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Councillors approve community stadium and shops plan at Monks Cross after mammoth meeting
YORK should have a new John Lewis store within 18 months and a new stadium within three years, after councillors backed one of the city's biggest ever developments.
Proposals by developer Oakgate to build a new community stadium, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer at Monks Cross won planning permission tonight, after a marathon debate lasting more than eight hours.
Councillors approved the plan by 11 votes to four, after one of the longest and most well-attended meetings in City of York Council history.
Supporters of the development spoke of their delight afterwards, but opponents said an appeal had not been ruled out.
Richard France, spokesman for Oakgate, said the John Lewis store should open in autumn next year, the Marks & Spencer store the following spring, and the stadium in season 2014/15.
He said: “It is a vote in favour of jobs, growth and a legacy for professional, amateur and community sport.”
Coun James Alexander, City of York Council leader, said after the meeting: “York has shown itself to be open for business and today we have secured a future for professional sport in this city.”
He said an announcement was likely soon on more investment for the city-centre, particularly around the market.
Tim Atkins, the council's stadium project manager, said: "It's been a long time coming, but I am very happy. It is the right decision."
He said the council must now wait to see whether Communities Secretary Eric Pickles would “call in” the application for review.
Sophie Hicks, York City FC’s community and communications director, said: “It is a historic day in the club’s history.”
She praised the Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors, all of whom voted yes, but criticised York Conservative leader Ian Gillies, who she said had led his party’s three planning committee members to vote no.
She said club manager Gary Mills was delighted with the decision, and now wanted to complete an excellent week for City by winning promotion back to the Football League at Wembley on Sunday, following the FA Trophy success at the same venue last Saturday.
Club chairman Jason McGill said: “We said when we came in that we wanted to secure a new stadium and to win promotion and now, what a wonderful eight days in the history of the club this could be.”
John Guildford, of York City Knights Rugby League Club, who will share the stadium with the football club, said: “It’s a great result and critical for the club. There is no plan B.”
Andrew Mills, development manager for John Lewis, said: “We are very pleased. It’s great we can bring investment to York.”
Neil Hunter, of City of York Athletics Club, said the decision safeguarded the future of athletics in York in time for the Olympics.
There was loud applause when the yes vote was announced, but critics said the matter may not be over and city-centre traders were “considering their position”.
Green councillor Dave Taylor said the planning committee had “chucked out of the window” every planning policy it had had for years, and he said he said it was almost inevitable that someone would appeal to the Secretary of State to reconsider the proposals.
Adam Sinclair, of Mulberry Hall, said: “We have won the planning argument, the economic argument, the environmental argument and the sustainability argument. It is clear there is going to be severe and permanent economic damage and councillors have chosen to proceed, notwithstanding that.”
An independent report by Drivers Jonas Deloitte had said the development would cost the city centre £50 million a year but some councillors said the negatives of the development had been exaggerated.
A change in business rates announced by the Government yesterday means the city council will be able to keep half of the rates raised by the new development, expected to be around £3.5 million a year.
• Separate applications to expand the existing Monks Cross Shopping Park and to allow smaller units were rejected by the planning committee.
The applicant had said there was a danger some chains with branches in the park would not renew their leases unless there was more choice of shop size, but various committee members said they were unconvinced by the case put before them. Liberal Democrat councillor Ann Reid said the application seemed “too flexible”.
City divided during 8½ hour debate
DEBATE raged for more than eight hours as one of York’s biggest planning controversies in years finally came to a head.
More than 150 people packed into The Henley Suite of The Park Inn Hotel in North Street to debate three separate planning applications.
Two related to the existing Monks Cross Shopping Centre, where developers wanted to expand, creating some larger and some smaller stores. The third proposal by Oakgate was to build a new community stadium and two superstores, for John Lewis and Marks & Spencer, a third smaller store and community facilities.
The meeting of City of York Council’s planning committee had been moved from Guildhall to accommodate the large attendance, and brought forward from 4pm to 10am.
Sports fans, campaigners, reatailers, politicians, developers, conservationists and businessmen and women took part in a lengthy debate, delivering impassioned speeches for or against the proposals.
The biggest cheer was for Jason McGill, chairman of York City, who had brought the FA Trophy with him and put it on display. He said the club was just as culturally important as York’s theatres, galleries and museums. “This is an opportunity to have a 21st-century facility we can be proud of - a chance to raise the facilities to the level befitting of this city.”
Susie Cawood, of York Chamber of Commerce, said the debate was about York “showing the world it is a dynamic city – open for business, open for investment and open for economic growth. Two big retailers want to invest. How can we say no? How can we deny young people the opportunity to get off the unemployment register?”
But Adam Sinclair, of the York Chamber of Trade, spoke against the plans, saying: “If we get this wrong, the best national and international brands and investors will not come to York city centre or stay in York city centre. They will leave us behind. Please do not risk the future of this spirited city and please do not risk the future resilience of the people of York.”
Peter Brown, of York Civic Trust, claimed the proposal “cheapens York’s offer, undermines its integrity and makes a mockery of its aspirations to be a world heritage site”, while Phillip Crowe, of York Tomorrow, said he was unconvinced that all alternative funding options for a stadium had been considered.
Former council leader Steve Galloway said there was no alternative to the plan on the table.
He said: “York city centre is thriving and the addition of more retail at Monks Cross will not mean the end of the city centre but additional jobs and additional wages being spent in the city.”
But Nick Eggleton, of the Campaign For York, said: “If you approve these plans, the council will be blamed for every problem - for every shop that shuts and every job lost.”
Andrew Mills, of John Lewis, said Monks Cross was the company’s only opportunity to open in York. John Handy, of Marks & Spencer, said it was fully committed to York city centre and said Monks Cross would complement its existing offer.
How they voted and what they said:
Ann Reid, Lib Dem – Yes – “"I do think the claims being made around the city centre are a little bit exaggerated."
Andy D’Agorne, Green – No – “This runs completely counter to all our policies and strategies.”
Paul Healey, Con – Said Monks Cross was “hardly the most sustainable site" and said the benefits were being over-emphasised.
Joe Watt, Con – No – “Too many councillors have been seduced by big business.”
John Galvin, Con – No – “We are being asked to take a punt and to gamble on the future of York.”
Dafydd Williams, Lab – Yes – “I think we would be mad to turn this down. The positive benefits outweigh the negatives.”
Barbara Boyce, Lab – Yes – “Retailing has to evolve.”
Stephen Burton, Lab – Yes – Said that “on balance” it was a good proposal worth supporting.
Ken King, Lab – Yes – “There has been a lot of scaremongering today, but scaremongering will not win the argument.”
Neil McIlveen, Lab – Yes – Supported the proposal, though did not speak in the debate.
Tina Funnell, Lab – Yes – “We have to think in terms of the whole city and people in my ward will benefit hugely from this.”
Brian Watson, Lab – Yes – Said there would be impact on the city centre but said Piccadilly was a “disgrace” as it was due to a lack of investment.