Bill totals £650,000 for city’s planning blueprint

York Council's headquarters: The council commissioned a planning bluepront for the city.
York Council's headquarters: The council commissioned a planning bluepront for the city.
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A FINANCIALLY-stricken council battling a multi-million pound deficit has admitted taxpayers will foot a £650,000 bill for a revised development blueprint after initial plans had to be withdrawn due to fears over their viability.

The draft document for the first city-wide planning brief in York for more than 50 years is being finalised and is due to be considered by senior councillors in the spring.

But the Yorkshire Post has learnt that York’s taxpayers will foot the six-figure sum for the revised plan while the Labour-run council attempts to slash £20m from its budgets and shed 240 jobs to counter the Government’s funding cuts over the next two years.

Initial proposals for the planning document had to be aborted in May last year after grave doubts were raised over its “potential soundness”. A new Local Plan is not due to be submitted to the Government until next year before it is expected to be adopted in early 2015.

Opposition councillors stressed while it is necessary to revise the plan, a significant part of the £650,000 is being spent on consultants when data already exists.

The Conservative group’s leader, Coun Ian Gillies, pointed towards a wide-ranging report by the Future York Group to chart the city’s economic growth. The group was established in 2006 in the wake of more than 1,000 redundancies, the majority in the traditional manufacturing base.

Coun Gillies said: “While some of the data will need to be updated, the same issues persist. We do not need consultants being brought in to tell us about traffic problems or where development sites are.

“The work on the planning document has to be carried out, but vast sums of money are being spent on consultants. This is not the sort of news the city’s taxpayers will want to hear in a week when cuts totalling £20m have been announced.”

An over-arching development brief has not been adopted for the city since 1956, and the latest attempts to introduce a planning vision were thwarted last year. The Local Development Framework’s (LDF) core strategy was withdrawn in May just three months after submitting a draft to the Government for final approval.

A total of £1.1m of taxpayers’ money was spent developing the LDF’s documents since 2006, but the council decided not to pursue the plan after Government inspector David Vickery raised concerns.

A spokeswoman stressed the £1.1m cost was not solely for the core strategy and paid for wider work including a city centre area action plan and development briefs for sites such as one of the nation’s largest brownfield locations, York Central. The council is adamant data collated to develop the LDF is being used as a foundation for the new Local Plan.

The director of city and environmental services, Darren Richardson, stressed York, which is one of England’s fastest growing cities, is “moving forward at a rapid pace” and the Local Plan will be key to attracting jobs and enterprise.

He added: “This will be a pivotal step-change for the city, providing a strategic long-term planning framework for development in York, but allowing the city to deal with any stalled development on a case-by-case basis.

“All of this is focused at supporting our wider economy, creating jobs and thus a positive impact in the wider prosperity of the city.”