Tory-Lib Dem coalition to run York: Yearsley Pool saved, £9m Guildhall media centre ditched

York Guildhall. A new chapter opens in the long history of the city. Photograph © Allan Harris on Flickr
18 May 2015 @ 9.06 pm
| News, Politics

Just ten days after the Tory-Lib Dem government was unceremoniously disbanded by the Westminster electorate, the same partnership is being tried in York.

The Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups are to join forces to run City of York Council after the local election left no one party with a majority.

Tory leader Chris Steward will become leader of the council. His Lib Dem counterpart Keith Aspden becomes deputy leader.

The new council executive will consist of four Conservatives and four Lib Dems. This move will be authorised at the annual council meeting on Thursday (May 21).

What they said

Cllr Steward said the arrangement would “give direction and focus for York’s council”.

He added:

chris-steward-halfWe will drive forward on the priorities we were elected upon of keeping council tax low, prioritising frontline services and delivering a Local Plan that protects our Green Belt.

“This will also be an administration that engages with and listens to residents and we will respect the views of other parties.

The Labour and Green groups had been “offered a seat at the executive table” to give their input Cllr Steward said.

Lib Dem leader Cllr Aspden said the election proved “that residents wanted change from the way Labour has run York since 2011”.

The new administration would “put the priorities of residents first”. He said:

cllr-aspden-halfCrucially, we have come to an agreement to radically alter the Local Plan in order to protect the Green Belt and the character of York. This is not something Labour were prepared to consider either before or after the local elections.

Yearsley Pool will be kept open and the services offered at Castlegate will be protected. We are also ruling out further charges for green bins and cuts to the frequency of grey bin collections.

They have also pledged to put a new governance system in place to ensure “decision-making is done in public with transparency and cross-party input”. You can read the full agreement here (PDF).

Policy – what’s in and what’s out

The coalition has agreed a 12-point plan which “seeks to provide stable leadership and puts the needs of residents first before narrow political interest”.

So what’s in and what’s out?

In: Green Belt

York's then Labour leader James Alexander launches the Local Plan in September 2014
York’s then Labour leader James Alexander launches the Local Plan in September 2014

“We will prepare an evidence-based Local Plan which delivers much needed housing whilst focusing development on brownfield land and taking all practical steps to protect the Green Belt and the character of York.”

In: More bin collections

More green bin collections planned
More green bin collections planned

The coalition pledges to reintroduce additional winter green bin garden waste collections and cancel Labour/Green budget plans to introduce further charges.

There will be no cuts to the frequency of grey bin collections.

In: Yearsley Pool

Yearsley Pool: safe
Yearsley Pool: safe

The new administration will “focus resources into frontline services” to ensure the under threat swimming pool stays open.

Increased spending on “road repairs, streetlights, gulley cleaning and litter bins” is another pledge.

We will also review the customer contact centre to ensure faster and better response to queries and service requests.

– Coalition

In: the Living Wage

Continuing the plan for York to be a ‘living wage city’
Continuing the plan for York to be a ‘living wage city’

“We will support the Living Wage, support voluntary organisations and develop financial inclusion work with measurable outcomes.”

In: Ward committees

More power devolved out of the council chamber to ward committees. Photograph © Allan Harris on Flickr
More power devolved out of the council chamber to ward committees. Photograph © Allan Harris on Flickr

Ward committees are to make a comeback, supported by “a very significant increase in funding so that communities can make greater decisions about local services”.

Out: Guildhall as digital media arts centre – and other ‘vanity projects’

Former council leader Dafydd Williams with a model of the Guildhall. Photograph: City of York Council
Former council leader Dafydd Williams with a model of the Guildhall. Photograph: City of York Council

A plan to turn York’s historic Guildhall into a £9 million digital media arts centre has been dropped. The new administration promises to:

End wasteful spending including bringing forward a new plan for the Guildhall which is based on a firm business case and minimises the risk to taxpayers and reassess all vanity projects, including the Arts Barge.

In: 29 Castlegate

29 Castlegate… will live on, in a new location
29 Castlegate… will live on, in a new location

A recommendation to close the drop-in centre for vulnerable young people, 29 Castlegate, will be reversed – although the location may change.

“The services currently provided by the Castlegate Centre will continue to be provided at a suitable city centre location that is not West Offices,” says the statement.

The new council leaders also pledge:

  • to continue to support Children’s Centres, youth services, and apprenticeships in partnership with local businesses;
  • extra support to help pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Out: More 20mph funding

No new funding for 20mph zones
No new funding for 20mph zones

The council will “support rural bus services and in communities where they are needed”. But there will be “no further expenditure on blanket 20mph project”.

In: Local business support

York Business Week 2012. Photograph: City of York Council
York Business Week 2012. Photograph: City of York Council

This promise is to “ensure that local businesses are adequately supported by helping them bid for council contracts and cutting red tape”.

And there will be “work to ensure that York gets a better deal from regional partners”.

In: Value for money

Plan to watch the pounds and the pennies
Plan to watch the pounds and the pennies

The new administration will:

Improve council efficiency, streamline council management, and always look to take government grants on offer to freeze Council Tax.

In: Recycling

Recycling at the Mansion House. Photograph: City of York Council
Recycling at the Mansion House. Photograph: City of York Council

As well as their pledge on bin collections, the coalition has a two point pledge to reverse the decline in recycling. They promise to:

  • Work with residents and commit to an aim of increasing recycling to 50% through extra investment;
  • Develop a long-term plan to cut the council’s carbon emissions and re-establish a Green Jobs Task Group.

In: Health and social care review

Health and social care are two of the major roles of the council
Health and social care are two of the major roles of the council

The 12th and final coalition pledge…

Carry out a bottom-up review of health and adult social care services to ensure a more joined-up approach, improve performance and ensure a more people focused service.

The reaction

A spokesperson for the Labour group, which had run the council since 2011, said they would issue a response on Tuesday (May 19).

Green Party leader Andy D’Agorne, who saw his councillors double to four in the last election, said that it was “a big disappointment that the opportunity to build a cross party administration that reflects the views of voters has been lost, because the two largest parties (Labour and Conservatives) are not prepared to compromise in the interests of York and its people”.

He added:

cllr-dagorneHowever I can understand that the Liberal Democrats have come down in favour of the best deal for them, with better concessions on changes to the way the council operates than Labour were prepared to offer.

We will work with the new administration on areas where we agree and will welcome the strengthened ward based focus and commitment to focus on limiting expansion into the Greenbelt.

However we will continue to push for an independently chaired expert advised commission to come up with solutions to the challenges of congestion and traffic pollution in York.

The numbers

With 26 seats between them – 14 Tories and 12 Lib Dems – they comfortably outnumber the party with the most number of seats, Labour with 15.

Even if the former leader of the council, Labour’s Dafydd Williams, were to form an alliance with the four Greens and two independents it would still only add up to 21 votes.

Party Seats Change
Labour 15 seats 6
Conservatives 14 seats 4
Liberal Democrats 12 seats 3
Green 4 seats 2
Independent 2 seats 3