What comes around

Periodically in York someone rediscovers the Holy Grail. A “light bulb” moment produces a plan for a central bus station, river buses or an ice-skating rink. Feasibility studies are dusted off from previous incarnations. Costs/practicalities soon act as a sedative for the excitement generated.

So we may see the same again as plans for a riverside walk on the Coney Street side of the river Ouse were unveiled earlier in the week. It was coupled with a reincarnated plan to provide a pedestrian footbridge from North Street to the walkway near City Screen.

Of course, over the centuries, the attractions of the riverside have been recognised by successive generations. New Walk – south of the City centre – was created as long ago as 1730.

Within the historic core, the importance of riverside access owes part of its genesis to the work of JB Morrell in 1940’s York.

Successive strategic plans for the City have urged developers and landowners to make provision for a walkway behind Coney Street. Some have done so, most recently in the area around City Screen. The Council made no such provision for “permeability” as part of its current Guildhall renovation plans.

The extra pedestrian bridge plan is much more recent invention. The brainchild of a Labour Councillor in the 1990s it was dubbed a “bridge to nowhere” even when it seemed possible that it might also accommodate cyclists. It remains an expensive irrelevance at a time when funds are tight.

Consultants have now produced a brief.

The latest plans do have the support of a local private developer who has a significant land interest on Coney Street.  That should be encouraged.

The Council must, however, stop short of borrowing any more money to support its plans. The City is already too heavily in debt.

In the meantime, early progress on the scheme depends on the success of a bid for central government funding. Quite when this, apparently never-ending, source of funding will dry up remains to be seen.

We suspect that it will be several generations before it is possible to walk along the whole length of the river Ouse in the City.

Improvements to York – Selby cycle path

The new “White Rose” football pavilion and associated pitches have now been completed. They can’t be brought into use until agreed improvements on the adjacent cycle path – which is a York Council maintenance responsibility – are also completed.

The cycle path upgrade was a condition of the planning approval given on 16th November 2018. (click)

Elsewhere we are waiting to hear whether SUSTRANs was successful in its grant application to the government for funding to resurface the track near Riccall and the A64.

Work on filling and levelling the Escrick sidings site appears to be proceeding more quickly now.

York Minster unveils proposals for a new refectory and public space

York Minster is inviting members of the public to comment on design proposals for a new refectory and public open space on the site of the former Minster School.

The area around the old Minster School will become a public space.

Sustainability, biodiversity and well-being are at heart of the proposals. The plans include a sympathetic renovation of the Grade II listed building at number 2 Deangate to create the York Minster Refectory.  The conversion will see the full restoration of the building, including cleaning and repairs to the stonework to reveal previously hidden architectural features. The proposals include important new elements such as the creation of disabled access throughout the building and the installation of solar panels – the first anywhere in the Precinct.  Once the permissions for the restoration and conversion of the building have been secured, the Minster will look to partner with a commercial operator to run the refectory on a rental basis.   

The hard landscaping will be completely remodelled to make the area accessible and inclusive for the widest possible range of users. The design will link the refectory and the public space, both physically and visually, to the glorious views of the Minster’s South Transept and Quire.

Historic photographs of the front of the school, reveal evidence of extensive planting along the side of the Minster’s Stoneyard and this has been influential in the emerging proposals for the new public space. It will be specifically planned and designed to increase biodiversity in the heart of the city. Plants will be selected for their sensory and healing properties and to provide food for pollinators and habitats for wildlife.

The project is the first to emerge from the York Minster Neighbourhood Plan (YMNP), the community-led planning document which considered how the Minster Precinct will need to evolve to meet the changing needs of its community and visitors up to 2035.

The process of developing a masterplan for the future care of York Minster and its Precinct began in May 2018.  Three subsequent public consultations were critical to the development of the draft Neighbourhood Plan with almost 700 comments received over 32 weeks of consultation.   The Plan was updated and revised earlier this year, to incorporate the former school estate following its closure last July.  A final period of public consultation was held in December 2020 and the Plan was finally submitted to City of York Council in April 2021.  Once adopted, it will form part of City of York Council’s planning policy.

Commenting on the proposals, the Dean of York, the Right Revd Dr Jonathan Frost said that dynamic partnership working with the Neighbourhood Forum, local residents and businesses since 2018, has been vital at every stage of the York Minster Neighbourhood Plan. Dean Jonathan said:  “The realisation of this first set of project proposals is the result of three years of collaborative community effort and a strong, shared sense of realism about  the solutions that will be needed to make the York Minster Precinct viable and sustainable to 2035 and well beyond that date.

“The proposals for this refectory and the public space adjacent to it, respect the Minster and its history and its purpose as a place of worship and welcome. The plans are highly creative and innovative and aim to breathe new life into the building and open spaces in a way that is inclusive, sustainable, economically viable and, which meets the needs of York residents and our visitors.

“I want to encourage as many people as possible to comment on the proposals and help us to make the best decisions for the future of this special corner of the York Minster Precinct.”

Get involved in the public consultation

 The public consultation on the design proposals will be available on the York Minster website www.yorkminster.org/about-us/master-planning/ from Friday 21st May until midnight on Sunday 13th June 2021.

The proposals will also be displayed on boards outside the Minster School from Friday 21st May until Sunday 13th June.  However due to ongoing pandemic restrictions, comments on the consultation can only be made online and should be emailed to Alex McCallion, Director of Works and Precinct alexm@yorkminster.org 

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.

Landmark planning meeting in York to decide future of Beverley House

A decision on the redevelopment of Beverley House on Shipton Road is due to be made next week.

It will be a landmark meeting as it marks the restart of face-to-face committee meetings at the York Authority.

Overall the proposal will provide: 1 x 3 bed apartment, 15 x 2 bed apartments and 5 x 1 bed apartments. The proposal is for senior living.

18 car parking spaces will be provided to the front, with two being mobility parking spaces. 22 secure cycle parking spaces

Beverley House was last used as offices by the Local Government Ombudsman. Previously it had been a Rowntree Trust building.

It has been empty since 2015,

The development may therefore be one of the first to benefit from the governments new “Vacant Building Credit” (VBC) , The VBC applies a financial credit equivalent to the existing gross floorspace of relevant vacant buildings when the Planning Authority calculates any affordable housing contribution which will be sought.

The VBG has the effect of reducing the affordable house requirement to a commuted sum of £206,579.

The VBC was intended to encourage the conversion of unoccupied property for residential use.

The meeting takes place on Thursday 13th May. Details of health safeguards can be found on the agenda papers.

Castle car park future plans

We’re not entirely convinced that the Councils “Castle Gateway” plans, which would see the car park grassed over, are quite as urgent as some might wish residents to believe.

The economic impact of losing so many conveniently located car parking spaces has never been properly evaluated (whether a replacement multi storey is built on St Georges Field or not).

Any assumptions made were clearly pre pandemic. Some reassessment is surely needed before millions more of taxpayers money is committed.

The Council have, however, now published a schematic which shows what some apparently want to see done in the area.

This may or may not be what residents and visitors wouldsee as a “world class” open space

The Council has issued the following media release

City of York Council has shared the emerging plans for new public space in one of York’s most historic and important areas – and wants residents to keep shaping the proposals. 

The draft sketch from designers BDP imagines how the area could meet residents ambitions for the public space to replace Castle Car Park, while still meeting the current and future needs of the museum, the courts and the Coppergate Centre.

It shows how people could move around, a mix of soft and hard surfaces, a location for events, how to open up the river Foss, and how water and family-friendly play spaces can be created.

The council has worked with local partners My Future York to put residents’ views at the heart of plans to transform the car park, Eye of York and the wider area.

The extensive My Castle Gateway engagement has provided a public brief for the community space and connected residents to the designers BDP as they bring those ideas to life. Anyone can catch up with the story so far in this blog on the My Castle Gateway website.

This feedback will then allow detailed proposals and options to be developed and shared with the public through the spring, with a planning application to be submitted in the summer.

Residents are invited to join the conversation on social media or through the next phase of My Castle Gateway events. Visit the blog and get involved on Twitter and Facebook.

The My Castle Gateway public engagement has already led to bold plans being put forward to transform the area, including creating community and business space on Piccadilly, new walkways and cycle-routes, and a bridge over the Foss.

The public realm work is moving ahead after the council secured planning permission for a multi-storey car park and public space on St George’s Field, and a residential development and pedestrian and cycle bridge over the Foss at Castle Mills.

The council is committed to providing parking to replace the closure of Castle Car Park, and will retain Blue Badge parking on Tower Street. Work has been delayed on the multi-storey car park in order to better understand the impact of COVID and carry out further engagement with blue badge holders within the development of the Local Transport Plan.

Councillor Nigel Ayre, Executive Member for Finance and Performance, said:

We want the Castle area to be a place all our residents love to spend time, to interpret its history and make fantastic memories.

“Our commitment to quality public engagement has allowed us to deliver where decades of other proposals failed.

“These are ideas in response to what residents have told us. And they ask even more important questions, like whether the mix of uses is right, and whether the Eye of York should stay as it is or become an open air museum or exhibition space?

“We want residents to help answer those questions so please take a look and get involved in the conversation.”


Muddled thinking on new Burnholme development?

A planning application for an 83-home development at Burnholme are set to be approved by the Council planning committee.  The application is from the Council itself. It is high density and has been criticised by the Council’s own highways team who believe that the layout will hinder waste collection activities and exacerbate parking problems across a wide area.

Other major criticisms relate to a lack of car parking space and security. There is less than one space per home although experience elsewhere suggests that, at least,  the 33 three and four bedroomed homes will house 2 or more car owners. Parking space permits would be allocated annually (maximum one per house).

Bizarrely only 4 of the parking spaces will have electric vehicle charging points although the development is supposed to be a model of self-sufficiency.

The terraced housing will have communal back lanes. Similar social experiments over the years have failed when occupants turned out to have different lifestyle choices than those envisaged by the scheme designers.

The homes are likely to be expensive to buy but have the advantage of low running costs due to high insulation standards.

At this development the Council seem to be edging towards supporting the option of  living hedge boundaries – a choice  their Shape housing company denies potential occupants of the Lowfields development.

Of the 83 homes 16 would be for Social Rent and 16 would be  Shared Ownership. There are 5 self-build plots.

Just how many people are actually prepared to pay £300,000 for a home incorporating a folksy requirement to shop using a cargo bike plus cheek by jowl living with near neighbours remains to  be seen.

Council misled Lowfield residents

Two virtually identical planning applications were dealt with by Council officials last week.

Both concerned details of the current development taking place at Lowfield.

Both related to “alterations to bedrooms, house types, elevations, roof mounted PV, masterplan revisions, finished floor levels and boundary treatments”

2019 proposal was withdrawn on Tuesday. The 2021 proposal was approved on Wednesday

The second application additionally extended the permitted hours of working to include Saturday afternoons.

The first application (originally submitted in 2019) was withdrawn on Tuesday.

On Wednesday the new application was approved by officials using delegated powers.

The applications had been described as “non material amendments”. Given that the applicant, and the planning authority, were both the York Council, this give rise to claims of unfairness.

It is unlikely that affected neighbours understood what was going on behind closed doors.

Apart from the Saturday working proposal, the biggest concern relates to the the boundary fencing arrangement. Most residents had originally expected that the existing railings – which are in good condition and date from the time that the site was a school – would be retained.

The Council then proposed to remove the railings and substitute a close boarded fence.

Many neighbours feared that the removal of the railings would damage their adjacent gardens.

Rubbish accumulates between different fence layers

The latest plan involves the retention of the railings with a close boarded fence also being erected on the development side.

Double (or triple) fencing has not been a success elsewhere.

Maintenance is difficult.

Close boarded fences are an obstacle for wildlife.

They also squander the opportunity to use natural hedging which has environmental benefits.

The double fencing idea is, of course, also more expensive. Those facing a £295,000 bill for a three bedroomed semi might well have preferred the option to have a discount (and a boundary hedge).

Sadly this is another example of poor public relations on a controversial development which is now hopelessly behind schedule.

The damage to roads and verges in the existing Lowfield area is appalling while the noise nuisance now seem likely to extend into more of the weekend.

The issues are known to local Councillors.

The Lowfields Facebook page can be accessed by clicking here

The Romans are leaving

See the source image

The Councils planning committee have rejected plans to establish a Roman visitor attraction on the lower floor of a block of flats on Rougier Street. The building would have replaced the (rather less than iconic) “Northern House” 60’s office block.

Opponents of the scheme cited the building’s size and the lack of affordable housing units to justify their decision.

The developers now have the options of appealing against the decision, submitting fresh plans or walking away from the City.

Does high density development have a post pandemic future?

Hungate development plans

Developers have submitted their final proposals for building on the remaining plot on Hungate.

 The latest planning application would see an increase in the number of flats proposed from 169 to 226. No on-site parking will be provided. There will be some ground floor retail units.

The announcement comes hard on the heels of a planning application which would see 211 apartments constructed on Rougier Street.

While a lot of people will be pleased to see the Hungate  development – which started over  10 years ago – completed, there will be some scepticism about the number of apartments being provided on a relatively small site.

 The lockdown restrictions have highlighted the need for access to safe open space. Unfortunately land values – established during a very different economic climate – make the provision of the alternative to flats –  terraced homes with private gardens – financially challenging.

Barbican Road development site

This may be why the City center’s worst eyesore continues to lie empty and abused.

The site at the junction of Barbican Road and Paragon Street has been derelict for more than a decade. Originally intended for use as a student block, it has failed to attract serious developer interest.

Now it provides an embarrassing backdrop to the historic City Walls.

Perimeter hoardings now covered in graffiti.

Directly opposite – on the other side of the Walls – is the Willow House  former elderly persons home which has been unused for over 4 years. The Council has still not responded to calls for the building to be used as temporary accommodation for the homeless.

The York Council itself is planning to build hundreds of apartments on the York Central site as well as at Castle Mills.

The next year will tell us how many people want to occupy small flats in high density city centre developments.

Post pandemic, we suspect that the option might be losing some of its appeal.