A MAJOR city centre regeneration scheme may be scrapped – in part or completely – as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic hits City of York Council’s development plans.
The Castle Gateway scheme has been paused during lockdown and will be reviewed.
The project aims to transform the area around Clifford’s Tower by replacing Castle Car Park with public space, building a new multi-storey car park at St George’s Field, creating a new bridge for cyclists and pedestrians across the River Foss and building two blocks of 106 apartments in Piccadilly.
Now councillors will look at options for the future – including abandoning the multi-million pound redevelopment project altogether and selling the land to private developers, as officers highlighted pressures on council finances due to coronavirus.
But another option – to scrap the planned multi storey car park on St George’s Field and progress with the rest of the project – has been initially backed by councillors on the Customer and Corporate Services Scrutiny Management Committee.
Andy Kerr, the council’s head of regeneration, said the team is reviewing the project in the light of issues around the pandemic.
He said: “I think one question that has arisen is, is there still the need for a new multi-story car park in the city centre?
“There is more emphasis on sustainable transport. Will the private sector investment in Piccadilly continue? Will the York Museums Trust investment in Castle Museum continue?”
The scheme is being developed solely by the council – rather than a private organisation – and uncertainty around the project has led council officers to draw up a number of options for the authority’s next steps.
If the plans are abandoned altogether the land in Piccadilly, including the current Spark:York site, could be sold off to private developers to become homes, hotels or student accommodation, the meeting heard.
The council has already spent £2.4 million on developing plans for the area.
But councillors said they preferred plans to pause the St George’s multi storey car park and continue with the rest of the project, while bidding for funding to complete the work.
The new car park was supposed to replace parking spaces lost when Castle Car Park is closed – but plans to close Castle Car Park could now move ahead without replacing those spaces.
Mr Kerr said: “The review that we’ve undertaken is actually could this be the thing that we look to almost bring forward and serve as a key centrepiece in the recovery from Covid, creating that major event space, increasing visitor numbers and spend?
“It could be delivered very quickly if we were willing to take the hit on [losing] parking revenue in the short term.”
Mr Kerr said abandoning the entire project at this stage is “probably counter to what we should be doing because we think the Castle Gateway principles are still very valid.”
Cllr Stuart Barnes said he supports the option to pause St George’s Field multi storey car park: “It seems to deliver all of the positive kind of societal, cultural, economic benefits without the need to continue backing the car in the city centre, which I think is great.”
Cllr Stephen Fenton added: “I think it’s quite important that the the council remains the developer for the Castle Mills site in terms of us being able to exert control over what happens.”
Councillors Andrew Hollyer and Jonny Crawshaw also backed the plans and the committee voted to recommend that senior councillors halt the £14.2 million multi storey car park plans and continue with the rest of the scheme.
The options will be discussed by senior councillors at a meeting on October 1.