Spark – Rates bill arriving

Looks like the Valuation Office has started to issue decisions on the rateable value of units at Spark on Piccadilly.

Units 1 and 2 are now listed as having a rateable value of £12,750 for their 30 sq. mtr ground floor sales area. The price per sq. mtr applied by the VO is £430 which is typical for the area.

The actual business rates payable would be around £6000, with a discount for small businesses.

It appears that valuations are being undertaken per container, so it is unclear precisely how much the Council will receive in total.

The rates are payable with effect from May 2018, so it appears that taxpayers will at last start to see some benefit from their investment.

Separately, Spark have now applied for planning permission to install the canvass roof on their enterprise. This has actually been in place for about 2 months already.

There is still no sign of the promised cladding to the Piccadilly frontage. This was a condition of the planning consent and has been outstanding for over 6 months now.

Spark still to submit planning appeal on cladding

Freedom of Information response confirms no rent or rates paid

Spark was closed yesterday

Despite receiving a decision notice which required the company to implement the original planning condition which included providing cladding on the outside of the containers on Piccadilly, Spark still haven’t started work.

The decision notice was issued on 21st August, over 2 months ago.

Spark were publicly quoted as saying that they would “appeal” to the Secretary of State against the Councils decision. They haven’t done so yet and indeed it could be another 4 months before they have to register an appeal.  Even then Planning Inspectors could take several months to determine the case. That might be close to the May 2020 end of their lease for the site.

The Council says, “It is the view of planning officers that it would be inappropriate and unreasonable for the planning authority to attempt to take planning enforcement action whilst they exercise their right to challenge the Council’s decision”.

Their position ignores the fact that the developers have been in breach of the planning conditions for over 6 months now and that they have failed to record an appeal against the August planning refusal.

With containers having been in place since September 2017, that would mean that the ugly frontage would potentially have been on public view for over 2 years.

A Freedom of Information response (ref: IGF/10492) has confirmed that Spark have not yet paid any rent or rates on their development. The rates issue is blamed on delays in the Valuation Office who have yet to respond to a valuation request issued to them in May 2018.

Developers call “foul”

It appears that the Council issued a contract to Spark which didn’t require any rent payments to be made until March 2019.  It is unclear whether the council collects rent 12 months in arrears on the other properties that it rents in the City (Council house tenants pay rent fortnightly).

The FOI does confirm that building control agreement hasn’t been issued

The original building regulation application was approved at the site, however this has subsequently been amended to incorporate roof cover which is currently being assessed. As soon as this is complete a Completion Certificate will be issued for the site”.

Perhaps not surprisingly other developers in the City are now crying “foul” and are claiming that there is no longer a level playing field.

Spark- FOI reveals email exchanges on planning, cladding and loans

The York Council has shed some light on what they told the Spark developers in the spring of this year.

Copies of Email exchanges have now been published on the “What do they know” web site. Click for details

As early as last April, York council officials knew that the developer was intending not to provide cladding on the external face of the containers. This would have breached planning conditions.

Spark was advised that they had to apply for a variation to the planning permission.

This they subsequently did but the application was refused.

Spark have since said that they will appeal against the refusal.

It also appears that the Council was aware that Spark were borrowing significant sums of money to fund the £500,000 set up costs for the development. It is unclear from the exchange whether the Council’s position as the land owner and preferential creditor was, and remains, fully indemnified. 

At a meeting held in April, Spark were seeking an extension to the “June 2020 end date” for their lease. They were told that this was not possible, although one official hinted “if the venture is well supported and doing well then they (sic) maybe opportunities”.

Another Spark tenant (“Once across the Garden”) announced this week that they are moving from Spark.

NB. Spark started trading in May 2017 having, by then, been on site for over 6 months.

 

 

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 

Beauty in the eye of the bank manager

The debt laden and controversial “Spark” container village has now applied for permission not to implement the site screening which was a condition of approval in 2017.

Planning permission screening 2017

At that time, several objectors had described the old shipping containers as an eyesore. Most saw the plan as inappropriate for a sensitive City centre location and the expectation was that the site would be better developed on a permanent basis.

The site is owned by the York Council introducing a potential conflict of interest when consideration of the planning applications.

There was a strong view expressed that, if temporary planning permission was granted, then the buildings and scaffolding should be painted in a neutral colour.  This would minimise the impact that the development would have on the neighbourhood.

Spark April 2018

In the event, the developers surprised everyone by offering to clad the structure in wood panelling.

The Planning Committee can only judge and determine the plans that are placed before them. The cladding did mitigate some of the concerns about visual impact. The committee (wrongly in our view) then granted a temporary planning permission for 3 years.

It would be over a year before the permission was implemented with the developers ignoring several of the conditions including the needs of disabled users.

The containers haven’t been painted in a neutral colour.

Spark letter – can’t afford screening 2018

A quasi graffiti mortgage has been added to the Piccadilly frontage.

The York Council has been slow to take enforcement action on the planning contraventions. Not surprisingly other developers are crying “foul”. They say that special treatment arises out of the Council ownership conflict (over £50,000 of taxpayer’s money is currently at risk on the project). The remedy for that lies in enforcing the lease conditions for the land.

In the meantime, the media, social and otherwise, will once again no doubt be mobilised to support the change to the planning permission.

Hopefully the planning committee will develop a backbone and ensure that there is a level playing field for all who wish to trade in the City,

Spark set to ignore planning rules on Piccadilly “containergate”?

It seems that some of the units at the Sparkdevelopment” on Piccadilly may be occupied before the conditions of the Council’s planning permission have been met.

Over a year ago the company promised that the ugly storage containers would be screened.

Wooden screening was written in as a condition of the granting of the planning permission.

Several other conditions were imposed including the requirement to agree appropriate materials and advertising signage with the planning department.

Now “The Press” is reporting that graffiti, which recently appeared on the Piccadilly frontage of the containers, is actually the finished design.

Spark April 2018

A spokesperson for Sparks has apparently said that the obligatory screening will not now be provided.

This is a major issue for a site located in the City’s historic core.

Failure by the Council to enforce its own planning conditions might be seen as a precedent by unscrupulous developers keen to avoid, what they may consider to be, onerous conditions intended to protect York’s unique character.

The Council, of course, is the landlord for this development. It has not yet received any rent or rates for the containers which have been in place for over 7 months.

A keen interest is likely to be taken on whether any officials or Councillors accept hospitality from this developer at the promised opening “party” next week. They would be wise to distance themselves, and retain their impartiality, given that any failure to enforce planning conditions on a Council owned site, would inevitably lead to accusations of maladministration.