IT received only seven representations - dwarfed by the letters and emails from people living near the other three short-listed sites.

But a key report to the seven councillors who have to decide where Arc Light's new homeless centre will reside has appeared to rule out the use of the former Reynard's garage, in Piccadilly.

Although members of City of York Council's ruling executive can still pick the site as a home for the charity, authority officers have branded any decision as "probably premature".

That would leave the car parks at Union Terrace, Nunnery Lane and Marygate as the three remaining alternatives - with officers also having concerns about whether any plan at the Nunnery Lane car park would need to be referred to the Secretary of State.

In the report which councillors will use to make their choice, Bill Hodson, director of housing and adult social services, writes that it is "unlikely it will be possible to confirm availability (of the Piccadilly site) for December, 2007, and therefore the site may not be available in the timescale of funding availability for Arc Light".

The garage's short-listing has been complicated by its proximity to the Castle Piccadilly regeneration area, and because it has also been earmarked as a means of bringing in cash to the council, which needs to find £30 million to fund a new office complex at Hungate.

Protesters at the three short-listed car parks have questioned why the site was chosen as a possible Arc Light home in the first place, if there were doubts over its readiness.

The council report reveals the authority has received 236 letters and emails from residents about the Nunnery Lane site, 52 about Union Terrace, 47 about Marygate and only seven regarding Piccadilly.

In examining the four sites one by one, the authority report states the proximity of the Nunnery Lane site to the Bar Walls could mean the council has to refer any planning application to the Secretary of State - meaning the project, under serious time pressures already, could be delayed even further.

Seven members of the executive will decide which of the four short-listed sites will be chosen as the preferred location for Arc Light on May 2.

Coun Ann Reid and Coun Quentin Macdonald will sit out the decision as they are both members of the council's planning committee.

The meeting will be ticket only - the first such arrangement for a council debate in living memory - as demand is so great for seats in the public gallery.

The preferred site will then be subject to a new round of consultation before a planning application is submitted to the committee.

Mr Hodson's report reveals the council has received four petitions, including one of 512 signatures from the Marygate Area Residents' Association opposing the use of the car park.

People living near the three car park sites are concerned about the loss of car parking spaces, the proximity of any new homeless centre to nearby properties and fears about personal safety.

In terms of parking income, the council would lose £22,965 a year if Arc Light was based at Marygate, £20,114 if Union Terrace was the proposed site, and £26,844 if Nunnery Lane was chosen.

Mr Hodson also states in the report there is "no evidence to suggest that the location of Arc Light would impact on tourism", and reports of antisocial behaviour around the charity's current Leeman Road home were "minimal".

Arc Light needs to find a new base because the Bullnose Building can no longer cater for its needs. The project is also complicated as Arc Light must relocate within a certain time period if it is not to lose more than £1 million in government funding.

Fury at doubts over Piccadilly site

RESIDENTS living close to the three car parks on the Arc Light short-list have revealed their fury at the new doubts surrounding the former Reynard's garage in Piccadilly.

Anne Guerri, representing Marygate Area Residents' Association, said although the group was opposed to Arc Light being placed in a residential area there had been "very little concern" from people in Piccadilly about the charity's relocation.

She said: "I still think it should be integrated within the council offices. This is unacceptable. Why did they pick it as a site in the first place, if it was not viable?"

Paul Abbott, sub-postmaster at Micklegate Post Office, which is close to the Nunnery Lane site, said the council was "tormenting" residents. He said: "Why suggest a site at all if it is not able to conform to all the criteria that the authority originally came out with? The council is changing the rules, and constantly moving the goalposts. It is unfair on the people it is tormenting."

Rob Gray, of the Claremont Terrace, Union Terrace and Portland Street Residents' Association, said: "I want to know what has happened to our 1,079-name petition, which isn't mentioned in the report.

"We are banging our heads against a brick wall."

The executive report contains a detailed analysis of the pros and cons for each of the four sites shortlisted for Arc Light's new home. STEVE CARROLL gives a summary of what officers had to say about each one.

- Nunnery Lane car park

There are 400 homes within 200 metres of the site. Any proposal would have to be limited to two storeys, and would "require a careful and sensitive design, particularly of the roofscape, to respect the adjacent Bar Walls", states the report.

An Arc Light centre would also be "likely to compromise the existing exit point of the car park" - increasing costs and meaning further reductions to car parking spaces if a new exit point was required. Servicing of the premises would have to take place within the car park as "unloading of goods in Nunnery Lane has the potential to cause significant disruption to vehicular flow".

The council-owned land and its proximity to the walls means there would be "significant constraints upon the design and construction on this site".

It would cost £2.85 million, plus an extra £125,000 for ventilation because of air quality issues, and adjusting the car park entrance.

Deliverability: "Possible referral to Secretary of State due to proximity to scheduled Ancient Monument could add in further delay."

- 17-21 Piccadilly (ex-Reynard's garage)

Planning constraints include a possible requirement for retail on the site. There are 260 houses within 200 metres of the proposed site.

Expectations of the site as part of the Castle Piccadilly brief are that it would provide a "mixed development of retail at ground floor level and residential". Planners, the report states, would expect a sensitive design and "a decision on this site would be premature within the planning policy context of the significant regeneration scheme at Castle Piccadilly".

Off-street parking for staff and visitors would "not be appropriate" given its city centre location and, although the site is council owned, it is also currently earmarked as a possible back-up to the authority's office accommodation project to provide a customer contact centre.

The report states: "It is hoped that the office accommodation project will be delivered at Hungate and the Hungate land assembly may not be concluded within the Arc Light timetable.

"Consideration can then be given to the Piccadilly site's future development in the context of the Castle Piccadilly regeneration scheme."

The scheme would cost £2.9 million, with £50,000 needed for demolition works.

Deliverability: "Likely to be constrained by the inclusion of a mixed development and the need for a development partner. Could be further delayed by planning consideration within the context of the significant regeneration scheme at Castle Piccadilly."

- Marygate car park

There would be 225 houses within 200 metres of the building's location. Access would be through Marygate, Museum Gardens or the Riverside, and that was judged in the executive report to be "not at all well lit".

The scale of the buildings around the proposed site would "not impact on a two/three-storey proposal".

Despite defence measures along the front of Earlsborough Terrace, the reports states the land, which is council owned, is still at risk of flooding, with the design of the building needing to satisfy the Environment Agency.

The scheme would cost £2.7 million, with extra cover of £300,000 for site remediation and £25,000 for adjustment to the car park - a total estimated cost of £3.025 million.

Deliverability: "Possible, subject to any delays caused by groundworks and flood defence requirements."

- Union Terrace car park

The site is considered to have good access from the city centre, and is within walking distance of "all relevant amenities".

There would be 230 houses within 200 metres of the location. The scale of buildings would not impact on a two/three storey proposal.

The report states: "Proposals for development on the district hospital site and the Bootham Hospital site should not conflict. The boundary wall between this site and Bootham Chapel may need to be protected."

The area set aside for recycling materials would need to be relocated, but the existing coach parking area would be retained as presently set out.

The northern sector of the car park is judged to appear to provide the best option for building on the council-owned land, but new access would have to be created onto the link road serving Bootham Hospital.

Arc Light's relocation would cost £2.6 million with an extra £125,000 in cover needed for other works.

Deliverability: "Possible, subject to any delays caused by groundworks."

Museum bosses enter Arc debate

YORK Museums Trust weighed into the Arc Light debate today saying the homeless charity's relocation to Marygate, York, would only escalate an ongoing four-year battle with "antisocial behaviour".

Janet Barnes, trust chief executive, said the organisation wanted to express its concerns at the possibility that Marygate car park could become Arc Light's new home - claiming it could put at risk plans for a cultural quarter for the city.

"York Museums Trust is in the process of developing the St Mary's Abbey Precinct, creating a cultural quarter for the city," Mrs Barnes said.

"The trust's ambition is to open up the gardens for more night time use, in accordance with the council's plans to create more of a night time economy.

"This will only be possible if the trust can persuade the public that it is a safe and welcoming place at all times of the day and evening.

"The trust's problem with this plan is that the main route from the city centre to Marygate is commonly through the gardens,

therefore inevitably increasing the number of drug users passing through.

"The trust is aware that the reputation of the security in the gardens is not as it should be within in the local community.

"The trust is working to improve all aspects of the gardens and museum. To be successful, the trust needs to ensure paying visitors continue to visit the museum and feel that they are in a safe environment.

"As an organisation, the trust understands the need for such a project and believes we are all corporately responsible for the society we create.

"Nevertheless, it seems that the impact of the Arc Light project, if it came to Marygate car park, would be detrimental to the enormous number of people who use the gardens for pleasure and relaxation.

"It is unfair to inflict this on what is essentially a residential and tourist area."

Updated: 09:51 Tuesday, April 25, 2006