City leaders back High Speed Rail College for York

York central site

York central site

York’s political party Group Leaders have backed calls for the Government proposed High Speed Rail College to be situated in York.

The college, expected to deliver specialised training and qualifications needed to construct high speed rail, will not only benefit HS2 but other future infrastructure projects in the region.

The first new incorporated further education college in over 20-years, it will offer technical training ensuring HS2 can be built by skilled British workers including; rail engineering, environmental skills and construction.

York Central site proposed

York Central has today been put forward for consideration for the new national high speed rail college.

The proposed hub would be located on a site next to the rail station in York, on land owned by Network Rail, yet harnessing the strengths of employers and skills providers from a broader geographic region through the rail connectivity this location affords, up and down the East Coast Mainline, and across to West Yorkshire through the Transpennine route.

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Cleveland Street residents raise concerns about “bridge to nowhere”

click for large scale plan

click for large scale plan

The Council’s Cabinet is set to agree to buy a strip of land (marked C on the plan) between Wilton Rise/Cleveland Street and Chancery Rise when it meets on Tuesday.

The Council bought sites A and B in 2011.

The Chancery Rise link will be the location for the Councils £10 million access bridge into the York Central site.

The bridge will pass close to some houses on Cleveland Street and may affect the nearby playground.

There has been surprisingly little discussion with local residents about the plan which could have major noise and pollution implications.

No planning permission for the bridge is in place.

The Council is also looking to sell on site A to Network Rail.  The site will accommodate some rail functions relocated from the York central area.

The affected streets fall within the Holgate ward. They are represented by Cabinet members James Alexander and Sonja Crisp.

 

A bridge too near?

The promised report on Labour plans for a new £10 million bridge near Wilton Rise has now been published.

It turns out that £1.5 million of this will be spent on consultant’s fees.

Housing numbers. click to enlarge

Housing numbers. click to enlarge

The report claims that the costs of the bridge would be repaid “from the additional income in Business Rates and Council Tax generated by the new developments” (on the York central site).

It then goes on to claim that 1083 new homes will be provided. That is a surprise because the draft Local Plan published by Labour in April assumed only 438 homes would be constructed on this site.

However, the housing numbers included in the Labour draft Local Plan have already been undermined with actual planning applications submitted, and approved, over the last 6 months being in every case higher than the Plan estimate
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Therefore a much higher housing figure is a legitimate target for the York central site.

The present coalition government policy does encourage development and allows local authorities to retain and invest, for 6 years, additional Council Tax monies generated by new homes (New Homes Bonus).

Business Rates have also been “localised”. So an increase in income from additional commercial buildings would increase the amount that the Council receives from Business Rates. However government grants, which seek to equalise Council income between “prosperous” and less well off areas, could be reduced.

No business case of any sort has been provided for the meeting next week.

In addition to the homes, the “plan” talks about “building 93,000 sq m of office space with ancillary bar, restaurant, retail and leisure uses” in 2015.

A further 35,000 sq m would be built in 2019 in the form on a commercial area “in front of the station” and would include a new hotel although most would be more offices.

Of course, any incremental development in the City provides similar increases in Council income plus more jobs and homes.

Residents might have expected any income to be earmarked to pay for repairs to the public services in the City which have deteriorated so badly over the last 3 years.

Public consultation results - York central access options

Public consultation results – York central access options

Incredibly, the Council is being asked to earmark the £10 million without a development “Masterplan” being in place.

As a result no planning permission exists for the development.

The absence of a business plan is the major problem at present. It remains unclear how the site clean up will be funded (it is heavily polluted) nor is there any guarantee that other transport infrastructure needs can be financed.

From the information, that has been made available, it does seem that the Councils investment will not be underwritten in any way.

It is therefore a very high risk venture.

There is no proposal to form a joint development company which would allow Council Taxpayers to share in the success of any development (to offset the substantial risk)

The legal restrictions – which apply across Europe – on subsidising private companies are not explored in the paper.

Like the sale of the Haymarket car park on Hungate – for around 50% of its current open market value – the Council is being both naïve and reckless with taxpayers money. The promised offices and hotel on Hungate have yet to move forward and so have provided no economic stimulus for the City.

The “Bridge to Nowhere” could well be a similar embarrassment.

With the national economy improving, and some local developers reflecting the more buoyant approach in the City, less risky ways to kick start important developments like York Central should be considered.

Rush to spend £10 million

In 2005 the Regional Development Agency (Yorkshire Forward) budgeted to spend nearly £10 million, of central government money, on infrastructure improvements which would allow the area of land behind the York railway station to be developed.

The site – dubbed York Central – was effectively landlocked with a bridge over the freight avoidance line required before development could start.

But it wasn’t the only issue.

Much of the site was contaminated while a viable transport system to service the development proved to be elusive.

Possible access routes into York Central

Possible access routes into York Central

The funding was never released.

The major landowner (Network Rail) found it impossible to come up with a development proposal which satisfied local planners and also recovered the huge development costs involved.

Then came the recession in 2008 and the scheme, like others across the country, went onto the back burner.

With the economy now improving it is not surprising that development sites like York Central, Nestle South and British Sugar are once again on the agenda.

What is astonishing is that the Council Leadership apparently intend to spend £10 million of Council Taxpayers money on building a bridge linking Holgate Road to the derelict site, and without securing a development agreement, timetable or the planning permissions necessary to ensure a comprehensive development.

Unless a legal agreement is signed to the effect that the costs of the bridge will be repaid from development profits, then the local taxpayer will be left with the bill.

The Council has already dramatically increased the amount of money that it borrows.

These additional debts have resulted in an extra annual repayment costs for taxpayers of £1 million.

The bridge to nowhere would add another £700,000 a year to that figure.

And that money could only come from either higher taxes or – more likely – further reductions in the quality of public services.