We should not build a multi-storey carpark on St George’s Field

Statement by Councillor Andy D’Agorne, Green Group Leader on behalf of the York Green Group

“There has been considerable concern over the proposed building of a multi-storey car park on St George’s Field to replace some of the parking that will be lost with the planned new park next to Clifford’s Tower.

We are very aware that there are different views on this issue in York.

Whilst we believe that the new car park could have provided a feasible compromise between different concerns, our understanding is that there is not now a sound business case to justify the proposed level of investment in the multi-storey car park.

Many people, like us, believe that in the face of the Climate Emergency and the need to reduce car travel in the city to meet our carbon reduction targets, using council investment to build a new car park isn’t the best way forwards. Traffic analysis shows that car parks do attract traffic and can often increase traffic levels. We know that as a city we have to make more and more journeys by means other than the private car to reduce carbon emissions, pollution and congestion.

At the same time, we do understand that some city centre businesses have concerns about the potential impacts of reducing city centre car parking spaces too quickly. As part of a joint council Administration, we have worked constructively to come to a compromise that would still lead to a reduced number of parking spaces in the area and open the way to a broader sustainable transport policy. This includes the review of future options for all existing city centre car parks that has been completed and investment in sustainable modes of transport. The proposed new car park in St George’s Field offered some advantages, including making better use of land by using a smaller footprint and providing a modern car park designed to operate on a flood plain that couldn’t be used for other purposes.

However all of this was subject to a detailed ‘Business Case’ being brought forward to show that the level of investment could be financially justified. Green councillors have been pushing for further information on the soundness of the Business Case and we now understand that there is no financial justification for going ahead with the new car park. We believe it is important to be clear and transparent about this.  Without a sound business case the car park cannot be built and it makes far more sense to spend the funds expected from the wider Castle Gateway project in other ways.

Our understanding is that a key consideration in the Business case is the number of replacement parking spaces that would be provided by building the car park as against the number that can be provided through retaining (and improving) St George’s Field as a surface level car park. At the time of the original work on the multi-storey carpark it was thought many more spaces would be lost to the Foss pumping station. It is now clear that the additional spaces gained by building the car park could be as few as 120 or even less. With a price tag for the new car park of over £14m this would mean a cost of more than £116,000 per space, which is not acceptable in any cost-benefit terms.

Supporting our city centre businesses is very important for sustaining a resilient local economy, providing jobs and maintaining a vibrant city centre for everyone, but our future vision for this cannot depend on large numbers of people arriving in private cars. We believe that what is important for businesses is that people come into the city centre, not exactly how they get there. York’s Park & Ride Service is one of the most successful in the country. We need to build on that to improve all bus services alongside our commitment to improving walking and cycling, freeing up our roads for those who most need to use cars and other vehicles.  

The funding for the new multi storey car park was to come from a combination of council borrowing and profits from the Castle Mills development estimated at around £9m. If the car park is not built, the £9m will be available to help fund the new park around Clifford’s Tower and the Eye of York and to help draw in additional Government funding. The experience of events such as the Rose Theatre on the Castle Car Park demonstrate that many customers will use capacity in other car parks, also limiting the impact on income for the council. 

Many experts agree –( from the ‘City Beautiful’ report produced for York in 2010 through to the recent Grimsey reports on the Future of the High Street) that the sort of public realm being proposed at the Castle and Eye of York is of huge benefit to the attractiveness and prosperity of city centres – worth way more in terms of supporting local businesses than 120 parking spaces!

While the decision on Castle Mills has been delayed until the summer, we feel that the question of the new car park should be settled as soon as possible, giving the opportunity for everyone to work together to develop a transitional car parking policy, making the best use of existing capacity in the city’s car parks and promoting Park & Ride and active travel to move away from reliance on the private car while supporting the prosperity of our uniquely attractive city centre.”

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