‘Yes’ to stadium and retail scheme

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PLANS for a controversial new sports stadium and retail complex on the outskirts of York were finally approved last night after a marathon meeting of the council’s planning committee.

York Council leader James Alexander said he was delighted with the outcome but campaigners warned the fight to stop the development would go on, including pressure for a potentially time-consuming public inquiry.

A new 6,000-seat community stadium will help secure the future of York City Football Club, which could return to the Football League if the club wins its play-off final on Sunday. But the viability of the scheme hinges on around £15m of investment from private developers who want to expand Monks Cross retail park as part of the project.

Grave fears have been expressed over the impact an out-of-town shopping centre for showpiece retailers including Marks and Spencer and John Lewis might have on traders in the city centre.

However, speaking after the conclusion of a planning committee meeting which ran for nine hours, Coun Alexander said the local authority would seek to support the city centre and the overall economic benefits for York won the argument.

He said: “This decision shows York is open for business. We want investment and we want to provide jobs for local people.

“This has been discussed for the last 10 years and I said before the election that we would deliver and I feel like we have done. It is a watershed moment for the city.

“I’m quite touched in a way – I’ve had a message from the chairman of the football club to say you’ve helped save York City.”

Referring to the club’s lifting of the FA Trophy last weekend at Wembley, the council leader added: “I’m hoping that York City will make it a treble on Sunday by winning promotion back to the Football League.”

Coun Alexander also pointed to changes in the business rates system which will allow local authorities, in future, to keep 50 per cent of rates raised from new businesses. As a result, a major out-of-town development would bring significant revenue into the city’s coffers.

Asked about the potential impact on the city centre, the council leader said there would new investment in the markets area and added: “There is going to be some impact on the city centre but it’s very resilient and we will make sure support is put in place.”

But Green councillor Andy D’Agorne, one of four councillors on the planning committee who voted against the development, warned there was still the potential for the proposal to be blocked at a public inquiry.

“There isn’t any question that a new community stadium is something we should be implementing but the duty of the committee was to decide whether the harm of the retail development outweighed the benefits of the community facilities – that was basically the judgment.

“Officers sent a clear recommendation that if the retail development came on its own, it would be refused.”

Coun D’Agorne said he objected because of the potential impact on the city centre, the impact on traffic and also because the proposal represented a major departure from the authority’s own planning policies.

And he pointed out that as the council owns some of the land, the proposal has to be referred to the Government to decide whether it should be called in for a full public inquiry.

He said: “It should be subject to a public inquiry because of the scale of the implications to development in the city over the next 20 years.”

The overall project will cost around £20m. Private developers are providing around £15m, with a further £4m from the council and £350,000 coming from York City FC.

The club has previously written to the council to stress it would no longer be able to operate as a full-time professional outfit if the stadium plans are blocked.

Under the plans, the club would relocate from its existing home in Bootham Crescent to the new stadium on the site of the existing York City Knights Rugby League ground. The rugby league club would also use the new stadium.

Developers Oakgate Limited, based in Wetherby, have claimed the development will boost York’s economy by at least £12m each year.