Guildhall transformation plans called in by Lib Dems

The Guildhall, York.''Picture by Simon Hulme
The Guildhall, York.''Picture by Simon Hulme
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Plans By York Council to spend £9.2m transforming the city’s historic Guildhall into a Digital Media Hub will be reviewed.

Opposition Liberal Democrat councillors have called in the decision by the Labour cabinet to push ahead with the plans which was made at a meeting on Tuesday.

Under the plans, York Council will spend an initial £500,000 funding the detailed design of the building. The overall scheme is due to cost £9.2m with money coming from capital funds, borrowing and the council’s Economic Infrastructure Fund. £1.7m funding is yet to be found.

The Lib Dems said there is not enough evidence on income to justify the spending, and the decision will now be reconsidered at a scrutiny meeting in January.

The Lib Dem group’s finance and performance spokesman, Coun Andrew Waller, said: “It is astonishing that the Labour cabinet has brought forward these proposals without a proper business case which shows how the council hopes to get a return on its investment to justify the spending. There is also currently a £1.7m black hole in Labour’s plans.

“If this plan proceeds, York taxpayers will be asked to underwrite £9m of risk on the project. As well as a huge upfront capital cost the plans would greatly increase the council’s long-term borrowing commitments, a burden which has already increased under Labour.”

The transformation of the former council headquarters into a world class venue for the creative sector is part of York’s designation as City of Media Arts by UNESCO, and would create office space, a restaurant, cafe bar and public spaces.

York Council’s Leader, Coun Dafydd Williams said: “Unfortunately the Liberal Democrats seem to have misunderstood this matter and I am keen to work with them so that we can help to secure the future of this exciting project to create new highly paid jobs and secure the future of York’s historic Guildhall.

“We will be spending the next 12 months working on the detailed proposals and detailed business case and we have not committed to spending the £9.2m on the project nor will we do so until the detailed case has been compiled.”

It has the backing of York Civic Trust’s director, Peter Brown, who said it would safeguard the long-term future of the important historic buildings, and added: “The scheme outlined delivers an excellent combination of respect for the city’s heritage and a new contribution to the commercial vibrancy of the city centre.”

Meanwhile, the deadline for applications for refunds by motorists fined for crossing York’s Lendal Bridge during its trial closure to private vehicle could be extended by six months to June 2015. The council’s cabinet member for transport Coun David Levene will be asked to approve the extension on Monday, which will allow time for a detailed report on the matter, due in the new year, to be considered.