CASH-STRAPPED council bosses have come under fire over a new £160,000 bill for consultants.
City of York Council has agreed to spend the money as part of its work on the Local Plan, to replace the previous version that was scrapped last July, but the expense has been criticised by the Conservative opposition.
Tory leader Ian Gillies said the council was spending a lot of money to be told what it already knew and said the Labour council was also overlooking previous studies and reports.
The council scrapped its Local Development Framework, a 20-year planning vision, after a Government inspector raised “significant concerns” about the document and after new superstores and a community stadium at Monks Cross were approved.
The authority is now creating a replacement Local Plan and hopes to have it in place by 2015,. It says much of the work done on the LDF can be reused.
But Coun Gillies claimed previous analysis, such as the 2007 independent Future York Group report into York’s economy, was being ignored and he has criticised a £160,000 budget for “specialist and expert consultant input”, which will include external firms being paid £42,500 to report on “economic vision” and the future of York’s city centre, almost £6,000 to analyse housing requirements, and £38,500 to assess potential sites for new homes.
Coun Gillies said: “£160,000 is an awful lot of money for consultants to be telling us things we already know. For example, we have four road bridges in York and they are very busy, but we know that. We have got highly paid officers at the council and they should be doing this work. The Future York report should also be used as a starting point, because there were costs involved in compiling it and not much has changed since.”
The Future York report recommended setting “ambitious” goals to double the size of York’s economy by 2026, taking a “proactive” approach to securing funding to dual the outer ring road, improving regional airport links so journey times to and from York were no more than 45 minutes and continuing to develop Science City York.
Coun Dave Merrett, cabinet member for transport, planning and sustainability, said much had changed since then and claimed Coun Gillies’s view was “breathtaking in its simplicity”.
He said: “The city centre is facing major challenges, which is why we require expert analysis on how we step up to them.
“On the Local Plan, the Government inspector was clear that the evidence base needs to be up to date and able to withstand challenge. Some work is required externally where we do not have the expertise or capacity to undertake it in-house, consistent with councils across the country. Given the Conservatives nationally say we need a robust Local Plan, the local party needs to accept there is a cost attached.”