A Yorkshire MP has challenged fellow regional leaders in calling for a major development in her constituency to be shown extra scrutiny by the Government.
Communities Secretary James Brokenshire was last month urged not to hold up the £650 million York Central scheme – which would bring 2,500 homes and 86,600 square metres of office space to an area behind the city’s railway station – by ordering a public inquiry to scrutinise the project.
The Post reported how two Yorkshire council leaders, Wakefield’s Peter Box and Bradford’s Susan Hinchcliffe, wrote to the Minister along with Ben Still, the director of the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, to reassure him about the level of support.
They warned that the project, one of the largest city centre brownfield sites in the UK which is expected to take 15 years to redevelop, “cannot move forward” unless Mr Brokenshire’s department releases £77.1m from the Government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) to go towards the £155m total cost of the first phase of the project.
But in an exclusive letter to The Yorkshire Post, York Central MP Rachael Maskell challenged the idea that the plan has widespread support.
She said: “In terms of the northern powerhouse, many people in the city are concerned that this scheme squanders York’s biggest economic opportunity and is setting out to woefully miss the mark.
“Assertions in the article made by colleagues in other parts of Yorkshire about the huge levels of support for York Central, are simply not supported by the many letters I am receiving from concerned constituents.
“Nor is it in evidence in any of the speeches made by 15 community groups and individuals who spoken in objection at the five-hour planning committee.
“Considering the scale of the opportunity for the city and the alleged support for the scheme, it is telling that not a single community group spoke in favour of the plan.
“In contrast I am hear[ing] only growing frustration that residents’ serious and detailed concerns have been comprehensively ignored.”
Ms Maskell states that York is “one of the UK’s most unequal cities”, struggling with a low-wage economy.
She added that colleagues at West Yorkshire Combined Authority and the Local Economic partnership, of which Coun Box, Coun Hinchliffe and Mr Still are part, will know that the funding of the scheme is not a material planning consideration.
She said this makes it “an unusual inclusion in a letter to the Secretary of State relating to planning but given that they raise the issue there are some points worth noting.
“Throughout the development process Network Rail & Homes England – the two powerful national public sector partners behind York Central – have consistently rejected community requests for more diverse commercial space, more affordable housing, integrated public transport and new community facilities on the grounds of financial viability, and yet both agencies are set to walk away with their costs back, plus a 20 per cent profit from the development.
“At the planning committee when the lead consultant was asked how the community consultation had changed the scheme he indeed struggled to identify anything at all.”
Network Rail, Homes England and City of York Council were approached for comment.
A York Central Partnership spokesperson said, “Feedback from the community and stakeholders was reflected in the outline planning application, and the scheme will create community facilities, affordable housing, commercial space and a hub for public transport which responds to the needs of the city and its people.
"The application responds directly to the submitted Local Plan and the Council’s affordable housing policy.”