Cllr Ian Gillies is the Leader of the City of York Council.
York’s 2015 elections left our three main parties virtually level pegging, following which York Conservatives (14 seats) formed a Conservative-led joint administration with the Liberal Democrats (12 seats), leaving the previous Labour administration (15 seats) in opposition.
My focus, first as Executive Member for Transport and Planning and now as Leader of the Council, has been to kindle a sense of ambition for York and to try to drive forward the improvements the residents of our heritage-rich city want to see. We’re pushing on to set the course for major projects that will span a number of councils, but small wins keep the focus on front line services.
For example, after years of foot-dragging, we’ve removed A-boards from city centre pavements after they grew like knotweed and escalated to the point of becoming a pedestrian danger. We dismantled an unloved concrete fountain in the centre of Parliament Street which had sat dormant for years, too ugly and too expensive to fix. Small things, but with impact.
We’ve supported ‘Spark’, leasing a small plot of unused council land to young entrepreneurs as a venue for stalls and food outlets made of old shipping containers. It’s the first of these pop-ups outside of London and whilst not universally loved, it has already done its job by bringing a buzz to an underused part of the city.
The UK’s first pop-up Globe Theatre has just opened for the summer, ingeniously erected within a fortnight on the central Clifford’s Tower car park. We are being reimbursed for the loss of the parking spaces, making this a win all around and an innovative cultural offer for the city.
A new consultation process on a developmental masterplan for this area of the city has recently concluded, which utilised walking tours, lectures and presentations by groups such as the York Civic Trust, in addition to the usual online slides and questionnaires. It really captured residents’ imaginations, and we are using the same process for elsewhere in the city.
York Central is our 45 hectare brownfield area to the west of York railway station, bordered by operational railways but with the potential to deliver up to 2,500 homes and up to 120,000 square metres of office and retail space. Having been designated both a Housing Zone and an Enterprise Zone by the Government under our watch, a partnership including the council, Network Rail, and Homes England are working to finally make development of this challenging site a reality.
We have succeeded where the previous two administrations have failed and have submitted a draft local plan to the government inspectorate prior to the 31 March 2018 deadline agreed with the Housing Minister. The draft plan is a carefully considered balance between York’s limited capacity to expand and our need for new housing, and at present we await the inspectorate’s response.
Whilst York is grappling with the funding issues facing every authority, we are in a stronger position than many, as witnessed by recent national accolades including becoming Britain’s first ‘megabit city’ and being named as “the best place to live in the UK” by the Sunday Times. We believe that with the right candidates York Conservatives have a good chance to retain our current seats and to be able to continue to pursue our ambitions for York’s future.