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Oakgate explain why Monks Cross community stadium and shopping development is right for York
8:34am Tuesday 15th May 2012 in News
A DECISION on a new community stadium and retail development in York will be made by City of York Council on Thursday. Today, Richard France, pictured, managing director of Oakgate (Monks Cross) Ltd, the developers behind the scheme, explains why it is right for York.
Tomorrow: opponents of the Monks Cross scheme have their say.
Q. Why York? And why Monks Cross?
A. City of York Council undertook a site selection exercise, looking at more than 30 potential sites across the city. Huntington Stadium was selected as the most financially viable, practical site to deliver a community stadium within a reasonable timeframe.
Oakgate owns the land next to Huntington Stadium. When the council had identified potential sites for the new community stadium, we entered discussions with them with the idea of providing a retail development which would help fund it.
Q. Wouldn’t it have been easier to choose a site nearer to the city centre? Did you look at such sites?
A. The site selection exercise demonstrated many of the central sites considered would be too expensive to develop over a much longer timescale, making the stadium undeliverable.
Those within the city centre are not large enough to contain a stadium and the necessary enabling development to fund it. York’s historic core is the city’s major attraction, but also a barrier to development. There has been no large-scale development in York city centre for many years.
For this to be an enabling retail development, there must be a reasonable physical proximity to the proposed stadium. You cannot build retail in one part of the city and provide a new stadium elsewhere. Once you consider the space required for a stadium with retail development alongside it, the number of viable sites is extremely limited.
Q. Why not just apply for a retail development without a stadium?
A. The retail and stadium elements are inseparable. The stadium cannot be delivered within reasonable timescales without some form of enabling development to fund it. This is not unusual – a large number of sports stadia have been built in recent years with the help of nearby retail developments, including in Warrington, Swansea and St Helens.
Q. Are you surprised by the level of opposition from city-centre retailers and others to your plans?
A. As a local company, Oakgate understands the city centre is the jewel in York’s crown, and we have committed to working closely with retailers and other stakeholders to encourage visitors to our development to make use of the Monks Cross Park&Ride, which will be extended, and visit city-centre attractions. We understand the concerns expressed by retailers, but similar concerns were raised when York Designer Outlet was being planned and Monks Cross Shopping Park and Clifton Moor were proposed. We take these concerns very seriously and commissioned economic consultants and retail planners to carry out in-depth studies to assess the potential short- and long-term impact on the city centre. These studies show that there will be no long-term adverse impact on the city centre, but a positive economic impact for York as a whole.
Q. How would you allay their fears?
A. These proposals are good for York and good for business in York. With an estimated 7,000 people in York unemployed, the creation of a substantial number of new, permanent jobs is a huge boost for the local economy.
All the indicators are that York is a strong, vibrant, beautiful city with a retail sector in excellent health. However, we cannot stand still while nearby towns and cities continue to improve their offer. Leeds will be the site of the UK’s only major shopping centre opening in the next two years, when the Trinity Leeds development is completed. A new John Lewis store and a large Marks & Spencer will be a huge boost to York’s attractiveness to shoppers, helping combat competition from elsewhere.
Q. You say your scheme will bring an additional £50 million annually into York’s economy, but your own retail assessment says the city centre will lose £38.9 million in turnover in 2016. An independent report by experts says it would lose £50.34 million. How can your plans benefit ALL of York?
A. The Drivers Jonas Deloitte (DJD) report is very positive about the stadium proposals as, in many respects, its findings are in line with what we have been saying since the planning application was submitted. Our research found the development would temporarily result in a dip in city-centre trade by about seven per cent, while DJD concluded this would be 8.76 per cent – closer to our own estimates than the 15-17 per cent bandied around by those opposed to change. The development will lead to a £50m a year total extra retail spend in the York area, as a result of reduced spending by residents in other places and increased spend by visitors. This contributes to an estimated net boost for the York economy of around £12 million a year once the development is open. All of York will benefit from the additional spending by visitors and shoppers from outside York, who will be attracted by John Lewis, M&S and the stadium and then make a trip into the city centre. Any loss of city-centre trade would be short-lived and quickly recovered – our studies show that, over the next five years, the city centre’s total turnover will increase by more than £100 million as a result of natural population and expenditure growth. Our proposal would take a share of this growth, but the city centre can also be expected to benefit significantly.
Q. How many jobs will be created? And how many will be permanent, local jobs?
A. A thousand full-time equivalent permanent jobs will be created. These are high-quality retail roles, the vast majority of which will go to local people. Oakgate are in discussions with local colleges to facilitate links with M&S and John Lewis. Both retailers have well- regarded colleague training and development programmes. John Lewis will create about 400 new jobs and is committed to recruiting from the communities in which it trades. A further 275 full-time equivalent jobs will be created during the 18-24 month construction phase and Oakgate has committed to using local contractors wherever possible.
Q. There are concerns about the impact on York’s road network, and the council’s highways department has said it cannot support the scheme because of traffic and transport issues. How will you address this?
A. We disagree with the conclusions of the council’s highways department and have written to them accordingly. In our view, the report does not reach balanced or reasonable conclusions based upon the available evidence. Our assessments suggest the impact would be “significant” in some locations, and only for a short period on Saturday afternoons/matchdays, which should be expected for any stadium development.
We simply do not accept the view the traffic impacts of this development on their own can be considered “severe”. We are providing a financial sum towards mitigation, but cannot take responsibility for fully solving other existing problems. We have sought to achieve a balanced transport strategy, accepting people will want to visit by car and providing a sensible level of car parking. This is underpinned by a significant level of funding to improve public transport to northern villages, maximizing public transport access and managing down unnecessary car trips. We are contributing £2.642 million from our £17 million investment in the stadium project to address transport improvements in the area. This will be used by the council, ring-fenced and available to spend as it chooses on transport priorities in the Monks Cross and Huntington area. We’ve also been in discussion with local bus operators and are proposing the introduction of a city-centre-to-stadium shuttle service on matchdays. We are also committed to ensuring concerns about stadium car parking are satisfactorily addressed, and we will make necessary funding available for the future mitigation of any on-street parking impacts.
Q. What are your plans for the third retail unit within the development?
A. We’re in discussions with a number of potential operators for this unit but, as yet, cannot confirm who would occupy it. We’ll look to choose a high-quality non-food retailer who will complement John Lewis and M&S.
Q. In terms of the level of opposition, how tough is this scheme proving to be?
A. Opposition focuses on the potential impact on the city-centre retail, but we have demonstrated this impact is within acceptable limits and will be short-term, with any negative impact mitigated by 2016.
There is significant support from local residents and business-owners. More than 3,500 people have sent ourselves or the council an indication of their support for the plans and supportive representations are still coming in.
Q. Opponents of your scheme say they will look for a public inquiry if it is approved. How damaging would this be to your plans?
A. If approved by the council, the application will be referred to the Secretary of State for him to consider. We are confident our case is a strong one and the evidence we have produced will convince the council’s planning committee and the Secretary of State that this is the right development, in the right place. A public inquiry would introduce a significant delay into the process and could also create financial instability for the clubs involved.
Q. If your scheme is approved by the council, what happens next?
A. Subject to relevant planning permissions, we hope to be on site later in 2012 with the stadium ready for the start of the 2014-15 football season. John Lewis hopes to be open in autumn 2013, followed by M&S in early 2014.
Q. And what happens if it is rejected?
A. We would need to consider our position and options. We believe our application makes a very strong case in terms of the merits of the proposals and the benefits to York economically and for sport in the city. We’re hopeful for a positive outcome. If this development was turned down or even seriously delayed by public inquiry, we fear that this would send out a very negative signal to potential inward investors. York cannot afford to be closed for business.
Community facilities in the plan
•All-weather pitches for community use.
•An Explore Learning Centre.
•Hospital outpatient facilities to help address access and health inequality issues, providing services such as physiotherapy, pain-management, weight-management and blood-taking.
•York St John University’s Institute of Community Sport and Wellbeing, providing sports science and educational support, and expert guidance on injury-management and prevention to York’s professional athletes and coaches, as well as developing young athletes.
•An independent living demonstration centre for people with disabilities.
•A children’s play facility with a crèche and day nursery.
•A community hub with a café and interactive learning area, connecting the stadium and other community facilities.
•Conference and event facilities in the stadium, available to local groups, and potential use of the pitch for events such as youth football and rugby finals. The stadium would also be a base for the football and rugby clubs’ community work.
•Investment in the York Sports Village at Heslington East, including a county-standard athletics track.