Stephen Lewis looks at the past, the present and plans for York’s former carriageworks site, the teardrop.

COUNCIL bosses look set to invest £10 million in a new road bridge giving access to the huge York Central site.

As The Press reported earlier this week, the money will come from the authority’s economic infrastructure fund. The hope is that it will unlock the huge site – which covers an area two thirds the size of the whole city centre – opening it up to redevelopment for housing and quality office space.

Further details of the proposals will be included in Cabinet papers which will be released on Monday. The ruling Cabinet will then vote on whether to go ahead with the investment at a meeting on December 3.

Speaking earlier this week, council leader James Alexander said: “This bridge will be hugely significant.

“This site has been listed for development since the 1960s. It has been derelict for a generation.

“We know that following our investment the private sector will be keen to invest. It needed public funds to kick-start it, to help de-risk the site, and that is what we are doing.”

The huge, 85-acre site that is also known as the teardrop is a legacy of York’s railway history. The first engine sheds and sidings began to be built in the middle 1800s, with many more being added after York’s new railway station was opened in 1878.

The site evolved with York’s rail industry, and by the mid 1900s, when that industry was at its height, the area was a hive of activity, with carriageworks, maintenance sheds and depots, marshalling yards and sidings.

The site was a major York employer. In the 1950s, there were more than 3,000 people employed at the York Carriageworks alone.

These works were bought by ABB in 1989. But already the writing was on the wall. In 1996, the ABB Carriageworks were closed, and more than 750 staff were laid off. Betrayed, screamed the headline in the Yorkshire Evening Press when news first emerged that ABB would be laying off hundreds of jobs.

The works were re-opened by American firm Thrall Europa in 1997, but closed again in 2002, when the remaining 260 workers were laid off.

The old carriageworks site remains in use to this day, however. Now owned by Network Rail, it is used to house the seasonal fleet, made up of “water-jetting trains which deal with leaves on the line and other kit which helps us treat the tracks and keep them operational,” a Network Rail spokesman said.

Other parts of the huge site are also still in use. Some of the old rail sheds have been taken over by the National Railway Museum. In 2000, a new business park – Holgate Park – opened on part of the old ABB site at the south side of the teardrop. And in the early 2000s, an area of new housing known as the St Peter’s Quarter was built on a former BT depot on the north side of the site, off Leeman Road.

Network Rail meanwhile, which owns about 90 per cent of the whole York Central site, is itself developing a triangle of land between Cinder Lane and the railway station as a new operations and training centre, which should be completed by next May.

But all of this activity still leaves a huge expanse of railway sidings and underused buildings which are ripe for redevelopment.

A few years ago a £1 billion redevelopment plan was put together for the site by Network Rail, Yorkshire Forward and the National Railway Museum. Sadly the plan, which envisaged 3,000 homes, a new road and bridge, shops, restaurants and a bus station, was derailed by the recession.

The difficulty with developing the site has always been access. It is virtually ringed by railway lines – making it difficult for developers to get on site. There will also be contamination to deal with, and the problem of all those railway sidings and yards.

It was hoped that Government funding could be obtained to start the development process. But earlier this year the city council learned that a bid for £9 million of Government funding to unlock the site by creating new access routes had failed.

Now the council has decided to find the £10 million needed for a new road bridge on to the site itself.

The full details of its proposals will only emerge next week.

But a spokesman for Network Rail described the move earlier this week as “a critical development opportunity” for the city.

“We are at the point where we have the best opportunity for success,” the spokesman said.

The city council hopes the first phase of development, including 400 homes and office space, could get underway as early as 2015.

There are still a great many questions to be answered – including the crucial one of precisely where the new bridge would be.

But if all goes well, those first new homes and offices could be just the beginning of the biggest redevelopment in York for decades.