Review call amid fears for £200m revamp

OPPOSITION councillors have called for a review to be launched amid growing fears that a landmark £200m regeneration scheme is teetering on the brink of collapse after developers admitted grave concerns remain over its viability.

Councillor James Alexander, Labour Leader of City of York Council

The bid to breathe new life into the Castle Piccadilly district in the heart of York would transform one of the most unattractive parts of the city, the future of which has been at the centre of discussions dating back two decades.

But speculation is mounting the project has faltered as no firm proposals have been announced a year after investors behind the regeneration proposals, LaSalle UK Ventures Fund, sought crunch talks with senior councillors and officers from York Council.

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The deputy leader of the Conservative group, Coun George Barton, has now urged the Labour administration to carry out a full review to establish if the regeneration scheme remains a possibility.

He said: “It has gone very, very quiet and nobody seems to know what is going on. The council has a wonderful opportunity to create a real gem in the city centre, but it needs to look at the bigger picture.

“This area desperately needs something doing to it. We would support moves to do this, and the current administration needs to commit itself to the future of Castle Piccadilly.”

Liberal Democrats also questioned whether the current plans for the Castle Piccadilly district remain viable.

The Lib Dem group’s leader, Coun Keith Aspden, said: “(Labour’s) manifesto promised to get this project moving, but so far all we have heard is talk without any credible plans being made public.

“While Labour’s Draft Local Plan is proposing to develop 22,000 houses mostly on York’s Green Belt, they seem to be allowing city centre development like this to languish.”

Regeneration specialist Centros, which is overseeing the Castle Piccadilly development, revealed last year that it had grave fears the scheme was no longer viable due to the competition from the expansion of the existing Monks Cross retail park.

The development on the edge of the city will attract retailers including John Lewis and Marks and Spencer and create a sports stadium for both York City Football Club and the York City Knights rugby league team.

But it is bitterly opposed by city centre traders who claim they will lose vital trade to the out-of-town retail development.

A spokesman for Centros confirmed talks are continuing with the council, but added: “We are looking at any options that could be viable, but our concerns from last year remain.”

LaSalle UK Ventures Fund stated in February last year that it would pull out of the Castle Piccadilly scheme if the Monks Cross development was given the go-ahead. But the council’s planning committee approved a planning application in May last year.

There are growing fears that York will lose trade to rival cities after a lack of major investment in the past three decades since the Coppergate shopping centre opened in the Castle Piccadilly district.

There was a glimmer of hope when it emerged last week that Primark is considering moving in to a store which will be vacated by Marks and Spencer in the Coppergate centre.

Marks and Spencer is closing the Coppergate outlet when a flagship store opens on the Monks Cross development, although its premises in Pavement in the city centre will remain.

Council leader James Alexander confirmed talks are continuing over the regeneration of Castle Piccadilly, and said he would be “seeking clarification” from council officers about the latest discussions. He said last year the regeneration scheme was “pivotal to the aspirations for the city centre”.