Pioneering research to shape historic city’s economic future

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GROUNDBREAKING research heralded as one of the most important economic studies in a generation is due to be undertaken in York amid warnings the city is facing a crossroads in its 2,000-year history.

Politicians and senior civil servants at York Council are contending with a catalogue of major challenges ranging from bolstering the city’s creaking transport infrastructure to ensuring some of the biggest ever developments the city has seen stay on track. York remains one of the most desirable places to live in the North of England but fears are intensifying of an affordable housing crisis as the city is among the fastest growing locations in the country.

The Yorkshire Post can reveal the council is now embarking on wide-ranging research to provide the evidence needed to develop an economic and retail vision to underpin the city’s new development brief after initial proposals had to be shelved due to concerns over their viability.

The council’s new director of city and environmental services, Darren Richardson, admitted the authority is facing up to some of the biggest demands it has witnessed in its long history. He confirmed talks will be held with developers behind multi-million pound schemes including the transformation of the former Terry’s chocolate factory estate and York Central, which is one of the nation’s largest brownfield sites, to ensure they become a reality.

Mr Richardson said: “If we do not grasp these issues now, then there is a danger that we will miss out on long-term economic benefits. We need to look at driving forward development, attracting enterprise and ensuring there are affordable homes for the residents of the city to live in, while protecting the 2,000 years of history that has made York famous around the world.”

The new research will analyse York’s overall economy while also focusing specifically on the role of the city centre as part of the work to draw up a strategy to oversee development spanning the next two decades after concerns were raised over the initial plan.

The council will work with Drivers Jonas Deloitte, the consultancy firm behind Liverpool’s recent Strategic Investment Framework, a document which will guide and attract investment in Liverpool’s city centre for the next 15 years. The Economic and Retail Vision for York is aiming to support the growth of existing enterprise while encouraging the launch of new businesses.

The council’s leader, Coun James Alexander, claimed the research will help achieve “ambitious targets” of ensuring York is one of the UK’s leading five cities and among the top 10 mid-sized cities in Europe by 2015.

He added: “This is one of the most important pieces of research in our generation. The economic and retail visioning work will provide part of the robust evidence base needed to support York’s Local Plan. It will set out a strategy for the promotion of a competitive city centre with a diverse business base which reflects the uniqueness of York.”

Detailed plans for the Local Development Framework’s (LDF) core strategy were withdrawn in May by the council just three months after submitting them to the Government for final approval. A total of £1.1 million of taxpayers’ money has been spent developing the documents since March 2006, but the council decided not to pursue the plan after Government inspector David Vickery raised concerns over its “potential soundness”. The council is adamant that data collated to develop the city’s LDF will be used as a foundation for a new Local Plan, but an overhauled planning document will not be in place until the end of 2014 at the earliest.

As part of a citywide consultation, a series of workshops will this month seek the views of business leaders to shape the new economic vision.