Get in touch: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting YORK to 80360 or send an email»
Bill Woolley retires from City of York Council
HE has been at the centre of York’s changing face for 16 years – now retirement beckons. Bill Woolley, one of the city’s most respected public servants, spoke to political reporter Mark Stead about projects, pressures and the Prince of Wales.
TAKING work home with him is second nature to Bill Woolley – and that didn’t change on his last day.
Among the boxes in his office as he prepared to leave City of York Council for the final time yesterday were documents about the Future York report he spearheaded in 2007, an economic road-map he counts among his proudest achievements.
The 60-year-old, who has retired as the authority’s deputy chief executive and director of city and environmental services after 16 years, says he has “loved every minute” of a local government life spent at the “sharp end” of major schemes including Derwenthorpe, Peasholme Bridge, Foss Islands shopping centre, the council’s new headquarters and the community stadium.
“I’ve been hugely privileged, because York is a great place, the city where I was born and brought up, and hopefully I’ve had a positive influence on its development,” said Mr Woolley, a civil servant for three decades.
“I’ve always been very hands-on and had a reputation for delivering. It’s not about sitting in an office taking the credit while others do the work. Large-scale developments mean the city has changed so much, but it still works and will continue to work. I’m proud to have been part of that.”
Highlights include seeing the ribbon cut on the Derwenthorpe housing development and the Foss Islands Road scheme, saying: “The area was a disgrace – anybody seeing it from the Bar Walls would have thought it was awful – but the entire area has been transformed, which is what regeneration is about.
“The community stadium was the most difficult project I’ve been involved in by a considerable distance – and I’ve done some big projects – and I’ll argue with anybody that it was right for officers not to make a recommendation over it. I hope the Government recognises it is a local decision and does not call it in. And I wouldn’t have supported anything which would cause permanent damage to the city centre.”
Mr Woolley also took charge of the council’s response to the 2000 floods, which were “awful and sad – but could have been worse”. It led to him being asked to show the Prince of Wales around the city afterwards, and the Prince has sent him a letter wishing him well on his retirement.
Having been drafted in to salvage York’s council HQ scheme after the Hungate plans collapsed, he feels the choice of West Offices is "a much better outcome". As for Hungate, he said: “I think mistakes were made which could have been avoided”.
Other developments are more uncertain as Mr Woolley departs. He said York Central is "a difficult scheme, but somebody will take it over and it will happen one day". And while the Terry’s site is up for sale, he said: “That’s good news, as it can be bought at a price allowing it to be developed in today’s climate – what has happened is just a local example of worldwide economic problems.”
In retirement, his focus will be on involvement with organisations such as York College and the National Railway Museum and pursuing his love of sport, and he said: “While I’d never complain because I thrive on pressure, the job is stressful and there comes a time to wind down. But I want to keep making a contribution to life in York.
“It’s been a serious business. But I’ve worked with absolutely great people and had absolutely great fun. There’s no doubt I’ll miss it.”