Sparks container village – deadline for disabled access lift passes

Street “art” still dominates Piccadilly

Anyone expecting to see the disabled lift installed at the Sparks site on Piccadilly may be disappointed. Users say that it is still missing despite public promises made to the planning committee in August that it would be available for use by the end of September.

The same meeting was told that the project was highly successful. Others have,however, claimed that many of the original tenants have now quit the site, with only alcohol sales thriving.

Anyone expecting to see the street art graffiti removed from the Piccadilly frontage will also be disappointed. There is no sign of the cladding which should have been provided before the site opened in April.

Sparks have enjoyed beneficial occupation of the site since September 2017

Responses by Council officials to a series of Freedom of Information requests by local architect Matthew Laverack may give rise to even more concern.

The requests probe the role of the York Council as the landlord for the site. They agreed that the shipping containers could be put on the land despite pressure to advertise the site for permanent development. Many regarded the terms of the deal as generous with the Council pitching around £60,000 into the project.

Insurance requirements in the lease have apparently not been met and the Council’s building control section haven’t signed off the site as complete.

The mainstream media have been very quiet about these planning and lease breaches, while the Councils planning enforcement team has so far been wholly ineffective.

The contract allows for the Council to take back the site if, after 21 days, the tenants have failed to pay the rent or complied with their obligations under the Lease.

The Council will likely face an Ombudsman referral unless it gets its act together

NB Empty properties nearby are being offered free of charge on a short-term lease to voluntary organisations. There have been no takers.

Fake consultation Two

Does Spark matter?

Spark April 2018

Officials are proposing to turn a blind eye to the failure of the operators of the Spark container village to implement planning conditions.

Instead a report to a planning meeting next week recommends that retrospective planning permission be given to ignore previously imposed conditions.

Even the burgeoning academic city elite have managed only a handful of comments in favour of Sparks application.

The development currently majors on alcohol-based businesses, omits promised wooden screening, includes a “graphic” on its Piccadilly frontage which is intrusive (at least) and has no proper disabled access.

The operators say they can’t afford to implement the previously granted permission – but are operating the business anyway. They publicly describe the business as very successful

Should we care?

There are several reasons why this approach will create dangerous precedents.

  1. The Council is the owner of the site and is Spark’s landlord. If the enterprise fails, then the Council (taxpayers) will be out of pocket. Officials and councillors on the planning committee cannot inure themselves from this unfortunate fact. Their impartiality is compromised.
  2. It was the developers themselves that offered to clad the outside of the containers on the Piccadilly frontage to make them less intrusive. It is inconceivable that they did not understand the costs of such an exercise and include it in their business plans
  3. Failure by the Council to insist on proper disabled access being available from day one of operation is a dereliction of duty and lets down an important, vulnerable section of the local community. If the operators of any other commercial shopping development in the City, not on a Council owned site, had tried that on, then they would likely have received an enforcement notice the next day.
  4. “Can’t afford to implement the planning conditions” is not a reason to change them. Other developers will quote this precedent if retrospective planning permission is granted.

The planning official’s analysis of the application is disappointing. It agonises about the impact that the buildings and the street art have on the Red Lion (Listed Grade II) and St Deny’s church (Listed Grade I). Officials make the subjective judgement that the development “causes less than substantial harm to the character and appearance of the Conservation Area”.  The impact of the development, acknowledged by officials as “a far more utilitarian development which expresses the structure and appears somewhat cluttered”, extends far beyond the Piccadilly area.

The report claims that “commercial units in Spark have been occupied in accordance with the approved scheme and the social space / business hub is used by various local groups and organisations”.  In reality, several of the (non-alcohol related) units are empty.

Officials claim that the development meets one of the Councils own objectives. “To support strong, vibrant and healthy communities”.

How stimulating a drinking culture helps create a “healthy” community is not explained.

So, should Spark continue?

As its already in place and has a lease until May 2020, the assumption must be that it will stay. The mistake was made when the Council leased the land for such a use in the first place (November 2016).

This was compounded by a poorly thought through planning permission.

The Planning committee should insist that an enforcement notice is issued immediately requiring the disabled access lift to be installed within the next few days. A temporary closure notice should be issued if this isn’t done.

The committee should also insist that the “art” and lettering on the Piccadilly frontage is removed and that the visible container sides are painted in neutral colours.

Notwithstanding this, there are questions that the council as the landlord for the site needs to answer. It should be open about the current amount of public investment that is at risk.

By now the Councils should have received a significant amount in rent and rates. It should say how much?

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.

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.

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.