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.

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




Disabled parking plan for Reynard’s garage site

Opposition to siting of commercial sea containers grows
Sea containers to be parked on Piccadilly?

Sea containers to be parked on Piccadilly?

Objectors have said that a plan to put sea containers on the Reynard’s garage site on Piccadilly is flawed.

“They are visually intrusive and the proposed 3 year lease represents a very short sighted constraint on the, much needed, redevelopment of the Piccadilly/Castle area.

The City should aspire to much higher standards than are implicit in this project.  To place commercial containers in a location which has visual links to both the Castle complex and historic buildings like the Merchant Adventurers Hall would be an unfortunate precedent.

It is far from clear, from the published papers, how the Council could hope to benefit financially from what is a high risk, speculative venture. The proposed uses would also be in competition with other existing businesses such as the, still relatively new, Shambles market hospitality area”.

It has been suggested that in the short term, the land be used for blue badge vehicle parking. “It is slightly perplexing why this option wasn’t implemented in the early autumn when the demolition works were completed”.

Allocation of the site as a (free) disabled parking area has the advantage of requiring little investment (save for signage) and would ease the pressures on both the Castle car park – which is busy in the run up to Christmas at least – and some City centre streets.

Reynards Garage site

Reynard’s Garage site

The site is closer to City centre amenities and principal shops than other car parks and would therefore be a boon for the disabled.

Those parts of the former garage site which cannot be used for parking cars (because of the configuration) could accommodate cycle racks – again taking pressure off the oversubscribed facilities on Parliament St. The site has the advantage of CCTV security cover.

 The Council has been struggling to find a viable plan to regenerate the Piccadilly area for nearly 20 years.

If the Council cannot bring its “Southern Gateway” project to fruition in less than 3 years, then invitations to tender for use of the land on a medium-term basis should be publicly advertised.

Any proposals can then be properly judged in a transparent way and in the confident knowledge that all businesses and organisations will have had the opportunity to put their case forward and on a level playing field.

Just occasionally a Council goes completely mad

If anyone had suggested over a pint in a public bar that a dozen used sea containers should be allowed to park on a sensitive City centre site in York, for three years, they would have been laughed at.

But in essence the Council’s Executive committee will consider doing just that on the vacant Reynard’s garage site when they meet next week.

Reynards Garage site

Reynards Garage site

A proposal from a group called “Spark” would see affordable space created for “local start-up businesses, social enterprises, community groups and charities for over 20 businesses in 14 fully fitted out shipping containers. The completed scheme would offer street food kiosks, retail, shared workspaces, meeting room, a performance area and public workspace. Although constructed from shipping containers they can be clad and finished in a variety of finishes to fit the locality and create a high quality aesthetic finish”.

A Council official writes that the plan would  ” improve the quality of the area and by driving footfall, contribute to uplift in land values”

Sea containers to be parked on Piccadilly?

Sea containers to be parked on Piccadilly?

The use of low quality temporary buildings with transient users has, of course, had just the reverse effect on land values elsewhere.

It is an extension of the post war bomb site “used car dealer” syndrome.

The containers are expected to be available to rent for £300 a week. Many are expected to be street food outlets and will compete with the mobile vans and stalls which already existed in the Shambles market area.

The Council is expected to spend £40,000 connecting utility services to the site. It says it expects to recover this from rent income although how much “Sparks” would actually pay is unclear.

And critically the location is within sight of some of the most important historical buildings in the City. These include the Merchant Adventurers Hall and the Castle complex.

The Council has had plenty of time to come up with with a constructive, low risk, option for the use of this site.

In the run  up to Christmas it should be used to supplement the overcrowded Castle car park.

After that there are many unobtrusive  leisure and commercial uses that could be considered if the Council really can’t get its “Southern Gateway” major redevelopment project into gear.jumbo-big-square-hay-bale-foreground-dimensions

We have said for some time that the Council has over-extended itself. It has too many major projects on the go at the same time.

Quality is suffering and short term expedients become straws to be grabbed at.

In this case a whole bale of hay is about to fall on the Council leaderships head.

York car parks busy as plea made to free up more space

This week has seen the start of the build up to Christmas in York City Centre.

The most popular car park, at Castle, has been packed for most of the week…. & this despite the surface deteriorating until it is so uneven it represents a safety risk for some pedestrians.

The York Council still doesn’t widely advertise its “on line” car parking space availability web site, 4 years after it was “overlooked” when the local authority relocated its HQ.

On line site confirms parking space availability click to access

On line site confirms parking space availability click to access

Street signs, which indicated the number of vacant  spaces available, have also now disappeared, meaning tourists will add to congestion as they tour the City looking for spaces.

Reynards Garage site left empty

Reynards Garage site left empty

All in all then, a sad state of affairs.

One simple way of supplementing the availability of shoppers car parking spaces in the run up to Christmas would be to create a temporary car park at the former Reynard’s garage (Airspeed factory) site.

This site was cleared about a year ago and now stands tidy, but inaccessible, in a prime location on Piccadilly. The surface is in good condition  and is certainly better than the surface at Castle..

All that is required is the installation of a ticket machine and Council taxpayers could look forward to a welcome financial bonus.

……and visitors to the City would find that there was  a bit less pressure on parking spaces. 



Council in Reynard’s garage land swap

The Council  is expected tomorrow to agree to swap land at Bouthwaite Drive for a plot located next to the Reynard’s garage site on Piccadilly.
Bouthwaite Drive site - click to access

Bouthwaite Drive site – click to access

The latter is owned by the Yorkshire Housing Ltd who are seeking to exchange it for an access strip adjacent to Severus Hill.

Apparently they hope to develop land there.

Yorkshire Housing are currently struggling to complete the Hob Stones development in Windsor Garth. No details of the Bouthwaite Avenue plans have been released.

Permission was recently granted for the demolition of the Reynard’s garage and the Council Executive meeting taking place on 29th October is expected to consider a master plan for the whole Piccadilly area (now dubbed the “Southern Gateway”)

The same meeting is being asked to remove a restrictive covenant which currently prevents some offices located at Clifton Moor from being converted into flats

NB Two pubs, The Derwent Arms in Osbaldwick and the Swan in Bishopgate Street, are likely to be added to the local list of “assets of community value“. The listing provides the local community with an opportunity to bid for the properties should they come onto the market.

Council officials recommend demolition of Reynard’s garage

Reynard’s Garage, 17-21 Piccadilly comprises a substantial early 20th Century masonry and steel portal framed structure lying within the Historic Core Conservation Area to the south west of the River Foss and the City Centre.

17/21 Piccadilly

17/21 Piccadilly

In a report to a planning committee next week, Council officials say, It is of some townscape importance as part of a group of early 20th Century industrial buildings and of some historical importance through its association with early aircraft manufacture by Airspeed Ltd and the author Neville Shute. It was initially constructed as a Trolley Bus Depot but following on from the withdrawal of the network in the early 1930s was converted to industrial use. The building is referred to in the Central Historic Core Conservation Area Appraisal although an attempt to have it Listed as being of Historic or Architectural Interest through Historic England has previously proved unsuccessful due to the lack of survival of its historic detailing and its very poor structural condition. It is in very poor structural repair and has been vacant for approximately 20 years”.

The report also says,

“it is clear that the fabric of the building is beyond repair for reuse, and the building is in the short term highly likely to collapse without major intrusive supporting works”

Officials recommend “any permission be conditioned to require short term development comprising the landscaping of the site including an element of interpretation of its role in the development of the modern City”.

They go on to recommend the demolition of the building.

Any short term use is likely to be restricted to either car parking of use as a coach drop off point. Council officials seem to think it will become a “landscaped area” although the costs and source of funding for such a temporary use are unclear.

The Council recently withdrew from its forward decision programme proposals to create a “Masterplan” covering the whole of the Piccadilly area.

While developers are known to have tabled comprehensive  proposals for the area – including the conversion of Ryedale House into residential accommodation – it seems unlikely that the proposals will be considered in the near future.

In the meantime the derelict site should be made safe and put to a positive use which is neither an eyesore nor a burden on taxpayers..