Your questions are important but, as you recognise, very difficult to answer precisely at this stage. I can easily tell you that I ‘want the best for the people of York’ and that I believe the York Central development has potential to bring a lot of benefits, in new jobs, housing, economic purchasing power for various local businesses, new opportunities.
I also see a lot of potential concerns for local people – noise and traffic disruption during construction, extra traffic on various key city centre routes once the businesses and houses are in place, unless transport links are handled very carefully, pressure on school places etc.
The development process is very expensive and involves a lot of partners; it has to be handled professionally, drawing on experience from other cities and countries. (I have done a bit of professional programme management in my time, on a much smaller scale and different area, but enough to recognise the key disciplines which are needed.) Community engagement is also important and hard to get right.
That said, things which I think important include: good cycle and foot access into and across the site; maximum encouragement of public transport access rather than allowing workers and residents to assume they will have to make every journey by car, with all the consequences that has; careful use of ‘planning gain’ to add facilities which help the neighbouring communities as well as new residents, on education, health care, culture, green spaces. I would like the access planning to open up the site as much as possible, e.g. a foot/cycle bridge across the river as a possibility; improvement to the current cycle route to the station via Wilton Rise, which has many disadvantages including the steps (I can’t carry my bike up these). There seem to be good wins for the wider community in improving bus exchange at the railway station. If this new area attracts residents, and tourists, to walk through and enjoy green space, and whatever new amenities are provided, that fits with research on health and wellbeing. It should be possible to plan for this as part of longer walking and cycling routes.
The type of jobs and investment we aim to attract – it would be beneficial to aim for the science, technology, research areas; York is also strong on financial services. We want a good mix of jobs for the graduates from our local universities, who like to stay in York (obviously!) but far too often work in retail and tourist jobs, not fulfilling their potential. But of course, also jobs for people with other skill sets, and on-job training. I suspect the site is going to be more ‘office’ than ‘laboratory’, given the land price – but it would be good to have synergy with other local employers, and opportunities for clusters of smaller businesses not just a big headline investor. I understand that Hiscox provide free or very low cost office space to some start-ups, and there is a lot of potential for a major employer to help with a wider positive economic strategy (and do good for their own corporate image).
Housing need – we have to see this site in the context of other housing, including major new builds like the British Sugar site. When we say ‘priority housing need’, I think of low income families, key sector workers or people with mental or physical health problems needing a degree of support in the community – it is important that York plans to meet a wide range of housing needs, but across the city as a whole. There is a link across here to the ongoing Local Plan consultation process.
I am afraid some of this is speculative at this stage. I know there will be more strategic documents for us all to review and comment on over the summer. I welcome expert input on all this, but we do also need to be sure that York people get a genuine chance to understand the proposals and be listened to, before it is all too late.
Which brings us to the issue of community engagement, and the genesis of your group, which I heard about a month or so back. The ‘York Central Consultation Forum’ set up by City of York must not be regarded as a ‘tick box’ which satisfies the full need for community consultation and engagement. It has a limited number of members; fully respecting their personal qualities, they are unlikely to be in a position to consult all other residents widely and pass information back and forwards. I was aware at some of the previous public meetings that York is luckily overflowing with very well informed people with real interest and expertise on this sort of planning and economic development, but no one occasion or committee is going to capture all of that. And the ‘questions’ for consultation, and the information people need in order to partake, will all keep changing.
So, I think you are right to set up a ‘coalition’ of interested bodies and individuals, and I applaud your ‘join us any Monday at the Volunteer’ openness. As the development gets going, the professional project managers must demonstrate (and resource) a wide range of approaches to continuous consultation on emerging issues – door to door surveys, drop in exhibitions with good visual presentations, up to date websites with opportunities to comment, use of social media etc. But local groups also need to be ready to respond to this and spread information about the opportunities. If this is your intention – I fully support it. I hope to get more involved with your group in the future.