• York seen by some investors as "high-risk," says internal council report
  • Political uncertainty and lack of resources cited
  • Reinvigorate York facelifts must be linked to transport vision, says official
  • Council should take its chance at Castle Piccadilly, she says
  • Issues are similar at most councils, says York's leader


MAJOR developments in York have suffered because of council failings, political uncertainty and under-investment, documents obtained by The Press say.

York is seen as “high-risk” and potential partners or investors are sceptical of City of York Council’s ability to deliver, says a confidential internal report written by acting council director Sarah Tanburn and released under the Freedom of Information Act.

She says the council has a good record on major transport projects but other big projects have languished and the authority has developed a bad reputation among some potential investors.

Major investment is needed and the council should overhaul the way key projects are manage to make progress on brownfield sites, the documents say, although the council's new leader said such issues would be raised at most councils.

Although there has been progress at the Terry’s site, York Central, and British Sugar, the documents say there are major hurdles to overcome elsewhere, including at Nestlé South.

York Press: Sarah Tanburn

Sarah Tanburn, author of the report

The documents also say:

  • Despite a “chequered history of failed attempts” on Castle Piccadilly, the council should see the location as an “enormous” opportunity for employment and transport, following the collapse of the land owners LaSalle.
  • Reinvigorate York projects have been “paused” and future projects must be "intimately linked" to the city's transport vision and proposals that emerge after the Congestion Commission, which itself remains shrouded in uncertainty.
  • At the Nestlé site, developers are interested in the available land but the deal is being slowed by the company’s HQ in Switzerland.
  • Detailed discussions are going on about the masterplan for the highly controversial Whinthorpe new town south of Heslington.

The Reinvigorate York project has seen a number of city-centre areas resdesigned in recent years, including King's Square, Library Square and now Exhibition Square, but many had questioned the need for some works and the costs involved.


York Press:

Exhibition Square, where Reinvigorate York work has been planned

Ms Tanburn, the council’s interim city and environmental services director, wrote in a report to senior managers: “Partners and stakeholders are sceptical of CYC’s ability to deliver on non-transport led projects. This gets in the way of delivery as ever higher commitments are requested.

“At times projects get caught up in debates that are not primarily about the project itself, and need to be mindful of the council’s commercial interests and negotiations. Political uncertainty can mean that potential partners and investors view York as high risk.

“Management and governance of some projects has been inconsistent, sometimes with insufficient evidence of project delivery skills required.”

In the paper, which was written in November, Ms Tanburn lays down a new structure for dealing with the major sites, many of which featured prominently on the draft local plan.

She calls for a major projects team, with project managers to be appointed for the most significant, and for an overarching programme board to monitor and move resources and money where they will be best used.

She urged managers to give major projects resources, adding: “I would reiterate that if we do not properly resource projects they will not get delivered.

The experience of the last year across all these projects shows the importance of this.

A co-ordinated approach will offer reduced costs in shared procurement and expertise.”

The confidential report warns that without that extra resource, the council will have to stop work on many schemes and only push for progress on the stadium project, York Central, and the dualling of the outer ring road.

The documents also show that some major projects have struggled without long term determination from a dedicated team, and the right framework for them to get on with the job.

With the council’s budget negotiations still ongoing, the council has confirmed that no decisions have yet been made on whether the authority can afford to follow through on the suggestions.

Conservative leader Chris Steward said: “It is concerning a leading officer is so critical of the council’s ability to manage projects and even with the vast money spent on consultants she feels expertise has often been lacking.

“It seems evident from her comments that council failings have seen cuts implemented to frontline services which should not have been necessary.

“The reference to political uncertainty is unusual and seems to reflect the council’s failure to engage on a cross-party basis until, with the move to no overall control, it has become absolutely unavoidable.”

Council leader Dafydd Williams said Ms Tanburn was an expert and said her analysis was extremely helpful in ensuring the council got the best from its projects.

He said: “When you consider projects such as the building of West Offices, the redevelopment of Explore Library, various school PFI buildings and several others, City of York Council has a good track record of delivering capital schemes but Sarah’s comments, which highlight issues you would find in most local authorities, are helping to ensure we can continue to improve.”

Liberal Democrat leader Keith Aspden added: “It will not come as a surprise to residents that the Labour-run council’s management and governance of projects has been found to be inconsistent.

“This has been most clearly shown by the micromanagement of Labour cabinet members with the Lendal Bridge shambles. Liberal Democrat councillors will continue to push for a more open and transparent council, and I hope the co-ordinated approach now called for will improve City of York Council’s ability to deliver on projects.”