could be used to reduce any impact and I would, therefore, have to recommend refusal due to the potential for adverse impact due to noise”.

The revisions to the plans mainly affect the east of the development but they are unlikely to address the concerns of residents living in that area.

The changes listed by the architects include:

  • The mix of uses on site has altered a little to rationalise the proposal and meet demand from local start-up businesses
  • An additional unit has been inserted onto the first floor (highlighted as unit 26) to provide an additional visual and sound buffer for residents to the east
  • Outdoor seating has been more evenly distributed throughout the site, with many seats removed from the eastern side of the site and replaced with planters
  • Roof layout April 2017 click

    A significant number of additional green roofs have been added to the site to enhance the site’s ecological value, to absorb rainfall and to soften the appearance of the development from neighbouring dwellings

Their full statement can be read by clicking here

So, there seems to be a belated realisation that the scheme is in the wrong place, would cause nuisance to neighbouring residents, is in breach of the Councils policy of controlling alcohol related activities in vulnerable streets and could damage existing street food businesses.

It is also still visually intrusive and could delay the permanent redevelopment of a key site in the City.

Residents have until 18th April to comment on the revised proposals.

Low marks for sparks

The proposal to site shipping containers on Piccadilly has now reached the planning stage. The plans can be viewed by clicking here. Residents can comment either in favour or in objection to the plans.

In some ways the proposals vary from the highly intrusive plans backed by the Council’s Executive last November

The plans show around 20 shipping containers, “re-purposed as a venue for retail, restaurant, office and performance space”.

The layout shows no fewer than 5 new bars.

There are also two restaurants with outdoor seating areas at first floor level. One area is only a few metres away from existing residential properties.

The proposal describes “beverage kiosks” serving alcohol and non-alcohol based drinks,” tapping into the early evening, European-style way of drinking and socialising”.

It is unclear from the plans where the promised outdoor entertainment will be located.

No noise impact statement is currently available

The listed activities would require licenses. The site is in the “cumulative impact zone” – and close to Walmgate which has had anti-social behaviour problems, connected with alcohol, in the past.

How many more bars can the City centre sustain?

One change from the November plans concerns the external appearance of the development. It will be circled by wooden hoardings which should go some way to softening the appearance of the containers. However, the submitted plans are confused about the external colours of the containers with some apparently retaining the strident primary colours that attracted adverse comment last year.

The proposals make no comment on the impact that the development might have on other low cost street level retail and food outlets in the City. The Shambles market is already struggling and any further dilution of users – and customers – could signal its end.

We have no doubt that the developers will lobby hard for their scheme. However, the planning committee will need to consider the quality of the arguments put forward.

Residents living immediately adjacent to the development should have real concerns about the impact that it would have on their lives.

The appearance of the development from the many high buildings nearby will still be a cause for concern even if muted colours are used.

But the main issues are likely to be whether the “temporary” use will in effect put the comprehensive redevelopment of the Piccadilly area back by another 3 years. In recent years, the Council has turned down several offers for the site which might have seen residential, hotel and/or exhibition space provided there.

Despite the recent publication of the umpteenth “southern gateway” masterplan, without a funding package and clear development milestones, this kind of make do project may be all that they are prepared to consider.

We should be more ambitious for the redevelopment of this part of the city

Walmgate residents were not consulted on shipping container project

Residents living in flats overlooking the proposed shipping container development on Piccadilly have not been consulted on the plans by either the Council or local Ward Councillors it has emerged this morning.

reynardsOver 200 people live near or adjacent to the Reynard’s garage site and one occupier has told us that the first they knew of the proposals was an article in the local newspaper.

At yesterdays meeting the three Councillors, who are supposed to represent the interests of the Guildhall community, all spoke in favour of the container village.

It appears though that they failed to consult local taxpayers before making up their minds.

Part of the scheme involves the provision of “ a large event space and seating area on most of the site + a decking stage performance area“. This has prompted fears about noise in an area which has had its fair share of afternoon and night time disturbance over recent years.

Quite how the developers will square their ambitions with licensing and planning restrictions remains to be seen.

The Council was also criticised for not publicly inviting other organisations and businesses to pitch for use of the site.

One resident has said that they would have been happy to lease a car parking space at the location – suggesting that the Council have missed at least one revenue raising option (Connecting mains services to the container village will cost taxpayers £40,000).

Councillors have been challenged to justify their claims that “there is a lack of space for street food vendors and meeting space in the City“. It has been pointed out that many guildhalls are underused, several retail units are unoccupied and the recently established Shambles cafe area is lightly used. Several office and commercial blocks in the Piccadilly area are empty and have the benefit of existing mains services.

A relatively new small business start up centre in Clifton is rarely fully occupied.

Meanwhile more information has emerged about the project in Brixton (London) which has apparently inspired the York plans