York Green Party

City of York Council Planning Committee passed controversial votes on three applications for development of the Monks Cross Shopping Park yesterday.

18 May 2012

Two concerned improvements and enlargements of the Shopping Park as it now stands, and the third was the combined application for a Community Stadium and Shopping Park, including a new John Lewis anchor store as well as an superstore sized Marks and Spencer store. This is the application that has attracted yards of press coverage since Oakgate Ltd. began publicising its development project in July last year.

The Park Inn Hotel hall housing the meeting was full to capacity and members of the public addressed the committee throughout the day. The meeting lasted until seven at night, finally resulting in an 11:4 vote in favour of the major out-of-town development cum stadium, and the refusal of the two smaller applications.

The one Green committee member and the three conservative committee members voted against the development. All nine Labour members and both Lib Dems voted in favour - a surprisingly tidy count. Planning committees are designed to remain uninfluenced by party politics, allowing individual members to vote according to expert information and their personal conscience. Planning committees are also generally guided by planning officers' reports and recommendations on the proposals. Two of the submissions were processed in this accepted manner. The combined Community Stadium plus Shopping Park development proposal submitted by Oakgate developers was not: planning officers did not include recommendations to the committee in their report.

The committee members who voted in favour gave reasons which closely echoed the thinking of James Alexander, Labour Council Leader. James Alexander had previously published his views in the Press, stating that York needs to prove it's open for business by making Monks Cross into a convenient location for big retail investors.

Objections to the proposal can be summarised in four main points:

City centre businesses will be undermined, both because of the competition, and because alternative city centre investments would turn elsewhere in the face of this major new retail development on the edge of town.

This will in turn lead to poor retail support for the heritage buildings that make York special, probably leading to their degeneration. Tourism will suffer, and city centre shops that persevere will suffer in turn. The council purse, which depends on tourism for much of its revenue, will also shrink.

The Highways Agency objected to the plan as traffic will be increased well beyond the capacity of the highways, thus causing chaos for residents and commuters. This will also worsen the quality of air for York residents, particularly in Huntington.

Finally, the Local Development Framework drafted for York by the council officers, after much consultation with residents and many tax-funded hours of labour, will lose credibility and need to be rewritten.

Denise Craghill, speaking against the project, asked the committee to consider whether the building of the new sports stadium would compensate for the damage caused by an OOT retail development equal in size to much of the city centre. "I would suggest that even if the claimed benefits are all sound and deliverable, which is certainly debatable, the level of harm is so extensive that, as the people appointed to make responsible planning decisions for the future of this city, you should not even be considering approval."

The committee did not heed her plea, opting to support the Oakgate Ltd business venture.

Dave Taylor pointed out the irony of favouring business with the construction of an out of town retail centre: " Accepting the application shows that York is not open, but closed to new business investment, as it cripples existing retail in the city centre and deflects major investment at Piccadilly."

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