THE collapse of a huge property portfolio could allow one of York’s least-loved buildings to be redeveloped at a knockdown price – with demolition among the options.
City of York Council’s cabinet will tonight decide whether to spend £62,250 on taking sole control of the land where Stonebow House stands with the ultimate aim of redeveloping all or part of the site, built almost 50 years ago but now regarded by many as York’s worst eyesore.
Council leader James Alexander has said all options for its future will be considered.
The authority plans to buy North Yorkshire County Council’s share of the site’s freehold – the long-term ownership of the land and building, retained by both councils since Stonebow House was built – to ease any future redevelopment.
Detailed plans have yet to emerge, but demolition of the site has not been ruled out.
A developer was given a 100-year leasehold, expiring in 2067, on the Stonebow House office block when it was built, with the building later becoming part of the Tawny property portfolio bought by F&C REIT Asset Management from Evans of Leeds in 2007.
However, property services company DTZ were appointed as receivers for this portfolio – which includes other commercial sites in York – last October, after its value plummeted over a six-year period.
The city council said the leasehold, whose owners Brightsea UK Ltd recently appointed administrators, is likely to eventually come up for sale, and single ownership of the freehold would simplify any development proposals. It is in talks with the administrator over the leasehold’s future, with different parts of the site having been sublet to various companies.
The current value of the freehold is £124,500, and the city council would pay the county council 50 per cent of any proceeds above this sum if it is sold on within ten years of its purchase. Coun Alexander said: “All options are open, no decision has been taken and anything else is just speculation at this point.”
A report by the council’s head of asset management, Phillip Callow, said that if the purchase goes ahead: “City of York Council will control the freehold of the whole site and so can have meaningful discussions with the long leaseholder about future options, with the objective of improving the appearance and development of this area on the edge of the city centre.”
It said that, if the freehold remained in joint ownership, any talks over the site would have to include the county council, “which could cause delay and possible conflicting ideas”.
Stonebow House – which is not listed – was built in the mid-1960s by Wells, Hickman and Partners, about a decade after Stonebow was created through York’s slum clearance programme, and was described by national architecture critics at the time as “hideous” and “sheer visual misery”.
Its construction blocked off the view of historic buildings in St Saviourgate, such as the Central Methodist Church, from Hungate and Stonebow.
The Tawny portfolio includes 26 industrial and office sites in the north, the Midlands and Scotland, among them Clifton Moor Industrial Estate, York Business Park and office blocks at Piccadilly Court. F&C REIT bought it for £380 million in 2007, at the UK commercial property market’s peak, but by last autumn its value was believed to have dropped to about £220 million.
DTZ and corporate finance advisory firm Hudson Advisors are now expected to carry out a “value add” programme on these properties to increase their market attractiveness before they are sold on.
Public must have say on any redevelopment
YORK conservationist Alison Sinclair said the public must be consulted on any future plans for Stonebow House’s redevelopment.
“Stonebow House is a typical example of the architecture of its time and has added significance, as it is symbolic of the creation of a modern street in the medieval city,” she said.
“But it is far too dominating in its location and certainly doesn’t fit in with surrounding historic streets. Since it seems to have become difficult to find tenants for its offices, it might be better to redevelop the site, though it would depend on what is proposed.
“It is to be hoped the council do not prescribe what will replace it. For the Stonebow site, they should ask the public what they would like to see in its place.”
Philip Crowe of York Environment Forum said: “My personal view is that Stonebow House has not stood the test of time, not necessarily from a stylistic point of view, but because it was not very well-built.
“One particular problem is the dreadful facade of its ground level, which is a disgrace to the city. If the building was developed in a sensitive way, it could still retain a presence, but I would not necessarily be against demolishing it as long as a scheme was in place, rather than knocking it down and then letting developers try to get a scheme going.
"I also think the idea of redeveloping part of the lower level as public open space, while retaining the office block, has a lot of merit as it would open up views towards St Saviourgate.”