It could be early autumn before new all party committees get the chance to debate the York Council’s upcoming policy plans.
A report being considered on 13th July proposes a return to a form of Executive Member advisory panel (EMAP) which was in use in York during the early part of the last decade. These meetings involve Councillors from all parties and are held in public. To aid planning, meetings occupied a scheduled day each month and were cancelled if there was no business to consider.
Introduced by the Liberal Democrats when they took power, EMAPs sought to widen discussion on policies which affected the City. The sessions were abandoned in 2008 when Labour – who were the main opposition in a balanced Council at the time – refused to participate saying that they preferred the (confrontational) option of “calling in” some proposals for review.
Under the new arrangements, so called “Officer in Consultation” decision meetings are also to be scrapped. These were the meetings which prompted the “behind closed doors” criticisms of the old Council.
Instead these decisions will be taken at an open Executive member meeting.
Of course, how the system works in practice remains to be seen. It’s success rests heavily on future decisions being correctly identified on the Councils “Forward Plan” although this will – rightly – become a “rolling“ programme in future
The new system doesn’t address the issue of Council officials taking decisions exploiting their delegated powers. This has been a particular problem in the Housing department where some wide reaching decisions – including one which saw visits by skips abandoned on some estates – have been taken without even, apparently, the knowledge of Councillors.
Similar issues arise with the growth of third party agencies such as the trusts and companies which now run our museums, libraries and economic development activities.
Thought also now needs to be given as to how residents can feel more involved in the decision process. Extended use of social media channels seems to be an obvious further refinement
Still the report is a step in the right direction.
Hopefully the new arrangements will start in September after the Council’s August recess.
It seems that the newly “balanced” York City Council still has a lot to do to lift the curtain of secrecy that descended in 2011.
Two meetings took place last week for which no notice had been given. Supporting papers, and the decision taken, were published on the Councils web site within minutes of each other.
Although not of concern to large numbers of residents, those who are affected did deserve the opportunity to make representations
We can see no reason why the agenda and supporting paper for any formal delegated decision cannot be published on the Council’s web site 7 days before the matter is considered. We would expect that written representations would be welcomed with the formal decision then being published with a link to any written comments.
The Councils governance committee will consider the issue of transparency at its meeting on Wednesday.
It includes a list of demands, by opposition Councillors who now hold a Council majority, on transparency issues together with a response by the Labour Leader
The first item on the list covers decisions delegated to Councillors
An end to Cabinet Member behind-closed-doors decision sessions – all reports to be published in advance, a date set for meetings (not a one month window) and residents should be able to feed into the decision process.
Although the Council Leader has apparently supported this proposal, it seems that delegation to officers is now being substituted. No notice of pending decisions of this type is being given.
The two decisions taken in private this week were:
- Closure of an alley between Stanley Street and Warwick Street because of complaints about anti social behaviour
- Allocation of “free” days for the use of the Barbican. Here the report fails even to mention the criteria used to determine that the days should be allocated to the “York Irish Association” and the “Prima Vocal” ensemble. It is also unclear how or even if the Council advertised the availability of these days.
Mansion nightclub to open until 6:00am
NB. The decision of the licensing committee to allow the Mansion club on Micklegate to stay open until 6:00am will raise eyebrows. Given the increasing problems with public order in the city centre, and an objection of the Police to the proposal, most would have expected the application to fail. The owner of the club is the Tory candidate for Heworth Without in the forthcoming Council elections. The three members who sat in judgement were all Labour Councillors (surprisingly no LibDem, Green or Independents were asked to take a view). The proposal was apparently aimed at accommodating the needs of “racegoers” although, so far, only a local student magazine has welcomed the decision. Strangely the Council chose not the “web cast” this controversial meeting.
Despite the economic recovery, York lagged behind the rest of the country in the number of new homes completed last year.
A report published after a “behind closed doors” meeting held last week revealed that only 50 affordable homes were built in the City last year.
This is down from the 282 built during the last year of the Liberal Democrat led Council administration in 2010/2011.
It compares to the annual target of 790 new homes adopted by Labour Councillors following a “strategic market assessment”.
On average, 150 affordable homes had been built annually during the pervious 5 years.
Alarmingly the number of new affordable homes being added by the Council is now less than the number of Council houses being sold under “Right to Buy” legislation
The Council has failed to invest the income from RTB sales effectively
The Council has also failed to use its substantial £12.86 million housing surplus to buy empty homes on the open market, and resolutely refuses to use the “New Homes Bonus” (money provided by the government to recognise house building success) on affordable homes.
Small wonder that Labour did not want these figures to be debated in public.
The only crumb of comfort was that – in line with the rest of the country – the total number of planning applications for new homes rose from 370 units in 2012 to 1578 last year, although a significant proportion of these were for specialist student flats.
The Moor Lane car park – formerly used by Park and Ride services and which has been largely abandoned for the last 4 months – has now officially been declared surplus to requirements
At a behind closed doors decision session yesterday it was agreed that the site would be disposed of.
To whom it may be sold and when remains to be seen. The site is zoned for housing in Labour’s latest Local Plan.
Ann Reid says,
“It is time that the Council made a decision on the future of the old Park and Ride car park on Moor Lane.
There has been minimal use as a Pay and Display car park and although the College has used it over the summer I don’t believe that is sustainable over the longer term.
The car park is also looking very shabby with no one taking responsibility for litter clearance or street sweeping.
The sooner a decision is made the better.
Any change of use will be subject to the normal planning process with the residents having the opportunity to comment on any proposals“.
click for larger map
The Council is implementing changes to bus stop arrangements in the Pavement/Stonebow area.
The park and ride bus stop is being relocated to Stonebow to reduce footpath congestion, while the entrance to Whip-ma-Whop-ma-Gate is being narrowed.
The background report says,
“The proposed alteration of the Whip-ma-Whop- ma-Gate junction will reduce the carriageway width to allow just a single exit lane. Whilst this is considered adequate to deal with traffic flows, and will bring about a number of safety improvements, there is a risk of some criticism over this change”.
No consultation with residents has taken place and he decision was taken “behind closed doors”
The Council claim to have published on their web site a complete list of answers given to question raised during their “twitter” Q & A session last week.
Problem is – they haven’t!
Amongst those still not answered are: