THE potential redevelopment of a city-centre office block which has been branded the worst eyesore in York must not harm two popular music venues based beneath it, the city's council leader says.

City of York Council's Labour cabinet agreed to spend £62,250 earlier this year on taking sale ownership of the land on which Stonebow House stands, with the eventual aim being to develop all or part of the site. Options could include demolishing the block, which was built almost 50 years ago but is largely unloved by residents.

The York authority is in the process of buying North Yorkshire County Council's share of the site's freehold, which had been retained by both councils since Stonebow House was built in the mid-1960s, following the collapse of a property portfolio which included the site.

The holders of the building's leasehold went into administration last year and the city council believes controlling the freehold would make any future development proposals easier.

In his speech to Thursday's full council meeting, Coun James Alexander will say that if development plans are drawn up for the site, current occupiers - including gig venues Fibbers and The Duchess - must be considered, saying: "The council is pursuing the purchase of the remaining freehold.

"This will give us a greater stake in any future redevelopment which may occur upon the site. Any new development must be sensitive to existing businesses, primarily the music venues."

The council has said all options for the future of the Stonebow House site - which is not listed - will be considered. Campaign group York Sustainable Development Project said last month that "innovative design" could transform its heavily-criticised appearance, saying that while it was "undoubtedly ugly", it could still be converted into apartments, restaurants, bars and shops.

Coun Alexander will also say he is awaiting written confirmation from the Government about the impact of the impending closure of women's open prison HMP Askham Grange, near York, after the Ministry of Justice last year said dedicated jails for female offenders were no longer needed and they should serve their sentences closer to home. The announcement came five months after inspectors described the prison as "remarkable".

Along with Lord Mayor of York, Coun Julie Gunnell, and Liberal Democrat leader Coun Keith Aspden, Coun Alexander met new Justice Minister Simon Hughes earlier this month, and said: "The minister has given me assurances that prison provision will not be diminished and all 100 Askham Grange employees will be offered new employment within 60 minutes' travel time."