Work on Blue Bridge is due to take place in the next few weeks. Unfortunately this will mean its closure for up to three weeks of October, forcing less confident cyclists to have to walk between Mecca Bingo and Fishergate Bar to reach the city centre. (A longer alternative would be over Millennium Bridge, along Terry Avenue). Through the mycastlegateway consultations, I hope serious thought can be given to creating attractive ‘flood proof’ walking and cycling routes. We need to significantly reduce traffic dominance and speeds between Tower St and Fishergate School/ The Barbican. Opening up direct access into and from Piccadilly (especially for buses) and from Tower St onto Skeldergate Bridge could allow for a review of the need for the gyratory and its vast expanses of tarmac. This could allow space for a Dutch-style two-way cycle link between Fishergate Bar, Kent St and Blue Bridge Lane, connecting city centre, orbital and riverside routes. Any replacement for Castle Car Park should be on the Piccadilly side of the Foss (linked to Clifford’s Tower by pedestrian bridge), allowing ‘un-dualling’ of Tower St to ‘reunite’ Tower Gardens with the Castle area.

Cllr Andy D’Agorne, Fishergate Ward

23rd September 2017

 

 

 

Blue bridge

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For those whose health conditions mean clean air is a necessity rather than a bonus and for the various flora that grow there, the little known Millenium Green between Water end/Leeman rd and Poppleton road, is a much appreciated wild open space including a pond. It is a special, peaceful place.

Leeman Rd-Millenium Green

If the York Central access road gets built right through it, time’s up for those who have enjoyed Millennium Green for over 20 years. Those who have worked tirelessly on maintaining the area feel themselves that time is up unless some new green-fingered, nature loving or just fun-loving young people, families, volunteers come forward to take it on. They have also told me there is ‘no money’ to do it! I find this hard to believe when the total Holgate ward budget is around £80k for 2017-2018.

Since the site is on a 999 year lease from the council they can claim it back at any time. To designate it worthy of Millennium-assigned prominence then within 2 decades decide it is expendable seems a little disrespectful.

This is therefore a call for anyone local, or anyone further afield around York, to show an interest, go and explore the area and offer some conservation enthusiasm if they can. Many residents around the Leeman Rd and Poppleton Rd area enjoy this sit but as a past resident of Clifton Green, it was only a short walk over the bridge to a fantastic older children’s playground (opposite the RSPCA animal home) and if we’d ventured slightly further on, Millennium Green would have opened up to us just there through the woodland.

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Similarly, the Holgate community garden is another unbuilt-up, cherished  place, at threat of closure for the same reasons if the access road gets located there. Arguably, he Millennium Green site is not as close to people’s homes as the Holgate site for an access road to affect them too much there, but a road rather than open space means traffic, noise, pollution and another lost green space to the benefit of the York Central development. The York Green Party’s position on the access road is that all three remaining options (1. over Millennium Green, 2. through Millennium Green, 3. through Holgate garden) are flawed if they allow general traffic to continue to use Marble Arch to drive to and from the city centre. If that was public transport prioritised, there would be far less traffic and congestion impact within the development. Based on the information available that Western Option 1 is the least damaging to existing communities as it skirts along the edge of the Millennium Green nearest to the railway lanes and furthest from the residential area on the other side of the Green and it avoids the Holgate Community Garden

This is a development we support if it is built in a truly sustainable, environmental and people-first manner. If the motives are biased towards attracting international investors and profit instead, the people will not prosper and health and well-being will slip down the priority list.

See this Guardian article about Cambridge for a worrying example of how such a ‘Gateway’ development could be strangling rather than enlightening for existing and new urban residents.

Where the access road ends is as yet undecided, the public consultation has finished but we urgently calling for better consultation on this with fuller information. In the meantime, if you fancy a trip a short way out of the city, No. 2 or 10 bus are closest, and can at least say “I went somewhere new today on my doorstep”, to sit and breathe or for the kids to play and explore, I and other local residents can hope Millennium Green will be enjoyed at least a little while longer.

The official York Central Partnership is going ahead with public consultations on road access to the York Central site. See links and dates below

(The access plans will also be available online from 23 August.)

The York Central Action (YCA) community group, supported by the York Green Party, believe that for a meaningful consultation the public needs to be MUCH better informed. The York Central Partnership includes City of York Council, Network Rail, National Railway Museum and The Homes and Communities Agency. There was a meeting with the York Central Partnership Working Party on August 4th at which YCA learned very little.
They asked the Partnership to share with the public:
  • What is the big vision for the site – especially for health, homes and jobs?
  • What is the overall business plan – what are the costs and risks, and who will make money? How will the public benefit?
  • The Partnership has hired six firms of consultants – what have these consultants been asked to do?
  • What are the impacts of the different access options on health and wellbeing? This is a major community concern. What are the relative costs of the different access options?
  • What is the Partnership’s response to our consultation proposal?
They were told that ‘there may be delays’ in responding to these questions but one important response they have received is that
“The health aspects of the vision have been added following the ongoing public engagement to reflect the importance of this issue and may be subject to further refinement through the consultation.”
The problems as YCA see it, come back to ‘commercial confidentiality’ and the partnership having only ‘big picture data’ even though they are asking the people to respond to detailed questions! It will be a case of putting together as much information as we can ourselves.
Another interesting response with detailed information which they have provided is that

“The scheme must be viable in order to deliver the much needed new jobs and homes in York to enable the city to grow and prosper. To this end the Partners and wider stakeholders have been successfully assembling a public sector funding package to ensure the delivery of critical items of infrastructure to support the scheme, including:

-Housing Zone funding through HCA

-Local Growth Funding from Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership

-Enterprise Zone status through the Department of Communities and Local Government

-Individual Partner contributions.”

They have also said they are
“open to alternative methods of engagement for the next stage of consultation and we will discuss this with all interested parties”
…So perhaps we can hope for some “creative hack” activities such as those attempted by the Castle Gateway development groups on the other side of the city!
In the meantime we still think it wise for as many people and groups as possible to respond to the ‘access road’ consultations before 13th September, even if we are being asked to make judgement based on inadequate information. We need to gauge community impact of the options and inform the preferred access route, which will then feed into preparations for the Masterplan consultation.
York Central Partnership’s ‘Access road’ Consultations
“As a land-locked site that is surrounded by railway lines, road access is a crucial consideration.   Several options are being considered for the site and the events will allow those options to be outlined to the public, giving them an opportunity to feed back directly to the technical and design teams that work with York Central Partnership.”
The partnership has organised four separate events:
  • St Barnabas Church, Jubilee Terrace, Leeman Road
2:00pm – 5:00pm, Wednesday 23 August 2017
  • St Paul’s Church, Holgate Road
4:00pm – 8:00pm, Wednesday 30 August 2017
  • Marriot Room, Explore Library, Library Square, Museum Street
Noon – 4:00pm, Saturday 2 September 2017
  • Duchess of Hamilton Suite, National Railway Museum, Leeman Road
Noon – 4:00pm, Saturday 9 September 2017
The events will allow residents to understand more about the options being considered and comment on the potential access routes, with the feed back helping inform the final decision on access.
The access plans will also be available online from 23 August. 
Feedback is invited between Wednesday 23 August and Wednesday 13 September 2017.
Finally, if you would like to know how to contact the officers responsible for these things, the York Central Partnership contact is Katherine Atkinson on
t: 01904 551474 | e: katherine.atkinson@york.gov.uk

York has been monitoring the dangerous levels of air pollution caused by traffic for nearly 20 years. Although there are signs of improvement there are still over 100 people a year dying early because of the pollution and more children suffer asthma and have restricted lung development. Of the UK’s 43 air quality zones, 38 (including York) have failed to meet Nitrogen Dioxide limits stipulated by the EU and are unlikely to do so before 2020.

We therefore call for more urgent action to implement the Air Quality Action Plan immediately, with a ‘clean air zone’ for the city centre which would include priorities such as:

  • Targeted enforcement action against drivers parked with their engines running
  • Reducing the number of diesel vehicles
  • Behavioural change away from private car use

 

‘Keep your blog posts short’ they say! I tried, but the Community Stadium is quite a big issue! In brief – it looks like it’s finally going to happen, but there are concerns about the financial risks that are still there and complicated contract arrangements. There’s a bit of a question as to how quality is being maintained for millions of pounds less spend, following reduced capital income. It’s great that Yearsley Pool is being included in the full contract term, supported by a Green Party budget amendment in 2015, but long-term funding is still not certain. It’s a huge missed opportunity (for sustainability and financial common sense) that renewable energy and more iconic design isn’t included. More detail below.

I stood in for Green Group leader, Cllr Andy D’Agorne, at the Council’s Executive meeting on Thursday. The main agenda item was the final sign off for the financial deal on the new Community Stadium at Monks Cross – see The Press coverage of the meeting here http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/15439157.York_stadium_project_given_green_light/?ref=mrb&lp=5#comments-anchor

 

I was pleased to join others in congratulating officers on the amount of work that has been done to get this far. After such a long time, there is a real prospect of work starting in the Autumn. Parts of it could be open just before the May local elections in Spring 2019, as it happens. Although even if it’s on target, it seems the grass on the pitch will need to grow a bit more before the stadium itself opens in June 2019! However, we don’t yet have signatures on the bottom line, so fingers still need to be crossed!

Lost simplicity?

The financial package that supports the building of the stadium and leisure centre is hugely complex. It still includes a lot of risk and raises quite a lot of questions, which were not fully answered.

Sadly, the simple and elegant notion that we pay taxes and national and local government work together to provide services and facilities, perhaps using the clout of a large public organisation to borrow at preferential rates to add to the pot, has become something of a distant memory for now. Part of the funding does indeed come from the Council’s preferential borrowing, which is something that despite all the cuts it can do. But this still has to be paid for out of a declining revenue budget and there is a (debateable) limit as to how much this can safely be used.

Other parts of the funding package come from the so-called ‘section 106’ money – the ‘planning gain’ from the Monks Cross retail development (M &S, John Lewis) and also from the land sale of part of the site for the ‘Commercial Development’ – parts of the stadium complex that will include a range of shops and restaurants.

A tangled web

A confusing array of companies and contracts are involved – the Council contracts with Greenwich Leisure (GLL) to Design, Build, Operate and Maintain (DBOM) the complex (throwing in the operation of Yearsley Swimming Pool and Energise). GLL in turn tender for a Building Contractor – the previous one pulling out was responsible for the latest hold up. GLL has a separate contract with another development company, Wrenbridge Sport, to develop the Commercial Development. The Council and the developer have a ‘deal’ with another company, an investment fund, now Legal & General, who will ultimately acquire the Commercial Development.

 

The Council also has a deal with Cineworld regarding the new Imax cinema – and as yet unsigned deals with York Hospital, York Against Cancer and the two football clubs. A special arrangement has to be made regarding a potential deal with York Explore Libraries to put an innovative new library into the Community Hub – because the Library Service is externalised and funded largely by the Council via a tendered contract, the re-procurement date comes before the Stadium completion, so no contract can be made with the existing library provider (although we all know we hope it will be the same one after the re-tender because there are very limited options for other bidders of a reasonable quality!). A new sponsor still needs to be found for a Stadium Naming Rights contract to contribute in the region of £40-60,000 to the revenue budget. And that’s the simple version!

Will quality be maintained?

The capital income from the Commercial Development is now just under £3 million less than it was going to be in March 2016, due to changes in market conditions post-Brexit. The build cost quoted

 

by the new Building Contractor has also fortuitously reduced by £2.7m and along with some other changes this appears to balance the books. I asked where the reduction in build costs came from – a bit of research indicates it isn’t in materials (prices have increased post Brexit with a weak pound), hopefully it isn’t labour costs as we should be paying proper industry rates and a small pay rise is in place for construction workers.

I was told that it’s due to the competition, that the project is desirable and companies want it in their portfolio. I can only assume this means they will take a cut in profits, as I am assured that the build quality of the complex will not be reduced. I hope very much that my concerns here are groundless and that this will be the case – bearing in mind though that £4m was previously shaved off the rising build costs in 2015 through ‘value engineering’ – a phrase I can’t help feeling is a euphemism for something else ….

Missed opportunities

As a Green Party councillor, I still think the Stadium Complex is in the wrong place – we have yet to see the traffic impact it will have on the surrounding neighbourhoods, not to mention potentially the

 

whole road system in York. It isn’t going to be as easily accessible for people in all parts of York whether they own a car or not, as a city centre location, for example on York Central, would have been. The massive retail development at Monks Cross which is partly paying for the Stadium has not helped the struggle for survival of York’s unique independent business – although the city centre is fighting back well in some ways, there is a trend towards more and more tourist-friendly cafes, bars and restaurants and less diversity.

However, this decision is now ‘water under the bridge’ and it would make sense to make the stadium in the current location as sustainable as possible – both environmentally and financially. So I asked if it would have solar panels on the numerous rooftops? I was told basically ‘no’.

One Planet solutions?

 

The cost of solar panels is now shooting downwards around the world, installing panels on new build is cheaper than retro-fitting them and even with limited Government subsidy, they still provide free energy at least during the day – whilst rapid advances in battery storage even offer the prospect of free energy after dark. As a city committed to One Planet sustainability principles it really is time we ‘walked the walk’ rather than just ‘talking the talk’ – signing up to strategies and pretty logos is fine, and so is encouraging community groups to pick up litter and plant trees, but if we don’t apply the principles to the big projects in the city as well, we’re not really doing it! At the same time, the financial common sense in investing in renewables ought to be overwhelming!

And, there’s also the potential to create iconic and more imaginative design. I googled ‘images stadiums solar panels’ – there were loads, including these:

Yearsley Swimming Pool

I think there’s general agreement that the inclusion of Yearsley Swimming Pool in the DBOM contract for the full contract period of 13 years (+ an option for another 5 years) is very welcome. This is in no small degree due to the untiring campaigning of the Yearsley Pool Action Group and Fiona Evans. The Green Party is very pleased to have played a key part in ensuring the financial package that is now helping to take Yearsley forward via our budget amendment in 2015 that allocated supporting funding via the New Homes Bonus.

However, it was also clear that the future of the pool long term is by no means fully signed and sealed – projections indicate that with the subsidy the pool will start to make a profit after a number of years, which can then be used to help support the pool in future years. But a review will have to take place around 2024 for the Council at the time to decide if it can afford to keep the pool in the GLL contract. 

 

 

Hopes and risks

So, the story overall is by no means a negative one – if it all comes off this time the Stadium complex will be a great facility for a large number of York residents. I really hope it does work – but I do think as opposition councillors we certainly have an obligation to consider the risks and potential flaws. Worth mentioning that the Council is to pay £500,000 upfront to the Building Contractor for early works in order to keep to the proposed timetable. The payment is now – before Financial Close is signed off, hopefully at the end of August. If all goes well, this money will become part of the overall deal, but if Financial Close doesn’t happen the Council will lose the money ….

Going forward let’s hope we can find the best ways to mitigate the traffic impacts and also to make sure that all of York’s citizens, wherever they live, whatever their income and whatever their ability to travel, can benefit from these major new facilities.

Guildhall ward councillor, Denise Craghill, has written to the Council chief executive and other senior officers questioning the inclusion of an area of green open space next to Walmgate Bar in the current sale of Willow House, former Older Persons Home.

She says ‘This is a small area of land but it is more or less the only piece of open green space in this part of the city. Whilst Willow House has always had part of the outdoor area between the buildings and Walmgate fenced off as gardens, this area has always been open and functioned as part of the estate. It is also immediately adjacent to the recently refurbished historic Walmgate Bar.

The Council’s 2014 Open Space Study (part of the Local Plan evidence base) shows quite clearly that Guildhall ward in general is short of public open space. In this area in particular, which includes the Walmgate/Navigation housing estate, the only open space is provided by the green areas near the city walls and the Open Space Study shows the land in question as amenity open space. In practice it is the only publicly accessible area of open space on that side of Walmgate.

I have been told that, although I raised the matter earlier on, it was decided to include the area in the sale because it is part of the land “held’ by Adult Social Services and therefore should automatically be included. However, it unclear whether any consultation was done with housing department or community services regarding the value of the land for local residents. As far as I am aware ward councillors were not consulted.

This seems to me to be an example of the Council persisting in operating in a compartmentalised fashion that doesn’t put the interests of residents first but prioritises property sales and capital receipts above all else. I would like to know who was consulted before it was decided to include this land in the sale and I would like the Council to review the inclusion of this piece of land, which is after all a very small part of the whole site, in the course of discussions with interested parties.’

For some background study info on open spaces, see this document

welcoming walkers

Welcoming the walkers

We had a great evening welcoming the cross-country walkers of the No Fracking Way on Wednesday 8th March at our benefit gig at Tramways Club, to show our complete opposition to fracking in North Yorkshire & indeed nationwide – we are the first political party to come out clearly against it (Labour have belatedly expressed opposition). We enjoyed home-cooked food, gorgeous songs & percussion from duet Lunabai, old school classics entertaining dancing people to the end and Hannah Davies’ brilliant spoken-word. We were able to send Frack Free Ryedale off with some funds for the cause too.

wholesome food

Hearty food prepared by Nicola, Denise, Rosie & Ginnie (and Tom who carried his couscous the first 25 miles!)

Foot spa Andrew

A well-deserved foot spa for our Regional campaign coordinator, Andrew Cooper