Political and business leaders in Yorkshire are lobbying a senior Minister over the future of one of Europe's biggest development projects amid fears that delays may be putting vital funding for the scheme at risk, The Yorkshire Post can reveal.
Communities Secretary James Brokenshire is being urged not to hold up the £650million York Central scheme, which would bring 2,500 homes and 86,600 square metres of office space to an area behind York railway station, by ordering a public inquiry to scrutinise the project.
Mr Brokenshire is considering a 'call-in request' over the project, said to be the largest city centre brownfield development in the country, and has been urged by local Labour MP Rachael Maskell to appoint an inspector to scrutinise the process.
But The Yorkshire Post has learned that two Yorkshire council leaders, Wakefield's Peter Box and Bradford's Susan Hinchcliffe, have now written 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 for York Central.
The letter warns that the project "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 delivering the first phase of the project.
And in a separate letter, David Kerfoot, who chairs the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Enterprise Partnership, urges the Conservative Minister "not to call in the decision for further consideration as a matter of urgency".
City of York Council's planning committee gave the development outline permission last month, though a detailed proposal for the site would still need to get the green light at a later stage. Residents have raised concerns about traffic, air pollution, the affordability of homes and other issues.
In their letter, Peter Box, Susan Hinchcliffe and Ben Still, who all have positions on the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, say the scheme could generate up to 6,000 new jobs and "support the Northern Powerhouse growth agenda".
They wrote: "Without the York Central scheme, York will struggle to arrest the damaging trend of outward business migration and the increasingly low wage economy of the tourism sector.
"York must attract new employers and new jobs, and it cannot do that in the tightly constrained historic core of the city: York Central is the only possible location for this level of growth space in the vicinity of the city centre. However without HIF funding this project cannot move forward."
They add: "Whilst there are some concerns and objections raised in relation to sustainability and traffic impacts, it is our understanding that these will be addressed in due course by City of York Council, as the transport authority."
Mr Kerfoot, whose organisation was set up to promote economic growth writes in his letter that previous delays "have meant that potential funding streams may well be impaired so it is imperative we are allowed to progress as soon as possible".
He said: "It has taken a great deal of time and energy to get this very important project for both York and its hinterland to where we are today - in a position to rejuvenate the city centre and create investment of £150m+ on what is the largest brownfield site in a city in the UK."
Citing the "huge level of support" within the city for the scheme, he adds: "Given the extensive consultation process I see no reason why we should face further unnecessary delays."
The Secretary of State has powers to 'call-in', or to decide themselves, any planning application, but would usually only do so when it is of national significance. If an application is called in, in most cases there will be a public inquiry.
In her letter to Mr Brokenshire, Shadow Rail Minister Rachael Maskell said she had been approached by "a number of constituents and local organisations who have raised serious concerns with the consultation and planning process, which they consider have so far gone unaddressed".
She added: "Due to the scale and strategic importance of this project not just for the city and region, but also for the national public sector partners leading on the project, and the national and regional agencies funding the project; it is essential that these plans receive the highest possible level of consideration and review."
In the Commons earlier this month, Ms Maskell said the development would include hundreds of "luxury apartments that our city does not need".
A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesman said a decision on York Central would be announced "in due course". Applications for the Housing Infrastructure Fund "are currently being assessed", he said.